On Thursday, 17 December, Big Tent Ideas brought together a number of climate change campaigners to discuss this how local communities can be meaningfully involved in the fight against climate change.
The digital event, organised together with Local Trust, was chaired by author and co-founder of the charity Possible, Alice Bell, who started off the session by recognising that there will be a lot for climate change campaigners to catch up on next year after many conferences and policy discussions have been paused due to COVID-19, but remained positive:

“2020 was going to be the big climate super year, we were going to solve a lot of problems. As a climate campaigner I think 2021 has the potential to catch up on what we haven’t done this year, but also take us further than we would have otherwise.”

“Climate change hasn’t dropped off the public agenda. The British public is committed to climate action.”

Luke Murphy, Head of the Environmental Justice Commission and Associate Director at IPPR, that has worked with Local Trust on research into community-led climate action, argued that climate campaigners need to focus less on building public support in the first instance:

“It’s not just about building support. By giving communities local control you can deliver better outcomes. Not every community necessarily see themselves as actually countering climate change even if they are taking steps towards that. Projects don’t always start with climate objectives in mind.”

“We need more involvement with the public than we do today. This involvement will see us build support. Not everyone are immediately motivated by the need to tackle climate challenges – too often it is seen as activities being undertaken by well-off neighbourhoods.”

“It’s about more than giving people a voice through consultation, it’s about genuine control and ownership of the end asset. That’s how the community generally shared in the wider benefits of climate projects.”

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Peer and former leader of the Green Party, agreed that communities need to be empowered in a way they aren’t today, not just through allocating funds to councils but engaging citizens in projects impacting their area:

“We are by far the most centralised political system in Europe. So many decisions are made in Westminster. We need to make sure power is devolved down locally.”

“Rather than looking at dumping money on one place, if you can just find some good people locally and get them involved and make sure decisionmaking is made on a grassroots level that’s better.”

“People need to get something concrete in return for their involvement.”

Bennett also brought up the topic of electoral reform, which she thinks would empower communities and engage them in climate positive projects:

“We need to electoral reform. The fault is at the centre, the centre is failing. We need to address the democratic deficit at all levels in society. Politics should be about what you do, not what can get done to you.”

The event was also attended by Mark Pepper, Development Manager at Ambition Lawrence Weston, who has taken on a leadership role within his local community over the past eight years, helping ensure investments in the area through the Local Trust’s Big Local fund have been environmentally friendly.
Pepper spoke to the attendees about his community’s journey over the years, from a politically disengaged estate to being pioneers in local climate change projects:

“Lawrence Weston is very small, suffering with historically high levels of poverty. Before 2012 we felt disempower and disengaged. We didn’t’ have a joined up voice and didn’t engage with politics. We sat there allowing things to be done to us.”

“We now have more power and influence over our destiny.”

Pepper argued that the path to Lawrence Weston residents becoming engaged with climate issues started with addressing their immediate needs first:

“For some of us climate change was far down the list of priorities. Our priority was paying our rents and affording to put our gas boilers on.”

“Why would we choose to use our time on climate issues. We felt people lecturing us were twats from middle class backgrounds. We’ve changed this by addressing our local priorities first, knowing that doing so will have beneficial effects on climate. We believe using this strategy will empower all left behind communities like ours.”

“You need to concentrate on people’s priorities and deliver on climate besides that.”

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