How do we win the global war on carbon emissions? Top down, governments and organisations are attacking this crisis through legislation, economic incentives, community cooperation and information campaigns. And bottom up, individuals and communities are coming up with great ideas.

First of all, let’s take a quick spin around the globe to see how top down initiatives are making a difference.


According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Sustainable Development Scenario, energy efficiency represents more than 40% of the emissions abatement we need by 2040.

While many climate activists insist that current and planned legislative solutions to tackle this are not radical enough, governments around the world are starting or continuing to combine regulation and incentives to transform city transport systems, improve the energy efficiency of private and public housing stock, and incentivise carbon neutral or net zero industry innovation. They are driving changes in consumer behaviour by legislation, such as the phasing out of fossil fuel powered vehicles, together with information campaigns and incentives to facilitate these changes.


The conundrum facing organisations and governments is how to overhaul food systems and intervene to move agriculture away from carbon-emitting, heavily subsidised, highly industrialised farming methods, towards systems that are less polluting and provide healthy accessible food to the entire global population.

A report published in September 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) claims that almost 90% of the $540bn in global subsidies given to farmers every year are “harmful”.

Joy Kim, at UNEP, said: “Agriculture contributes a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of biodiversity loss and 80% of deforestation.” The biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as beef and milk, received the biggest subsidies, the report said. These are often produced by large industrialised groups that are best placed to gain access to subsidies.

In an example of legislative response to such concerns, in November 2021, the European Parliament approved the biggest reform of EU farm subsidies in decades. The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules, which will apply from 2023, aim to shift money from intensive farming practices to protecting nature, and reduce the 10% of EU greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture.

The reform will require that 20% of payments to farmers from 2023-2024 be spent on "eco-schemes", rising to 25% of payments in 2025-2027.

At least 10% of CAP funds will go to smaller farms and all farmers' payments would be tied to complying with environmental rules.

Bottom up

Top down is needed, but what about bottom up initiatives? When governments and authorities provide incentives, companies and individuals are spurred on to innovative ideas and new partnerships and behaviours. Let’s look at some examples.

Innovative housing refurbishment

In November 2019 in Berlin, the Dena Energy Transition Congress marked the completion of the Energiesprong Volume Deal – in which twenty-two housing companies joined forces to renovate over 10,000 apartments in a climate-friendly and socially responsible manner over the following four years.

The Energiesprong serial retrofit solution is a digitised and industrialised building process with prefabricated elements that can be used to refurbish buildings in a way that is fast, climate-friendly and tenant-friendly.

Energiesprong works internationally and attracts funding through several European projects and through philanthropy.

Cycling around our cities

The Covid19 pandemic has been a huge game-changer in terms of people’s desire to be outside in the fresh air, for safety and for health. As public transport systems closed down or felt unsafe to use, cities around the globe saw a massive rise in demand for safe ways to cycle. This had been a trend pre-pandemic, but the crisis brought about a rapid rise in demand from citizens and solutions from authorities.

Sustainable Scotch whisky

Bruichladdich is a malt whisky distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. Like its neighbouring distilleries, and many more of Scotland’s 134 whisky producers, it relies on fuel oil, brought in on diesel-powered ferries, to fire the boilers. Islay’s nine distilleries burn 15m litres of oil each year.

But now the company has challenged itself to reach net zero in its distillation process by 2025. It hopes to pioneer the use of an innovative type of green hydrogen production using green electricity and water electrolysis. For now it is depending on a green tariff, but it plans to use wind and tidal renewables to be installed around the island over the next few years.

The hydrogen production technique destined for testing at Bruichladdich has been designed by Protium, a London-based energy firm, with £74,000 in development funding from the UK government, using a US technology. The UK government has set aside £10m for research on helping the UK’s whisky and spirits industries go net zero.

So here’s a toast, to every project, big or small… none is too small to be unimportant.

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
– Robert Swan, adventurer and environmentalist