The climate change challenge: meet the communities fighting back

Will there be a Blue Planet style response from watching Sir David’s climate documentary? From Brixton to Newport via Manchester, communities across the country are already working to solve the climate crisis and fighting climate-wrecking schemes where they live. Friends of the Earth is showcasing the strength of people power as the green group unveils its Climate Action Plan today.
  Published:  19 Apr 2019    |      6 minute read

Following the recent school strikes, protests and last night’s Attenborough documentary Climate: the facts, the scale of the crisis has never been more apparent. We need bold and immediate government intervention to deal with the full extent of the emergency but while government dawdles, Friends of the Earth argues people can meet the challenge head-on. Through lobbying and local action, here are the communities who’ve taken the fightback into their own hands and are reducing emissions where they live:

  1. In Manchester people love cycling so much they changed the city’s infrastructure.
  1. The Gwent Levels in south Wales would be ruined by a new road if not for local campaigning.
  1. In Brixton, London, everyone wins from harnessing the sun’s power on a block of flats.
  1. A test case for dirty coal mining on the coast of Northumberland has massive resistance now, but eight people started it.
  1. In Glastonbury a massive tree planting scheme makes space for nature while absorbing carbon emissions.

Aaron Kiely, climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Natural history programmes have long been a ratings winner, it’s time to really get behind Sir David’s unflinching message.

“The human cost of climate change is already devastating, both here and globally with record-breaking heatwaves and terrifying cyclones, and global temperatures rising. Meantime, it’s being recognised that concern about climate change is leading to clinical depression.

“But we know what the solutions to the crisis are and if we crack on now, we can still stop the worst impacts of climate breakdown. Added to that, if the government does the right thing now and commits to our climate action plan by the end of 2020, a fairer and greener economy can be built. There are already amazing communities around the country leading the charge.

“We need governments to fully solve this emergency, but while politicians sit on their hands people are moving their lives and money in the direction we all need to go in. If more communities take the climate challenge, the government won’t be able to ignore the groundswell and will be forced into over-due action.”

Friends of the Earth’s Climate Action Plan:

  • Transport: Stop the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Invest in brilliant and cheap public transport, cycling and walking everywhere.
  • Power: Stop making electricity from dirty fuels and ban fracking. Start aiming for 100% clean energy from the wind, sun and sea.
  • Buildings: End the misery of cold, expensive-to-heat homes. Fund a massive insulation scheme and shift to eco-friendly heating.
  • Agriculture and Land Use: Stop using our land for intensive farming. Double tree cover and let wildlife thrive.
  • Infrastructure: Stop backing projects that fuel climate change, like airport expansion. Start making climate change a deal-breaker in all spending decisions.
  • International Justice: Stop funding fossil fuels. Pay its fair share to support more-vulnerable countries to cut carbon pollution and deal with the impacts of climate change.

Come and get involved in building climate solutions where you live - register your interest here

Moving around Manchester

Emissions from the transport sector are one of the largest sources of toxic air pollution but they have barely fallen since 1990. Now, they make up the biggest share of the UK’s climate pollution. People in Manchester recognised this, got together and created the new Bee Network which came into existence through the Love Your Bike campaign. Working together with cycling groups to get pedal power into Mayor Andy Burnham's manifesto, this led to the appointment of Olympian Chris Boardman. It’s meant that funding has been committed to a network of walking and cycling routes with a view to doubling, and then doubling again, cycling in Manchester, while making walking the obvious and natural choice.

It’s their ambition to learn from smart and innovative cycling schemes across the world, including Amsterdam which ramped up investment in cycling infrastructure only as recently as the 1970s.

Ali Abbas, from Manchester Friends of the Earth, said:

“David Attenborough putting his clout behind the climate issue could be a pivotal moment, alerting millions of people to the urgency and severity of the climate crisis. But he and the BBC must reiterate that, above anyone else, our governments are responsible for getting us out of this mess. Communities in Greater Manchester and throughout the country are doing all they can, but it would be a travesty if viewers were left feeling that personal actions alone will reverse the damage being done to our planet.

