Bookmark and ShareAndrew Simms is nef‘s Policy Director and head of nef’s Climate Change programme.

1010It could be the premise for a zeitgeist science-fiction thriller about global warming. Secrets, lies, and breathless chases along corporate corridors. Millions of pounds at stake, and ultimately millions of lives too. The United Nations suspends an auditor at the heart of a mechanism key to the success of the international climate change treaty.

In another country, a multi-million carousel fraud in the carbon emissions trading market leads to a swoop on homes in London and the South East, and multiple arrests.

A new police force is launched to investigate corporations suspected of being big greenhouse gas polluters.

This could be earnest, adrenalin-pumped entertainment, the next Syriana. But all these things are real and were revealed in the last month or shortly before. One of the more gruesome ways in which wildlife conservationists can tell the health of animal populations, like otters or badgers, is by how many roadkill get found. If more are found, it means there are more around and, ironically, must be doing well. It’s a risky analogy, but if organised crime is now taking the market for cutting carbon seriously, perhaps we are finally getting somewhere. Or, it could mean that, like so many other markets revealed in recent months as flawed, the carbon markets are just as badly designed and in a mess.

Here’s another reason why the British government would be ill-advised to perform a U-turn, and instead of cutting its own emissions directly, try to meet its commitments by carbon laundering in the supremely dodgy markets for offsetting.

But, in the UK, it could be that the phoney war over reducing emissions is finally about to end, and we will begin to get serious. Because today, as you can read about in the Guardian, a new, bold and simple campaign is being launched. It has one target: to cut emissions in the UK by 10 percent during the year 2010.

Ten percent in 2010 sounds quite catchy, but why those figures, and why is this important?

For years the government has resisted taking action on climate change that the science says is necessary. The excuse – though untested – is always that the public won’t support it – as if we’re all eager to hasten our own collective demise.

Now the opportunity is here for individuals and organisations to do something that is about more than changing lightbulbs. If successful, it could be the biggest experiment yet by a society set on positively determining its own future.

A 10 percent cut is in line with what the science suggests should be an annual target for a country like the UK. Its not to be sniffed at, but an economy entering a period of rapid transition throws up as many opportunities as it does challenges. We may fear change, but all the evidence shows that we are a highly innovative and adaptive species capable of dealing with it.

Expecting individuals alone to save the climate simply by making choices in the marketplace is not working. That much has become a common place.  The necessary options are typically unavailable, either due to price or practicality. When sewage disposal in 19th centruy London was left to individuals in the marketplace, the result was open cesspitts, cholera and typhoid. There was a good reason for officialdom to mandate a new infrastructure that separated sewage from drinking water, and oversaw one of the public engineering triumphs of the age.

Perhaps the problem is that we cannot smell carbon dioxide. It was the Great Stink of 1858 that finally pushed Parliament to pass an act that would allow for the large but necessary investment needed to realise Joseph Bazalgette’s vision for a new sewage system. It took only 8 years to connect-up most of London.

The government had to hold its breath back then, in more ways than one, before it took action. But who, afterwards, would go back to how things had been before. Today they can make a leap of reason again over short-sighted intransigence, by joining the 10:10 pledge. It shouldn’t be necessary for campaigns like 10:10 to cure the government of timidity.  But, with just 87 months left before odds on avoiding runaway warming shift badly against us, real leadership is, at least, coming from somewhere. Politicians are running out of excuses. If they don’t want to skulk as the bad guys in the background of the global warming movie, they should come and join the carbon reduction party.

87 months and counting…