Now the government needs to act to enable all communities to have meaningful control of how their area adapts and benefits from the transition to net zero.
Communities must be given greater ownership of the process of the green transition and the assets and benefits that arise from it, according to IPPR.
In a new report, the think tank urges the UK Government to set goals to significantly increase the proportion of community owned green economy assets in England, including aiming for a third of new onshore renewables to be under community ownership.
IPPR argues that progress toward tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature can be accelerated if communities are not just urged to change, but empowered to participate in the transition to net zero; by creating community wealth; improving place; and addressing inequality.
The think tank’s research argues that this will significantly increase the political mandate for addressing the climate crisis.
The report uncovers the breadth and depth of local community climate action already happening across the country.
It highlights the ways people are already coming together to create shared low carbon assets – renewable energy, district heating, housing, woodland and food cultivation, in order to improve their health, wellbeing, local neighbourhoods, reduce poverty and increase local control.
IPPR proposes a new approach to devolution to empower more communities to take similar action with legislation for community rights and a community right to own or manage.
These new ‘climate commons’ should be supported through a new Thriving Places Fund and changes to planning laws to accelerate community owned projects.
The report contains an abundance of examples of successful community owned and run schemes that the government and communities should look to for inspiration.
Case study: Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW), North West Bristol
An area with high levels of fuel poverty have generated a substantial local income by creating community owned renewable energy projects.
Motivated by a desire to cut fuel bills in an area where 70 per cent of people reported struggling to pay, the community-led organisation continues providing insulation to fuel-poor households and facilitates and supports the delivery of a community owned solar farm with Bristol Energy Co-operative.
The group are now working to finance a planning application approved 4.5 megawatt 150 metre high onshore community owned wind turbine. Once complete it will power 3,850 homes saving 1,965 tonnes of CO2 and return a profit to the community of between £50,000 and £400,000 a year depending on the level of capital grant raised.
Case study: The Goodwin Development Trust - community housing
Social housing residents in Hull created the trust which has renovated 60 abandoned homes and created affordable family homes to ultra-environmentally friendly ‘passivhaus’ standards (designed to require little or no energy to heat or cool). The community has also brought a water recycling system into collective ownership and the Trust is developing 40 more social homes.
Case study: Repowering London, community energy
Repowering is a social enterprise that has been creating jobs in communities by funding, installing and managing their own renewable projects. To date they have helped establish six clean solar energy generation projects across the capital, reducing emissions by an estimated 114 tonnes a year and generating over £150,000 for local communities to spend.
The recommendations in this report will be considered by the cross-party IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, co-chaired by Hillary Benn, Laura Sandys and Caroline Lucas, for its final report, which will be released in early summer 2021.
Luke Murphy is the IPPR associate director and head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission.
He said: “Empowering communities with new powers and resources has the potential to unlock an accelerating, transformative approach to addressing the climate and nature crisis.
“Under the radar there are already flourishing and transformative community initiatives to pool resources and create shared low carbon energy, housing, and natural assets.
"While often set up to tackle other issues, such as poverty or poor housing, these community actions also reduce carbon emissions as a co-benefit."
He added: “These groups have shown that they can increase community wealth and create thriving places while addressing the climate crisis.
"Now the government needs to act to enable all communities to have meaningful control of how their area adapts and benefits from the transition to net zero.”
Lucy Stone, one of the report’s co-authors, said: “The pandemic showed us the importance and appetite for taking collective action.
"As we build back better from the pandemic, we also need to reset our relationships with the land and our resources, but also to continue to nurture the collective spirit and improve our relationships to each other.
“A reassessment of the relationship we all have to the resources on which we depend can avoid recreating the deep inequalities of our current ecologically destructive system."
She added: "Involving communities in the green transition, including through community energy ownership, will also help accelerate the drive to net zero while ensuring a fairer distribution of the benefits.”
Mark Pepper is the development manager at the Bristol-based community group Ambition Lawrence Weston.
He said: “Our priority is our residents’ needs, not many people in our area would put climate change at the top of the list when asked what was most important to them.
But, we’ve realised we can meet our community’s needs whilst simultaneously adding climate value, through championing energy efficient new homes and sustainable public transport or setting up our own community owned wind turbine.
“These are things our residents benefit from, whilst also ensuring a positive climate impact at the same time.
He concluded: "Putting our community’s needs first empowers local people to engage and take action on climate change, rather than feeling like they’re being told what’s best for them.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from IPPR.