“The Politics of Climate Change:” – what can WE do?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published on 9 August 2021 was clear: “Climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying”

The Guardian’s verdict on the IPCC report:

“As a verdict on the climate crimes of humanity, the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report could not be clearer: guilty as hell.

The repeatedly-ignored warnings of scientists over past decades have now become reality. Humanity, through its actions, or lack of action, has unequivocally overheated the planet. Nowhere on Earth is escaping rising temperatures, worse floods, hotter wildfires or more searing droughts.

The future looks worse. “If we do not halt our emissions soon, our future climate could well become some kind of hell on Earth,” says Prof Tim Palmer at the University of Oxford.

This would be the sentence for these climate crimes, but it has yet to be passed down. The world can avoid the harshest punishment, but only just. Immediate repentance for the delays that have brought the world to the brink is required in the form of immediate and deep emissions cuts.”

The BBC’s Matt McGrath produced a useful summary using key graphics from the IPCC report to show the different scenarios possible, including terrifying images from this summer’s extreme events:

I recently summarised an online discussion run by the University of Exeter with the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, George Eustice; the shadow secretary, Luke Pollard – both West Country MPs – and Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party. This follow-up article offers useful suggestions about what we can all do to get involved in and influence the politics (with a small ‘p’) of climate change. These ideas are based on my own experience as a town councillor and involvement with Dorset Climate Action Network. There are any number of ways to get involved; the important thing is to start somewhere.

Near Badbury Rings. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tracy, FullyFocusedPhotos

As a lifelong geographer, a sometime international business person, educator, single parent and now proud grandmother, I have always been concerned about the human impact on the environment and the future uncertainty we are leaving our children and grandchildren.

Humanity’s effect on the climate has become increasingly apparent, thanks to increasing and irrefutable scientific knowledge over the past few decades. The IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change has made it abundantly clear that we risk runaway climate and ecological chaos unless we make drastic changes to our current ways of living, starting NOW.

Increasingly, people from many different walks of life have realised the significance of the climate and ecological crises, which affect all of us. Public awareness has been greatly increased, thanks to the scientific community’s relentless publicising of the evidence of the man-made causes of climate change and environmental destruction. Also, Greta Thunberg and the FridaysforFuture school strikes and demonstrations, and Extinction Rebellion’s creative campaigns, have helped.

The business community is more and more aware that consumers want to see responsible behaviour and that their employees want to work for people who take their Environmental, Social and Governance responsibilities seriously. Crucially, the business world knows that being ‘green’ is good for business. The SME Climate Hub enables Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) to make the Climate Commitment and be recognised by the UN’s Race to Zero campaign.

Looking towards local government, Bristol City Council was the first local authority to declare a Climate & Ecological Emergency in November 2018 thanks to Green Party Councillor, Carla Denyer. Two years later, 74 per cent of all councils, all devolved assemblies and the UK Parliament had followed suit in making declarations. Town and parish councils up and down the country also followed by declaring their own climate emergencies and setting targets to become carbon neutral, many by 2030: 20 years ahead of the UK government’s own target.

The Local Government Association (LGA), representing principal authorities, set up a Climate Change Hub to provide support, encouragement and resources for local authorities to share experience and best practice.

The Carbon Literacy Project has been training local authorities, as well as large organisations and businesses, to enable management and employees alike to understand the climate crisis and what everyone involved needs to do. The Carbon Literacy Project was recognised by the United Nations at the Conference of the Parties (COP21) climate negotiations in 2015, as one of 100 ‘Transformative Actions Projects’ worldwide that could materially change the way we deal with climate change. This government-accredited and funded training will soon be piloted for town and parish councillors.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC), supporting town and parish councils and their county associations, has produced Climate Change Case Studies covering a wide range of climate and environmental issues:

  • biodiversity;
  • carbon off-setting and reduction;
  • climate change forums;
  • community projects;
  • designing greener housing;
  • electric charging points;
  • energy and heating;
  • environmental improvement;
  • flood assistance;
  • green travel;
  • plastic reduction; and
  • trees and tree management.
Weymouth. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tracy, FullyFocusedPhotos

So, as we emerge from the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, with the realisation that the climate and ecological crises are facing us head on, what can we do?

