The Big Ask campaigners at Make Poverty History 2015

The Big Ask: how you helped make climate change history

The Big Ask campaign proved people power can change the world. Thanks to campaigners and people like you, the UK government brought in the historic Climate Change Act.
  Published:  22 Aug 2017    |      Last updated:  26 Nov 2018    |      6 minute read

Our campaign called for a new climate change law. A law that would tackle the main cause of climate change – emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Watch a  short animation about what our campaign achieved and what needs to happen next.

The law would commit the government to cutting CO2 emissions by 3% year on year. This would mean an 80% cut by 2050.

Environmental groups, energy companies, MPs, celebrities and the general public all got involved. Together they called on the government to make the emissions cuts scientists say are needed to avoid even more dangerous climate change taking place.

Nearly 200,000 people contacted their MP to ask them to support the Climate Change Bill. Our local groups up and down the country swung into action – organising events and activities to raise awareness and support for the campaign. And Radiohead's Thom Yorke joined us to launch The Big Ask.

Thom Yorke outside parliament
Thom Yorke shows his support for The Big Ask Campaign
Credit: Balthazar Serreau

This seems to be the first sane, reasoned way out of what is basically an international emergency. Any person out there who has any concern about global warming in this country, who feels powerless like I did, should think about getting involved in the Big Ask.Thom Yorke, Radiohead

Together we won

On 15 November 2006, a climate Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech.

A tremendous achievement. But we couldn't stop there. The Bill wasn't strong enough to ensure that the UK was doing its fair share to prevent dangerous global temperature rises. So we carried on the campaign.

As a result, the government committed to 5-year carbon budgets and the Bill was agreed to include aviation and shipping emissions.

The Climate Change Act was the first of its kind and has been a model copied around the world.

Going global

Not only that, but in 2008 The Big Ask launched in 17 countries across Europe calling on governments to cut CO2 emissions every year.

After 3 and a half years campaigning – in October 2008 – the British Parliament voted for the world-beating Climate Change Act we now have in place.

The law is a huge step in the fight against climate change.

More recently the Paris Climate Agreement has set a warming goal of 1.5°C. We've already had over 1°C of global warming. Each degree we go up means more extreme weather and sea level rises. The Climate Change Act will help us get part way there. But we need to make deeper and swifter cuts.

The Climate Change Act is made law

The new law means.

  • Big cuts: at least 80% cuts in greenhouse gases by 2050.
  • Monitoring: regular reporting to Parliament to check we're on track.
  • Policy: we now have a Committee on Climate Change, advising the government on emissions targets and progress made.
  • Solutions: clear direction giving business the confidence to invest in solutions to climate change.

People changed politics

Friends of the Earth's Big Ask Campaign saw unprecedented numbers of people calling for a strong climate law. Celebrities, companies, charities and individuals got behind the campaign.

Nearly 200,000 people spoke to their MP directly – by letters, email, posting a video clip, or in person. The Act gained cross-party and almost universal support in parliament.

People often ask: ‘Does anything change politics?’ Well it has here. Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

You spoke and the government had to listen. In 3 years people power changed politics.

History of the Big Ask

Here in a nutshell is a history of Friends of the Earth's Climate Change Law campaign (The Big Ask).

It's been a long journey - and we couldn't have done it without you.

7 April 2005 | A draft Climate Change Bill

We draft a Bill which says the government has to cut the amounts of CO2 being released by 3% year on year. This would mean an 80% cut by 2050.

The Bill is sent to Parliament by a cross party group of MPs.

25 May 2005 | The Big Ask campaign is launched

Radiohead front man Thom Yorke teams up with us to launch the campaign.

A Parliamentary petition (Early Day Motion 178) is opened calling for a new law requiring "annual cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of 3%".


Thom Yorke standing alongside a Friends of the Earth banner which says "Is the Government doing enough about climate change?"

13 July 2005 | Stop Climate Chaos coalition formed

Friends of the Earth helps form a new coalition – Stop Climate Chaos – calling for a climate law with annual CO2 cuts.

1 May 2006 | The Big Ask Live concert

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood headline The Big Ask Live concert in London.

More than 1,000 people turn up at KOKO club on May Day.

Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys and folk singer Kate Rusby also star.

The London event tops a series of gigs across the UK in support of the campaign.


Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) performing an acoustic set at The Big Ask Live climate change benefit gig at Koko, Camden.
Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) performing at The Big Ask Live benefit gig
Credit: Hugh Macdonald

Music fans, celebrities and politicians are among the sell-out crowd.

Some fans have been queuing outside for 11 hours before the former Popworld presenter and host for the night Simon Amstell, opens the show.

We are here to save the world. And I don't know whether it's that important but Radiohead are playing too.
Simon Amstell

Throughout the night images and facts flash up on stage informing people about the dangers of climate change and how we can tackle it.

Many gig goers sign up to pledge their support for Friends of the Earth's climate campaign.

And for Radiohead fans the big moment arrives as Yorke and Greenwood ease into Karma Police – a hit single from their award-winning album OK Computer.

