This is my last blog as Executive Director of Sandbag. From January I’ll be leaving to take up a new role at the international charity the Environmental Defense Fund. I’m viewing this new chapter as I imagine a parent might their child going off to college: I’m going to really miss it and am anxious about its future but am confident it will flourish in new circumstances.
I first decided to set Sandbag up nearly eight years ago after returning from a holiday to Mali. A lot has changed since then, not least in the beautiful country of Mali where sadly change has not been for the better. On the global stage, however, the events in Paris earlier this month signal a significant and positive new direction in the multi-decade fight to tackle climate change, as I argued recently in a lively discussion with George Monbiot on Newsnight.
In the intervening years, Sandbag has developed from the original concept: to enable people to reduce the number of emissions rights in the world’s largest carbon market (the EU ETS) by buying and cancelling them. Sandbag is now a respected and influential think tank using data analysis and targeted advocacy to change policies and regulations. We pivoted from seeking to be a public facing brand to an ‘inside track’ lobbying organisation when we uncovered, as early as 2008, the massive over-supply in the market, which has kept prices low and caused many to question whether carbon markets can ever deliver effective climate mitigation. Rather than just sell emissions rights we decided we had to campaign for policy changes to drastically reduce the number in circulation. We stuck with our original quirky brand name though, which may raise the occasional eyebrow but is at least memorable.
In our endeavours over the years we’ve scraped and crunched data to show what’s been really happening in the market – guided by real data geeks – and launched a range of new tools and concepts to help us advocate for change. We’ve consistently highlighted the massive surpluses that dog the market. We also created an interactive global map that showed for the first time where all the cheap international offsets were coming from and who was using them, which helped win a ban preventing some of the most controversial from flooding in. In 2009 we coined the phrase Carbon Fat Cats when we added company ownership data to the emissions trading database to reveal who was benefitting the most from the lax rights allocation process. We’re pleased that thanks to changes introduced in 2013, most are now on a much stricter diet though a few still remain exploiting policy loopholes that we will continue to campaign to be closed.
This year our targeted advocacy and tools helped us to win important changes to a new proposal from the Commission to suck spare allowances off the market temporarily. Thanks to Sandbag, and the partners we worked with, the surplus ‘hoover’ will start two years early and around 1.7bn will be taken off the market immediately (which is equivalent to almost an entire years worth of capped emissions). Once off the market the next and most logical step is to cancel them permanently which we’ll be arguing for in 2016 as the Directive is opened up for review.
We’ve occasionally looked outside the EU, visiting Korea and China on multiple occasions to help inform decision makers and influencers there about the design of effective emissions trading schemes. In 2009 we also organised a global co-ordinated parkour event held simultaneously in 37 countries to raise awareness of how the global power sector can quickly cut emissions in ‘One Giant Leap’. More recently in Paris this year we highlighted how easy it would be for the EU to increase its ambition since emissions are on course to be 30% below 1990 levels in 2020 and will continue to make this case in the coming months.
The Sandbag team is now 10 strong with a range of talents and experience and we continue to deliver nearly all our outputs in-house including the design of a new phone app and new look website launched this Summer at our popular relaunch party at St Paul’s Cathedral. We’re now covering a wider range of policies that include phasing out coal and securing support for deep decarbonisation of industrial sectors. Sandbag will always, I hope, continue to seek out the most highly leveraged interventions we can make to drive emissions down and confidence in achieving higher targets up.
We’re currently recruiting a new Managing Director to take the organisation forward and in my new role I’m expecting to continue working alongside the talented Sandbag team members. Europe really needs more voices that base their advocacy on science and data, using original analysis to develop solutions and win support. I’m really proud of the role Sandbag is playing and look forward to it achieving even greater impact in the years to come. For now I am saying thanks to everyone who has helped make Sandbag so effective and such a great place to work.
Au revoir and farewell – I’ll be watching progress with interest!
 A very special thank you is due to Louise Crow, a founding member of the team, who thanks to her amazing talents taught us what was possible.