First of all, everyone can do something, no matter how small.

Gaining some knowledge of the issues helps, but don’t let the experts and the climate-articulate put you off. Essentially, we need to change our reliance on fossil fuels, which will be better for us. We can all campaign for our own health, well-being and safety, without necessarily being well-versed in the language of greenhouse gas emissions or carbon credits.

In November 2020, Bristol city councillor Carla Denyer explained:

“Becoming a carbon-neutral city is not only about tackling the global threat of climate change. It’s also about making our city a better place to live – for all of us. A city thriving with green jobs, where every house is properly insulated, every family has access to green and affordable energy, and everyone has safe, healthy and sustainable ways to get from A to B. We can get there, but we need to up the pace of change.

“If this government wants to tackle the climate crisis, it needs to give local government more powers and funding to get the work done. Councils around the country are ready and waiting to help them do this.”

We all have a voice. We have influence as neighbours, as voters, as volunteers, as employees, as councillors or as business, charity or social enterprise owners.

We can ask our employers, community organisations and local councils whether they have set targets towards net zero or sustainability, or what their environmental, social and governance objectives are. Then we can hold them to account.

Speaking as a town councillor, it gives me huge confidence to be supported by residents in the community who appreciate my efforts towards our declaration for the Lyme Regis Town Council to be net carbon neutral by 2030 and to commit ourselves to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At a local level, one of the best ways to get involved would be to identify those councillors who are trying to bring about the practical climate and environmental actions needed to start the transition away from fossil fuel dependency and wasteful lifestyles.

Contact them and offer your support.

Trying to get motions through councils can be a time-consuming and soul-destroying process, as many councillors tend to be risk-averse and wary of anything they don’t properly understand. Being able to demonstrate support from the community is crucial, so write in to support climate and environment-friendly proposals. Ask questions.

Better still, turn up and speak in the public forum to challenge or to show your support.

Even if it isn’t enough to get the proposal through, it will show the dissenting councillors that there are people in the community advocating for more environmental responsibility, and it will boost the confidence of the embattled ‘green’ councillors trying to bring about the changes needed.

Next, find out which groups in the community are working towards a greener, more sustainable future and join them. If there are no environmental action groups where you live, start one up.

Alternatively, join a local branch of a national network campaigning on the climate and ecological crisis, according to where your interest lies.

The South-West has ambitions to be the first region to reach ‘net zero’ and there are climate action networks springing up to cater for academic, business, political, community and personal interests.

Lulworth Cove and Stair Hole. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tracy, FullyFocusedPhotos

The climate and environmental action networks are a great way to meet like-minded people and bounce ideas off each other (there’s a list below of the county networks). They aim to share knowledge, expertise and experience of successful local projects which can be extended or replicated elsewhere. They are run by enthusiastic volunteers, many of whom are experts in their field, who are motivated to teach and to learn from others, ‘mob up’ to provide a collective voice to local authorities or government departments, and submit well-researched ideas to public consultations.

The climate action networks are keen to support parish, town and local councils to bring about the changes we need to make, towards sustainable and carbon-free futures. Most important of all, everyone is welcome!

There are various toolkits available to help measure environment impacts and carbon footprints. A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product, expressed as the carbon dioxide equivalent. The Impact Community Carbon Calculator identifies the main ‘carbon impact areas’ in the parish or town: those places where focused community-based action can make the biggest contribution to cutting local emissions.

The impact tool was developed by the Centre for Sustainable Energy as part of their Climate Emergency Support Programme, working jointly with the University of Exeter’s Centre for Energy & the Environment as part of their South West Environment and Climate Action Network.

