Can you create a ‘snowball effect’ to solve the climate crisis?

By Kathryn Manning

The University of Oxford in the UK is looking for bright ideas to create what they call a ‘runaway solution’ to combat global climate change. The best entry will win €1000 and the opportunity to pitch your idea to the team at Oxford. Those interested should submit their idea here by 1 March.



The reasoning behind the competition is that, in the face of global-warming, our political systems are moving too slowly and so a new approach is required. The idea is to find ‘sensitive intervention points’ – small actions that have the potential to tip the system and generate a large reduction in global emissions.

“Solutions to the climate change crisis aren’t going to come from the same thinking that got us into this mess. That’s why we are taking this competition global,” said Cameron Hepburn, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. “We’re looking for solutions that are simple but effective – and that bring a new perspective that we haven’t thought of before.” Hepburn’s TEDx Talk explaining SIPs and the competition is available here.

A spokesperson from the University of Oxford explains: “In 2019, emissions were 4% higher than when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. In the face of national targets being missed, just 1 in 10 energy companies planning for decarbonisation, and growing ecological disasters, it can feel like no individual action can make a difference. But what if a small change could trigger outsized impacts?”

In 2019, researchers proposed a new approach. Based on this research on influencing behaviour they suggest designing climate interventions that take advantage of socio-economic and political tipping points. The paper states: “We focus on research and policies in which an intervention kicks or shifts the system so that the initial change is amplified by feedback effects that deliver outsized impact.”

Potential SIPs identified by the Oxford team include investment in key clean energy technology like solar power, with its dramatically declining costs, and changes to rules around financial disclosure of climate risk for shareholders: “When a system is at a tipping point, a relatively small change can trigger a profound impact. Think about a loud noise setting off an avalanche, or a lone Swedish schoolgirl inspiring climate strikes around the world. Identifying these ‘sensitive intervention points’ or SIPs, can lead to solutions with runaway positive impacts.”
Now these researchers are looking for ideas from around the world to accelerate the transition towards net-zero carbon emissions and decarbonise the global economy. The €1000 cash prize will be offered for best new proposed SIP, which will then be pitched to the eminent Oxford advisory board in April 2020.
Conditions are that the SIPs must be able to be triggered in the near future; make use of systems that are “ripe for change”; and have self-reinforcing feedbacks that can generate accelerating change at scale. In other words, they are relatively small actions that might be taken in any aspect of our lives that have the potential to generate a large reduction in global emissions.
To enter, go to their website and send a concise description of your idea in less than 300 words by 1 March. Good luck!


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