Chris Packham calls on television industry to make production carbon neutral within three years

Chris Packham CBE has called on the television industry to pledge that environmental television productions will be carbon neutral within three years, as he delivered the BAFTA Television Lecture at London’s Barbican Centre on Tuesday 21 January.

The award-winning wildlife and natural world broadcaster, conservationist, photographer and writer also called on the industry to reject misinformation and to continue to put facts at the heart of content.

Calling for the television industry to do much more to reduce its impact on the environment and to continue to highlight the problem, Chris Packham cited the 60% decline of wildlife populations across the world since 1970[1] and that the UK is “one of the most nature depleted countries anywhere in the world” with one in seven species in danger of extinction[2].

Chris Packham asked: “What have we been doing about it; we that make environmental and natural history TV programmes? For most of the last 30 years, we’ve been making bits of the world look like paradise, absolute utopia. We go to places, there are never any people there, everything is functional, everything is beautiful. We’ve excited people, we’ve fascinated people, we’ve shown them things that they could never, ever have dreamt of and they have fallen in love with that environment and through awe and wonder and affinity. But has their love actually transferred into making a real difference? Well no, of course it hasn’t – I’ve just told you we’ve lost between 40-50% of wildlife across the world. Our method, like many methods of environmental care and conservation, has failed wholeheartedly.”

Touching on the topic of his new BBC Two documentary, 7.7 Billion People and Counting, which also aired on Tuesday 21 January, Packham said: “The UN tells us there are 7.7 billion humans on earth and by 2050, there could be 10 billion people here[3]:  If everyone in the world consumed at the same rate we do in the UK, we would need two extra planets to sustain us now[4]. If everyone in the world consumed at the same rate as North America, we would need four extra planets today just to sustain our population.[5]”

Whilst praising albert, the industry-wide consortium on environmental sustainability which BAFTA chairs, Packham called on the television industry to pledge to make environmental production carbon neutral by 2023.

“I’m very pleased to say that BAFTA has got its albert initiative. I’m certainly not going to criticise that. That’s moving in the right direction, it’s encouraging people to think about the impact productions are having on the environment, it’s empowering them to make a difference, they’ve got guidelines that are set for people to use and hopefully exceed. It’s a good thing…

“…I don’t think we’ve gone far enough. I think albert is a brilliant start, but how about this – how about we set ourselves a meaningful target, where programmes like this, me standing here in Tanzania making a programme about wildlife, are carbon neutral? What if we say that in three years time, programmes have to be carbon neutral. That would be a good target. 

“I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say it comes with a cost, budgets are getting smaller. They’re not getting as small as the wildlife populations out here in the world; the very things that impassion us to come here, get out of bed and try and make quality TV.”

Touching on the subject of fake news and the dissemination of misinformation, Packham highlighted the importance of factual television, now more than ever.

“What about the quality of environmental journalism? Well we’ve just had an election and I was pretty dismayed by the quality of the journalism if I’m honest with you. Channel 4 News are definitely flying the flag as a brilliant daily bulletin, Newsnight excellent, the Today programme fantastic. But for a lot of the time we were giving a platform to uncontested lies.

“I think we’ve got a bit confused between impartiality and fairness, and morals and ethics. Impartiality and fairness, and right and wrong, because I was brought up to think that it was wrong to lie, and at this point in time when it comes to environmental journalism, it’s dangerous to lie, because we have to tell the truth. And that’s why my idea of journalism is that if someone tells you it’s sunny and someone else tells you it’s rainy, you don’t quote them both. You look out the window and see if it’s sunny or rainy, and then you tell the truth about it. Because the truth is the most essential component of progress. Without it we can’t make best informed decisions. It’s critical at this point in time, when it comes to the environment, that we tell the truth.”

Packham went on to highlight the real-life positive impact television can have, adding: “Thankfully things are changing and they’ve changed quite rapidly. After Blue Planet, we brought the use of plastic to global attention. That programme worked. In the aftermath, great things happened; The One Show did an amazing job, they ran an amazing campaign to bring plastic wastage in the UK to the forefront of everyone’s minds. The BBC ran another programme about meat production. Things are definitely changing.

“Think of Seven Worlds, One Planet, there was some pretty hard-hitting stuff in that, no doubt about it at all. But we’ve still got a lot further to go, there’s no question about that. Particularly when it comes to production, what have we been actually doing?” 

Ending on a note of optimism, Packham added: “We need a collective force for good. We don’t want division. We have to be creative and realistic in our targets. We’re doing a pretty good job of ringing the bell and saying we have an emergency… The next step is to empower people to implement the solutions and we do have the solutions. That’s something we need to embrace when we’re making our programmes.”

BAFTA has chaired an industry consortium on environmental sustainability since 2011, called ‘albert’. This is a collaborative project supported by almost all major broadcasters and production companies. The group has two aims; reducing the industry’s impact, and ensuring the industry is effectively and strategically engaging audiences on environmental issues.

Certification was set up as a way to reward productions who wanted to go further. The albert calculator can only measure a production’s footprint, and certification awards productions which take steps to reduce impact. albert Certification and Calculation covers production budget and spend only, and the certification framework is continually reviewed to ensure it is fit for purpose. albert offers free training to all production companies throughout the UK to help everyone understand the climate crisis, the seriousness of the situation and how we as an industry can take action. 

Each year, BAFTA invites one of television’s leading figures to give their personal view on creative excellence in television and their vision for the future. The Lecture strives to drive debate around creativity in broadcasting, in line with BAFTA’s charitable mission to bring the very best work in film, games and television to public attention and support the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally.  Previous speakers include Jane Featherstone, Armando Iannucci, Lenny Henry, Liz Warner, Lorraine Heggessey, Paul Abbott, Peter Bennett-Jones, Stephen Fry and Tim Hincks.  

Find out more about albert and the number of projects on offer to the industry at www.WeAreALBERT.org

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