At a civic parish level, the Impact Community Carbon Calculator pie charts show greenhouse gas emissions on a territorial basis, those directly produced in the parish, as well as on the basis of consumption, showing what we buy and eat from outside our local area, or import from overseas.

In addition, there are a number of personal, household or group level carbon footprint calculators: WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has an excellent guide explaining why your carbon footprint matters, including a questionnaire enabling you to assess your personal impact.

Zero Carbon Shropshire has a useful website highlighting different carbon footprint calculators. Most are easy to use, fun to try and might surprise you.

Giki is a science-based calculator which breaks actions down and enables you to track progress in reducing your carbon footprint. The tool is designed to be used by individuals, household or groups. Why not set up a group in your wider family, your street, your workplace or social circle?

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that sudden behaviour change is possible and also showed us the power of community action. Get together in your communities, find out what matters most to people, check your area’s carbon footprint and focus on projects which people understand will help them live more healthy, sustainable lives at the same time as reducing their environmental impact.

The UK’s independent advisory panel, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published the Sixth Carbon Budget in December 2020, which included the Pathway to Net Zero, detailing the measures necessary to reach the government’s net zero target of 2050. The CCC’s Progress Report published in June 2021 clearly showed government policies lag much too far behind their ambition.

The secretary of state for the environment, George Eustice, stated in the discussion at the University of Exeter last month that the government would adopt the CCC’s recommendations. Let’s see …

Alok Sharma, the UK minister in charge of the COP26 talks, said of the publication of the IPCC report on 9 August:

“This is going to be the starkest warning yet that human behaviour is alarmingly  accelerating global warming and this is why COP26 has to be the moment we get this right. We can’t afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years – this is the moment.” 

We cannot wait for our cash-starved local authorities, either, though many are blazing a trail in the South-West. We cannot wait for national governments, though we should continue to lobby for the legislation we need. No matter how small an action, everyone can do something. Politics is about people, and we can all make our voices heard and our presence felt, in a multitude of ways. Support your local councils, community groups, nature recovery partnerships and climate action networks.

To coin a phrase, Just Do It!

Ridgeway poppies. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tracy, FullyFocusedPhotos

UK government latest trends: Trend Deck 2021: Climate Change  

Cornwall Council Climate Emergency Plan: Our Action Plan – Cornwall Council

Devon County Council Energy and Climate Change: Home – Energy and Climate Change

Dorset Council Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy & Action Plan: Climate and Ecological Emergency

Somerset County Council Climate Emergency: Climate emergency

Climate actions for councils: Ashden Tools for Councils – Co-Benefits Toolkit

Climate & Environmental Action Networks:

Climate Action International: CAN (climatenetwork.org)

Climate Emergency UK: Declare a Climate Emergency | Go Zero Carbon by 2030

South West Environment and Climate Action Network: South West Environment and Climate Action Network

Cornwall Climate Action Network: Cornwall Climate Action Network

Devon Climate Emergency: Wild About Devon! – Devon Climate Emergency

Dorset Climate Action Network (Dorset CAN):

Facebook (20+) Dorset CAN – Climate Action Network | Facebook

Twitter (10) Dorset CAN (@Dorset_CAN) / Twitter

Instagram Dorset Climate Action Network (@dorset_can) • Instagram photos and videos

Somerset Climate Action Network: Somerset CAN – Somerset Climate Action Network

Nature Recovery Partnerships

South West Nature Recovery Partnership: Nature Recovery Network for the South West

Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership: Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership

Devon Local Nature Partnership: Devon Local Nature Partnership

Dorset Nature Recovery Partnership: Dorset Local Nature Partnership

Somerset Local Nature Partnership: Somerset Local Nature Partnership

Get Net Zero right – UNFCC guide: Get-Net-Zero-right-2.pdf

SMEs: UK – SME Climate hub

Burton Bradstock. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tracy, FullyFocusedPhotos

The author is a Lyme Regis Town Councillor, Chairman Environment Committee and a member of the following:

Dorset Climate Action Network

NALC Climate Change Task & Finish group

Green Party