Finding Common Ground


One of the most powerful ways that local people are working on climate action is by creating community-owned, low-carbon assets, according to a recent study entitled The Climate Commons by the IPPR thinktank. It’s a growing practice across the country as people increasingly link community interests with climate action. What’s so exciting to read in this report is the recognition that communities lie at the heart of addressing the climate crisis and the call for communities to have greater control and share of the benefits from the transition to a greener economy.

Mirroring the initiatives shared on Carbon Copy, this new report is full of examples – from community-owned solar and hydro schemes to food cooperatives to woodland management – where people have stewardship of resources that they have created and collectively own.

The practice of taking shared ownership and of collaborating to meet everyday needs and improve the wellbeing of the community and the environment is known as ‘commoning’. Although it’s not a new practice its potential is overlooked in national policy making – despite the ability of commoning to shape a carbon zero future in ways that are more socially and economically just. According to Luke Murphy, the lead author of the report,

“For communities to thrive in a climate changing world they must be given greater ownership and agency not just over the process of the transition but of the assets and benefits that arise from it. Such an approach will result in better policy and fairer outcomes.”

People are not waiting for these things to happen: no formal permission is required for communities to come together locally to improve their neighbourhoods and address the climate crisis. The reality is that every one of us has this power at any point in time: we just have to use it.

Commoning is a powerful part of being a citizen. A ‘commons’ makes sense of communities as the beneficiaries and the guardians of the shared resource. It embeds people both in their natural environment and in the lives of others. Importantly, it blurs the false distinction between taking action on the climate crisis and taking action on social and economic interests.

The focus of low-carbon success stories on benefits beyond reduced greenhouse gas emissions is an important element of greater inclusion and more diverse participation. As we have seen from many of the community-led initiatives shared, people respond to the climate crisis when projects also help nurture a common community identity and build on wider shared interests.

IPPR is calling for widespread devolution of power and resources, as well as policies to drive community climate action and build community-owned green assets. The thinktank wants new legislation to make it easier for communities to create, lead and own low-carbon assets and to reap the benefits. In the words of Lucy Stone, co-author of the report,

“The pandemic showed us the importance and appetite for taking collective action. To address climate change, we tend to focus on individual or state action. As we manage the decline of the fossil fuel industries and a transition to societies living within the ecological boundaries, we need to confront our assumptions of who manages and controls the resources on which we all depend.

As we build back better there is a need to reset our relationships to the land and our resources, but also to continue to nurture the collective spirit and improve our relationships to each other. A reassessment of the relationship to the resources on which we all depend can avoid recreating the deep inequalities of an ecologically destructive system. A fairer distribution of the benefits, which can be achieved by involving communities in the transition, will also help accelerate the uptake of the measures we need to protect those resources on which we all depend.

Without this reassessment, not only are we in danger of recreating the deep inequalities of a highly extractive and exploitative industrial system, but we miss the opportunity to rapidly accelerate action by bringing everyone into the new energy and land systems.”

The authors have shared their vision for how communities can thrive in a climate changing world. The corollary is a vision for how each of us can thrive in a climate changing world if we play our part in our local community.

Read the full report:
Webb J, Stone L, Murphy L and Hunter J (2021) The climate commons: How communities can thrive in a climate changing world, IPPR. http://www.ippr.org/research/publications/the-climate-commons

Image: Whitby Esk Energy

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