The ultimate guilt trip - mega polluter pays $1m to carbon removal projects to reverse his lifetime emissions

Ex-coca-cola and cirque du soleil exec craig cohon departs london 3 january in epic new year’s resolution

London-based serial entrepreneur Craig Cohon has made the biggest New Year’s Resolution of his middle-aged life.

The polluting former executive today embarked on a 4,000km walk from London to Istanbul to campaign for carbon removal. He’ll arrive in Istanbul in early June, on the eve of his 60th birthday.

Cohon, a Canadian former Coca Cola and Cirque du Soleil Executive who, for 13 years has lived on a barge on the Thames, launched the walk it back campaign earlier this year after becoming the first private citizen to undertake a personal ‘lifetime carbon audit’ following COP26. This process saw him calculate in molecular detail how many tonnes of carbon he’d emitted over decades of fast living: high-rolling holidays, lots of flights and innumerable hamburgers. In November he repaid what he calls his debt to the earth – giving over $1m of his pension to carbon removal projects.\-sA0IWwE4U

Cohon left from the Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square at 10am on Tuesday 3 January, and then walked along The Mall with supporters and well-wishers, pausing to meet up with his support vehicle – repurposed shipping containers that have been painted in Professor Edward Hawkins’ climate stripes – in Belgravia before walking on towards the border-port of Newhaven.

The containers are designed to function by day as an exhibition of carbon removal art by British and German artists, and by night as a speakeasy, with saxophone played by Cohon on request. Walking alongside Cohon over the next five months will be youth activists, mayors, CEOs, climate experts and artists.

walk it back sets out to revolutionise how carbon removal is perceived and supported globally: calling for greater dialogue, coordination, knowledge, governance and investment in the sector in order to safely and quickly scale carbon removal solutions.

Founder members of the campaign include youth climate activist network ReEarth Initiative and city leadership networks United Cities and Local Governments. Partners include Patch, EFG and Searchlight Capital.

Cohon says: “I was so clueless about all this stuff, but when I learnt that all the carbon we’ve emitted is still up there I started looking into carbon removal. What I discovered is that it takes a lot of work and money, but it’s possible to get huge quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere. The tech is there and improving all the time. But we really do need to get quicker and better at doing this, fairly and on a huge scale. If we succeed, it has the potential to actually change the course of climate history.”

This walk kicks off as people in the UK start to think about getting rid of their Christmas trees. If we followed the Stockholm model and turned the 7 million trees we buy each year into biochar, we could not only avoid 100,000 tonnes of emissions they otherwise cause in landfill but actively lock 168,000 tonnes of atmospheric carbon back into the earth’s crust.

In November 2022, walk it back published the paper Getting to Net Negative that highlights the critical role cities play in carbon removal, and Cohon’s walk will feature special events in 10 cities along his route that engage city decision-makers. In London, untapped carbon sequestration opportunities include afforesting the statutory Green Belt, the 1,269,800 acres of land that encircles the city: with huge co-benefits for air pollution and physical and mental health.

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