“As Greta Thunberg has so powerfully said, governments and world leaders must act as if our house is on fire, because it is.”

Resisting roads in south Wales

We can’t reduce harmful emissions if we keep on building new roads. The Gwent Levels sweep the coastline from Cardiff to the Severn Crossing. Hosting a wonderful diversity of birdlife including sparrow hawks and bitterns, shy water voles can also be found. In 2018 even common cranes were spotted, contrary to their name, they were thought to have died out four centuries ago.

A new road to ease congestion on the M4 was first proposed in the 1990s. Since then, local people have repeatedly kept the plans at bay.

"At a time when we need to be dramatically cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, opening up huge swathes of precious countryside to roadbuilding – leading to more cars on the road and climate changing emissions - will not put us on the path to a sustainable future," says Haf Elgar, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru.

The new First Minister Mark Drakeford is considering the inquiry report, policies, and other advice before making a decision, expected soon. This is just one of many examples where people have fought roads proposals. The fact that the M4 relief road has yet to be built is testimony to relentless work from people standing up to wildlife-killing, climate-wrecking proposals. 

Energy innovation in London

Brixton Energy Solar 1 is the UK’s first co-operatively owned renewable energy project on a social housing estate. It’s culminated in the installation of a solar scheme, or effectively a small power station, on the roof of Elmore House in Brixton. These schemes save carbon dioxide emissions, from entering the atmosphere only to contribute to global warming.

The group found the funds through a community share offer, attracting over 100 investors in less than a month. Community power, community energy, community solutions: the fight against climate change and being able to control energy sources are people-powered.

Now is the time for the UK government to commit to invest massively in renewables, warm homes, clean transport and stop investing in fossil fuels.

Agamemnon Otero, Brixton resident and Director of Brixton Energy Solar Cooperative, said:

“Direct climate action starts with choosing where your energy comes from. Investing in a local energy cooperative brings power back to the people. Every time you spend money you are casting a vote. In Brixton we chose to learn, work and invest together with our community so we can feel, see, and be the difference we want in the world now. And we recommend it to everyone else.”

Dirty coal in Northumberland

Beautiful Druridge Bay is threatened by an opencast coal mine and dirty, dangerous fossil-fuel extraction. The High Court has upheld a challenge from the mining company against the government’s refusal of planning permission, but it’s now back with the government for a second decision.

Horrified at the thought of the desolation of this pristine area and beach, a group of just eight people banded together to investigate and spread the word about the health impacts, tourism damage, among other fears.

Druridge Bay is a test case. If this proposal for such a destructive way of coal extraction is green-lit, can the government claim to be serious about transitioning to a low-carbon economy? The decision is awaited, but those eight people have swollen to many, and they have been successful at getting MPs on both sides of the house to lobby the Secretary.

To keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C and prevent dangerous climate change, we need to keep most of our coal, oil and gas in the ground. The people of Druridge Bay have done that.

Planting trees in Glastonbury

Many more trees need to be planted to help capture carbon emissions and build wildlife corridors to support ecosystems. Friends of the Earth Glastonbury approached local businesses to plant trees on their land, and found they were really receptive. Glastonbury Town Council brought some land known as Herbie’s Field and for the cost of £20 people could plant a hedge or tree in a loved one’s memory.

Indra Francesco, Glastonbury Friends of the Earth, said:

“This scheme was really popular. Increasing tree canopy cover is a fantastic thing to do at a local level and we can only hope it catches on – we need to double tree cover by 2045 as part of our fight against climate change. The UK currently has some of the lowest levels of woodland in Europe and is witnessing a mass felling of its street trees – increasing tree cover would not only make more space for nature but help absorb plant-wrecking emissions from the atmosphere.”

We’re facing a climate emergency. Friends of the Earth wants to double tree cover as part of our fight against climate change. The UK currently has some of the lowest levels of woodland in Europe – just 13%. By increasing tree cover and making more space nature for everywhere we would see a significant proportion of the UK’s planet-wrecking emissions removed from the atmosphere.