We need more grassroots projects to avert climate disaster

Zero carbon schemes need to be celebrated - and expanded - to boost our chances of averting the climate crisis.

By Simon Brammer, Head of Cities at the climate change charity Ashden.

It’s in everyone’s interest to tackle the climate crisis – but calls for action can seem a slap in the face for people facing financial pressure.

Workers in polluting industries see their jobs at risk, with few alternatives available. Urging people to travel by bus and train can be a cruel joke in areas that have endure decades of underinvestment.

For the better off, the picture is very different. Wealthier drivers can parade their green credentials with a sleek (and expensive) electric car. Green technology – from top-of-the-range boilers to double glazing – brings huge savings, but often a big-up front cost too.

The Gilets Jaunes protests that have simmered in France for years show the real, even deadly, dangers ahead if we don’t confront this issue of a just transition. Of course, if we don’t lower emissions, climate change itself will only widen social divisions in the UK and around the world. The richest can sidestep the worst effects of extreme weather, food shortages and economic disruption.

Are we damned to greater division, whatever we do?  Absolutely not. The best climate solutions are simultaneously lowering emissions and boosting equality, often because the innovators behind them are driven by the values of fairness and justice, rather than profit.

It’s vital we all rally round these ideas – backing them as customers or users, investing in them through our pensions if we can, and urging our MPs and councillors to support and replicate them.

These solutions are a route to better health, education, housing and work for all – cornerstones of progressive thinking. And they will help drive a green recovery from coronavirus, with benefits for all. So how are climate champions making the progressive case for climate action? The Ashden Awards highlight some of the best projects helping avert climate disaster.

Four projects helping to save the planet

4. Green innovation can transform our transport sector – and tackle the worst effects of the gig economy. London logistics company e-cargobikes uses a fleet of electric bikes to make zero emission deliveries on our city streets, and are proud to hire their riders on permanent contracts and pay them the London Living Wage.

As founder Clare Elwes says: “Our greatest resource is our riders”. The business has been doing vital work during the pandemic. On Christmas Day a dozen riders delivered 460 meals as well as gifts for isolated and vulnerable people.

Cold, draughty housing brings misery to families up and down the UK – and forces many to spend huge amounts on their heating bills. Social housing tenants are particularly hard-hit. But innovation can help us take action at scale and speed, lowering emissions and creating decent homes for everyone.

3. A 2019 award winner, the Energiesprong system retrofits whole homes in a matter of weeks, making them more energy-efficient and comfortable. New walls and other elements are created off-site and then quickly attached to the house, along with other upgrades. Homes get a modern makeover and a 30-year energy performance guarantee.

2. Meanwhile, technology from Guru Systems tracks and tackles disastrous inefficiencies in heat networks – including those warming social housing blocks. A faulty pipe or wrongly flicked switch can cause problems for years if undiscovered. But Guru’s software and hardware helps cuts household energy bills by up to 50%. A spokesman for social enterprise Octavia Housing says: “Guru has helped us minimise costs for our tenants, and support those at risk of fuel poverty.”

1. An inclusive approach is key to successful climate solutions. In and around Birmingham, The Active Wellbeing Society provides cycle training, led rides, loan bikes and recycled bikes to people in deprived communities. The scheme has helped groups such as Muslim women get involved in cycling – an activity that boosts health and employment prospects, but is more often associated with mamils (middle-aged men in lycra).

The society was born out of Birmingham City Council. Local and regional authorities are key to the UK’s zero carbon journey, but often lack the resources and support to turn climate ambition into climate action.

The battles against inequality and global warming can’t be separated. When we highlight the brilliant solutions that address both challenges, our calls for change are so much harder to ignore.

Do you know any outstanding UK climate solutions? The Ashden Awards are open for entries until 3 March, with categories including green skills and green community projects. Entry is free, and winners receive £10,000 and further support. Enter here.

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