Communities fighting climate breakdown

In just one year Climate Action groups have convinced councils to declare climate emergencies, lobbied for change at a local level, and brought communities together. Could your community do something similar?
By Eoin Redahan    |      Published:  29 Apr 2020    |      Last updated:  14 Jul 2020    |      4 minute read

Big change starts small. A year ago, our Climate Action network didn’t exist. But after years of political inaction on climate (despite the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK parliament) communities took matters into their own hands. Now, there are more than 200 Climate Action groups across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, representing their communities and pushing for positive change where they live. 

Climate Action groups, 22 April 2020
Climate Action groups, 22 April 2020

While some groups are tackling issues specific to their area – like a lack of tree cover – others are lobbying their councils to adopt a Climate Action Plan, and making sure climate remains at the top of the political agenda.

These are just a few examples of what Climate Action groups have been doing. Could your community do something similar?

Council pressure

Climate Action Leicester and Leicestershire is a prime example of a group influencing decision-making through intelligent, persistent action.

When Leicester City Council published the final draft of its 2020-2036 Local Plan (which outlines a vision for development in the area over 16 years), the group objected, because it didn't include nearly enough to tackle climate breakdown.

In an effort to stop the Plan being approved without provisions for climate action, the group wrote to every councillor in the area and met with council officers and members of the City Executive. They also got the wider community involved, asking people on the street to sign its petition to review the Local Plan and make sure it didn’t "get locked into years of climate-destructive planning policies."

In a dramatic demonstration of civic rights, group members flooded the balcony during the decisive meeting on the proposed Plan, and the council recognised the strength of the group's case. It will now produce another draft of the plan, along with another public consultation.

A local action group in Leicester launches a petition to revise the council's Local Plan
A local action group in Leicester launches a petition to revise the council's Local Plan
Credit: Climate Action Leicester and Leicestershire

Carbon neutral Eastbourne?

Lobbying for change often requires a lot of behind-the-scenes organising and networking.

Eastbourne and District Friends of the Earth has played a key part in that kind of background work. It helped set up the Eastbourne Eco Action Network, which is working with the council on an ambitious campaign to make Eastbourne carbon neutral by 2030. 

After months of lobbying local councillors to support the declaration of a climate emergency, the town council passed it unanimously in July 2019. The Eco Action Network then set up working groups to bring together climate activists, community groups, businesses, and local councillors to identify how Eastbourne can meet this 2030 target. Two representatives from the group now sit on the council’s Climate Change Strategy panel.

"Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030" was officially launched at a public event in January 2020, with more than 40 stands showcasing what people and businesses can do to reduce their carbon footprints. 

Footsteps making big strides

It can often feel as though Britain is becoming more polarised, which is why there's something heartening about the Footsteps group in Birmingham. The multi-faith group of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Pagans has come together to help create a low-carbon future, as Annie explains...

In August 2019, Footsteps organised an interfaith walk at Tyseley Energy Park, followed by a series of talks on building community resilience, restoring the natural environment in the derelict Cole River valley, and increasing access to renewable energy.

The group had planned a face-to-face gathering and carnival through Birmingham to celebrate Earth Day on 22 April. Given the lockdown, the event went ahead on video conferencing platform Zoom instead, and featured climate change discussions as well as music, meditation, and faith reflections.

The climate vote

Other groups are using their skills to grill local leaders and ensure the climate remains at the top of the political agenda.

A group in Lambeth, south London, co-organised 3 climate hustings ahead of December's general election to grill their candidates on the climate and ecological emergency.

Other groups did the same, including Montgomeryshire's Climate Action Newtown, which also co-organised an all-party hustings with a climate emergency Q&A for the election candidates. 

Climate action in 2020

Across the UK, thousands of people have put pressure on local and national government to reduce carbon emissions and – as more and more people take climate action – their voices are becoming harder to ignore. 

A group in Southampton gathered 1,900 signatures for a petition that opposed the expansion of Southampton Airport, which forced the council to formally object to the proposed project.

Elsewhere, Bristol’s Climate Action groups banded together to call on the council to divest its pension fund investments from fossil fuels. A coalition of community groups in County Antrim called No-ARC21 formed to stop toxic incineration in Mallusk, while another Northern Irish group, Zero Waste North West, has been instrumental in encouraging the local council to adopt a circular economy strategy and is working with Stendhal Festival to go waste free.

Others are even making a difference during the lockdown with online education and community initiatives, socially distanced tree planting, and by getting local folks to plant out their front gardens and window boxes to provide better habitats for pollinators and other invertebrates.

There's so much more to champion in what has been an excellent first year for Climate Action groups, but the best is yet to come. And though groups are observing social distancing at the moment, there's still a way you can get involved...

Fancy taking Climate Action in your area?

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