Three Words That Could Change The World


What would you say in a few words to those gathered at the next global climate summit? Do our politicians need to be more ambitious or simply keep the promises they’ve already made to reduce greenhouse emissions? Do we need to move faster and act like it’s a real emergency or do we need to be more inclusive so that we don’t leave people behind? Perhaps the real question is how do we do all of these things, rather than accepting trade-offs?

In the words of renowned economist, Elinor Ostrom, “There is no reason to believe that bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how well meaning, are better at solving problems than the people on the spot, who have the strongest incentive to get the solution right.”

Of course, we need a more positive policy environment. But policy responses cannot rely on top-down interventions or on market solutions or on individual behaviour change when what’s needed is collective local action. According to international association, ECOLISE, community-powered climate action is powerful because the response is appropriate and acceptable to those ‘on the spot’, which in turn generates wider engagement and action across a larger swathe of society.

Despite the complexity of the challenge­, the message on Carbon Copy’s placard to world leaders at COP27 is simple: THINK BIG LOCALLY

From a national government’s perspective, ‘think big locally’ is about enabling communities to have a much greater role in shaping the transition to a net zero economy, one that’s tailored to local needs and maximises job and wealth creation. From a community’s perspective, it’s about greater resourcefulness and resilience – being able to respond capably and fairly to a whole range of changes as we transition away from a high carbon economy to net zero.

One example of a radically different model for long-term, resident-led support for communities is the ‘Big Local’ programme, delivered by Local Trust, that awarded 150 local neighbourhoods across England £1.15 million each to spend over a period of 10 to 15 years. Set up in 2021 by the National Lottery, the vision is for empowered, resilient communities making their own decisions on what is best for their area.

The independent think tank, New Local, makes the argument that community work is climate work, since strengthening community ties almost inevitably leads to action that improves sustainability and resilience. This has been demonstrated and well documented by many of these ‘Big Local’ areas, each of which has a long-term community development plan, that have reduced their carbon emissions directly and indirectly as a result of their activities.

Take Greenmoor and Bradley, for example. Greenmoor in Bradford is helping people save energy to reduce bills while Bradley Big Local Community Land Trust in Lancashire is building new energy efficient homes – illustrating how the current climate and cost of living crises are interconnected, and how both can be addressed locally. As one ‘Big Local’ representative said, “Most of the motivation for our activities is for community development rather than climate change. But it’s sometimes hard to separate the two.”

Another independent think tank, IPPR, recommends that the UK government should think big locally by launching a Community Wealth Fund which would provide money to communities to undertake ambitious climate action. Recognising that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in Europe, their approach would also involve the rollout of an inclusive devolution process for all of England, transferring economic powers to city regions and non-metropolitan areas where people are on the spot – closer to the problems and necessarily closer to the solutions.

‘Think big locally’ is also a heartfelt appeal to us as individuals too. We don’t need anyone’s permission to come together locally to improve our neighbourhoods and address the climate crisis. We don’t need big budgets either to get things started or to involve more people. The reality is that we have this power at any point in time, we just have to use it. As cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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