The term climate emergency has become a ubiquitous rallying point for a broad spectrum of groups concerned about the threats from global heating. In fact, climate change is just one of a number of issues that are of concern in what has been termed the 6th mass extinction event – a period in the history of our planet which humans are currently creating by not only forcing the climate to change at a rate unseen for millions of years, but also by undermining our existence through the destruction of thousands of other species. Through the resulting loss of biodiversity, we are actually facing a man-made extinction emergency.
Despite this sombre backdrop we can still make a difference but it will require our institutional infrastructure to step up to the challenge and do things differently from the business as usual approach that has brought about this emergency.
“Local areas have seized the initiative on climate change” according to a recent report released by the Green Alliance. Notably, in Norfolk there is still a seemingly uncoordinated patchwork of local government organisations that have declared a climate emergency and some that are still to respond in this way. Out of a list of councils who have declared a climate emergency as of 21st October 2019, there are only four entries in Norfolk, three who have declared a climate emergency (North Norfolk District Council, Hunstanton Town Council, Breckland Council) and then Norwich City Council, who have “acknowledged the conclusions of scientists that climate temperature rise should be limited to 1.5ºC” as their version of a climate emergency declaration.
Norwich Community Solar agrees with the Green Alliance that the challenge now is for local policy makers to translate the momentum behind their declarations into co-ordinated action across all areas of their local economies, including data, energy, transport, buildings, land use and manufacturing. Local development plans should be aligned at the very least to the government’s ‘net zero by 2050’ target. As a community energy social enterprise that is working for the benefit of our local communities, we are keen to engage with local funding and policy-setting bodies to bring about a local clean energy revolution while increasing social capital in a way that is not harmful to the ecosystem. We acknowledge that it’s not good enough any longer to simply set goals on the basis of financial cost but that other factors, such as carbon reduction and social wellbeing should also be accounted for. In our case, not only do we promote the use of renewable energy, but by it being generated and remunerated locally, we see that we are contributing to the wellbeing of our members and preserving more value inside the local economy.
According to a recent study Friends of the Earth, Norwich particularly needs to do much better on increasing renewable energy, tree cover and waste recycling. While the Norwich area’s performance on climate change was reported as being better than most, compared to other local authorities, we also think it must act faster if the extinction emergency is to be averted. NCS have been active in seeking ways to collaborate with our local authorities to develop community-owned solar energy projects, that could also integrate with electric vehicle infrastructure, cleaner heating with smarter local energy systems and markets that help to retain the value from renewable energy locally.
Sadly, we have found progress to be incredibly slow and so, as time is running out to avert this extinction crisis, we are reaching out to say we want to engage in local partnerships in clean energy, social wellbeing and sustainability with local authorities and business that recognise the need for urgent action. What we are seeking is not an unusual partnership either. There are several examples of successful collaborations between community energy organisations, local authorities and businesses in other parts of the country, Bristol, Oxford, Cornwall and London are some of the leaders.
Bristol Energy Cooperative originally benefitted from critical support from Bristol City Council but have now set up their Megawatt Community Energy Fund to recycle profits back into community action. The Oxford Low Carbon Hub say the lifetime estimated benefit to their community from their current project portfolio stands at £2.6mn. Community Power Cornwall has benefitted from loans and planning support from Cornwall Council and now has several community-benefitting renewable energy projects up and running. The Greater London Authority has set up a community energy fund that has supported a number of its local community energy groups in a diverse range of projects alleviating fuel poverty, energy education, advocacy in local social and sustainability leadership as well as generating renewable energy.
We would like Norwich and Norfolk to become exemplary in community energy partnerships in the East of England, learning from examples like the ones above, and building on what we have already started. If you feel the same way, join us and let’s start bringing about democratised, decarbonised and distributed energy partnerships on land that are of equal importance to the great renewable energy innovation taking place off the East Anglian coast.