Aside from having the luxury of not having to present at a conference for once, attending the online Climate Emergency Conference was a real treat! It was inspiring to hear about so many people working together to help the UK reach its Carbon Zero target. From Councils to activists, farmers to consumers, we all have our role to play.
To date, 300 out of the 404 District, County, Unitary & Metropolitan Councils have declared a Climate Emergency. This means that they recognise that it is indeed an emergency situation that requires immediate attention, and that they are committed to take the necessary action to have net zero carbon emissions. But, declaring a Climate Emergency is just the first step – then what? How do the councils develop an action plan that is meaningful and applicable? How do they go about getting their own house in order, engaging and informing citizens and influencing businesses to make the right decisions? Conversely, how do concerned citizens hold their councils to account?
Over 350 delegates attended a day jam-packed with parallel sessions covering topics from Engaging Multicultural Voices in Climate Action and The Role of Faith Groups, to Citizen Scrutiny of Action Plans and Engaging Farmers in More Nature Friendly Agriculture.
One clear message that stood true when engaging all groups was to understand people’s position and priorities and provide relevant information. For example, Stuart Roberts, Deputy President of National Farmers Union, explained that we must appreciate that while changes in the agricultural policy post-Brexit can offer opportunities for positive and monumental change, it is also a very uncertain, worrying and busy time for farmers and landowners. Judy Ling Wong, Honorary President of the Black Environmental Network, suggested making the connection for ethnic groups by highlighting the imminent risks of climate change on their countries of heritage.
Meeting Net Zero is not straightforward, nor is there ready-made solutions which are uniformly satisfactory to members of the public. More than ever can we see the need for participatory actions where members of different communities have the opportunity to be outspoken about their vision for transitioning towards a greener economy. Organising a citizen assembly is one such action. In 2019, Oxford residents considered measures to reduce Oxford’s carbon emissions to net zero, and Oxford City Council’s own footprint by 2030 – says Tom Hayes, who works at the council. Oxford is the first UK city to hold a citizen assembly to address climate change and assess the council’s own responsibility in this enterprise.
However, what happens when local authorities aren’t as responsive as what you would like them to be? Jeana from Hope for the Future talked us through the charity’s training for citizens to learn how to lobby their councils. From developing a relationship with one’s councillor to nurturing empathy and finding common grounds for actions, Hope for the Future designed plenty of resources to empower citizens to trigger change in their local areas. From an engagement perspective, it is insightful to take time to understand the barriers that might exist between members of the public and authorities.
In a time where inspiration is quite hard to come by and new interactions with enthusiastic individuals and groups even less likely, this conference was the exact tonic needed to keep Mapping for Change grounded, motivated and focused throughout lockdown. Thanks Climate Emergency!