Do we really need people to join together locally to address a global climate challenge?

Whether you realise it or not, we’ve already entered the next phase of decarbonisation in the UK where further reductions in national emissions can only be achieved by changing our previously normal way of life. Out of necessity, this new phase will be more devolved and democratic, as local government and communities play a bigger leadership role. That’s good news, because you have more of a say in what should happen around you.

Systemic change requires change at all levels. Only government can steer the transformation on the scale needed, creating a positive policy environment and stewarding economic organisations to support civil society. Only individuals can decide to change their current behaviour, creating the opportunity to shift dramatically our collective attitudes towards the climate emergency. And only groups of people working on local causes and on the impacts of climate change can tap into the abundance of local knowledge and leadership, creating space for new ideas and helping to build communities’ resilience. So yes, we need everyone on board if we are to combat climate change.

Within this changing system, Carbon Copy focuses on the power of local action and the potential of local areas to become a focus of climate policy. Because while climate change impacts the entire world, the specific challenges it creates – from flooding to biodiversity loss – manifest locally. Because those activities that drive the problem by creating the greenhouse gas emissions and destroying our ecosystems – for example, from poor policy decisions or corporate strategy – are implemented locally. And because most of what will constitute large scale change, at least in the near term, is the spread of ambitious local initiatives that mitigate these harmful impacts or help us adapt to a changing climate.

We’re on a mission: we have net-zero emissions targets in place for the UK, both nationally and locally. According to renowned economist Mariana Mazzucato, a mission-based approach should be clear on the expected outcome (net-zero targets are clear enough) although the trajectory to reach such an outcome must be based on a bottom-up approach of multiple solutions (think myriad different climate action initiatives).

It takes more than ambitious targets to address the biodiversity and climate crises: it takes people working together on the ground to make it happen. Greta Thunberg put it another way, in a speech to the Youth4Climate summit in Milan last year:

Net zero by 2050 blah blah blah… hope is taking action… hope comes from the people.

The real challenge that sits behind any target of net-zero emissions is one of carbon neutral living. As Mazzucato explains, this perspective is important because it’s the people who live locally and who belong to different community groups who are doing the ‘living’ that is at the heart of a fairer, carbon zero future.

In its report on Communities vs Climate Change, think tank New Local has identified three significant features from the wide range of community-led action and activity on the environment that’s happening across the UK:

  1. Community action doesn’t need to focus on climate change to have climate impact.
  2. Community action is demonstrating how it is possible to ‘level up’ by addressing economic and climate goals together.
  3. Communities are building powerful local alliances of neighbours, businesses and voluntary groups.

Any one of these features could appeal to a broader cross-section of society and could get more people to act not just individually but collectively. The opportunity is to shine a light on these community-led actions and the people behind them, making these benefits more widely known; highlighting the many different ways to join in; and making the narrative on climate action more inclusive and closer to home.

In bringing people together, we also get closer to tipping the scales towards sustainability; to changing our societal attitudes and behaviours towards addressing the biodiversity and climate crises with real urgency. We saw this happen on a small scale in the town hall meetings we organised on Walk2COP26 when, as part of a team, I walked 500 miles last October from London to the global climate summit in Glasgow.

By gathering people in different places along the route – from local businesses, councils, volunteer groups and schools – we saw new connections forming and collective resolve strengthening. The key to unlocking some of this potential was to include people who were willing but perhaps not that actively involved, and to do so in a different way.

This year, starting in Glasgow, Carbon Copy is planning to bring thousands of people together in the name of climate action and to celebrate the power of local on a much bigger scale than before so that together we can speed up change. When democratic governments and large businesses observe what voters and customers are saying through their actions, it inevitably has a strong influence on policies and decision-making. We would like your support, as someone who champions the cause of local climate action or who participates in community action where they live. But don’t watch this space; instead, please fill it.

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