Full Radiohead setlist, KOKO, London

  1. Karma Police
  2. There There
  3. Arpeggi
  4. Fake Plastic Trees
  5. Bodysnatchers
  6. Pyramid Song
  7. How to Disappear Completely
  8. No Surprises
  9. Cymbal Rush
  10. I Might be Wrong
  11. Street Spirit
  12. Gagging Order
  13. Paranoid Android 


1 September 2006 | David Cameron supports campaign


Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) performing an acoustic set at The Big Ask Live climate change benefit gig at Koko, Camden.
Credit: Hugh Macdonald

David Cameron adds his support to the campaign and calls for a Climate Change Bill to be included in the next Queen's Speech.

The Conservatives publish their own Climate Change Bill.

15 September 2006 | MPs tackled by Big Ask Big Lobby


Climate Change Bill Press Conference: Tony Juniper , director of Friends of the Earth speaks alongside David Cameron at Press Conference at which the Consertative Party called for the Climate Change Bill to be included in the Queens speech. Devon, 1st September 2006

A month of lobbying by constituents means 620 (out of 646) MPs have been asked to support the campaign for a strong climate change law.

15 September 2006 | Low carbon economy roadmap produced

We team up with the Coop bank to commission new research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

The research sets out:

  • A carbon budget for the UK
  • What the government must do
  • How the UK will change as a result.

12 October 2006 | Hints of new climate law

Environment Secretary David Miliband indicates that the government will introduce legislation to tackle climate change.

By now 412 out of 646 MPs have signed a parliamentary petition (Early Day Motion 178).

Only three other Early Day Motions had ever been signed by more than 400 MPs.

15 November 2006 | New climate law announced

The government announces in the Queen’s Speech that it will introduce a new climate change law.

My government will publish a bill on climate change as part of its policy to protect the environment, consistent with the need to secure long-term energy supplies.
Her Majesty the Queen, opening of Parliament, 15 Nov 2006.

13 March 2007 | Draft Climate Change Bill

The government publishes its draft Climate Change Bill.

Friends of the Earth welcomes the move but calls for the Bill to be strengthened.

4 July 2007 | The Big Ask online march launches

We launch The Big Ask online march so people can lobby their MP by video message.

The march is supported by Jude Law, James Blunt and Razorlight's Johnny Borrell.

24 September 2007 | New PM asks for climate targets investigation


A screenshot of the Big Ask online campaign where supporter uploaded their own videos to put pressure on MPs to support a climate change law

Gordon Brown announces that he will ask the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the overall target for emissions reductions in the Bill should be increased to 80%.

By this stage 119 MPs, including:

  • David Miliband
  • David Cameron
  • Sir Menzies Campbell
  • Ken Livingstone

had attended public meetings and events on the Climate Change Bill.

29 October 2007 | Environment Minister asks about aviation and shipping

Hilary Benn says he'll ask the Committee on Climate Change to see if the Bill should cover emissions from international aviation and shipping.

14 November 2007 | Bill debated in the Lords

The House of Lords debates the Climate Change Bill for the first time

18 February 2008 | Annual milestones agreed

Hilary Benn announces that the Climate Change Bill will set annual milestones for emissions reductions.

The Bill will also set 5 year carbon budgets outlining the maximum amount of CO2 the UK can safely release.

This means the UK will stay on track to meet its long term target.

27 February 2008 | The Big Ask goes to Europe

The Big Ask launches in 17 countries across Europe calling on governments to cut CO2 emissions every year.

27 May 2008 | Razorlight gig to highlight aviation and shipping

Razorlight play a one off gig in front of a jet at the Science Museum.


Razorlight support Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign for a strong climate change law by headlining a special one-off gig in front of a plane at London's Science Museum.
Credit: Ben Queenborough

A cross-party group of MPs forms a band – The Aviators – and play in support.

9 June 2008 | Labour MPs rebel in support of tougher Bill

The Bill begins its journey through the Commons.

More than 80 Labour MPs sign up for changes to:

  • Cut emissions by 80% by 2050
  • Include aviation and shipping emissions.


23 September 2008 | Gordon asks for 80% target report

Gordon Brown says he'll ask the Committee on Climate Change to report by October on whether the target for cutting emissions should be 80%.

7 October 2008 | Committee calls for 80% cut by 2050

The Climate Change Committee advises an 80% cut in emissions. And says this should include international aviation and shipping.

68 Labour MPs sign an Early day Motion calling for the government to implement the Climate Change Committee’s advice.

16 October 2008 | Cuts target increased from 60 to 80%

New Minister Ed Miliband says the government will increase the target for cutting emissions from 60 to 80%.

Another key win.

27 October 2008 | government says yes to aviation and shipping

Under pressure from the public and MPs the government announces it will include aviation and shipping emissions in the Bill.

The Bill now includes all three of our major demands.

28 October 2008 | MPs vote yes

MPs vote in favour of a Climate Change Law that will cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 and includes all UK emissions.

It's a massive victory for every one of you who took part. Thank you.