Tackling climate change will be a community-wide effort, argues Ben Margolis
This article first appeared in Bright Blue’s Centre Write publication titled Favourable Climate. The digital version is available here, and republished below.
Stopping catastrophic climate change is the greatest political, social, and economic ambition humanity has ever put its mind to. The UK’s role in this is huge: it’s not just the emissions from our roads, homes, and factories to deal with, but also the emissions that we can change with our finances and global influence. It will make or break the legacy of every Prime Minister and Chancellor — including Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.
The transition we need to make isn’t a one-term project. While the action we take in this decisive decade will depend, in part, on our current Cabinet, climate change will require steady action from government after government. For that to be possible, that requires every one of us, from the smallest hamlet to every department of Whitehall, to pull together in the same direction.
We’re already on our way. Public concern about climate change has never been higher. Though it’s sometimes typecast as a left wing concern, environmentalism is embedded into Conservative values: after all, despite later backtracking, it was Margaret Thatcher that addressed the UN in 1989 on the “prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to Earth itself”. The evidence shows that public concern is broad-based and defies party allegiances.
Across the board, the UK public is urging the Government to take the decisive action needed to bring down emissions and create the resilient, green economy of the future. For instance, a recent Ipsos MORI poll shows an overwhelming majority of the public thinks the UK should do more to tackle climate change.
Meanwhile, the public strongly supports a range of policy measures to reach net zero, including better integrated public transport by local government (93%), grants for heat pumps and home insulation for the least well off (77%) and raising flying costs, particularly on frequent fliers (89%).
There’s growing evidence that the public are willing to play their part in the adaptations needed to make the changes we need as a society, with almost 7 in 10 confident they will be able to make the changes in their own lives to help combat climate change.
Climate change and nature are at the heart of the things the public really care about: economic strength in a changing world; safety from extreme weather events; keeping living costs down and homes efficient; stopping future deadly pandemic viruses jumping from animals to humans; and protecting green spaces and natural beauty.
This is why people from all walks of life, teachers, nurses, pensioners, schoolchildren, and everyone in between are connecting the dots and bringing the issue of climate change to life in communities across the UK.
There’s a spirit that resonates with the UK public: rolling up our sleeves, getting our hands dirty, and putting in the hard graft to make progress and tackle the challenges before us. That is exactly what we must continue to do, to ensure that reaching net zero isn’t just something we look back on as a change we had to make, but one that we were proud to do.
There’s no better recent example than the Great Big Green Week. The Climate Coalition, the largest group of organisations and people working on climate and nature, convened a massive national event to celebrate action on climate and nature right across the UK. Over 5,000 events took place throughout a seven day period. The events drew in people from all walks of life, with almost half having never been involved in this type of activity beforehand.
This was only possible because people in the UK, no matter their political stripes, are putting their differences aside to champion a greater good. There’s been more engagement with local MPs, translating concern from the community up to the halls of Westminster. As MPs have listened to their constituents, we’ve seen a deluge of policy announcements. While they need to go further and faster, they have begun to transform the political landscape.
Following the Glasgow UN Climate Conference, it’s incumbent upon all of us to work with our neighbours, our places of worship, community halls, conservationists, teachers, gardeners, and campaigners to stop catastrophe. This is the greatest political challenge we will face in our lifetimes. Our success or failure will determine nothing less than how long and fulfilling the lives of our children, grandchildren, and future generations will be. For exactly this reason, communities across the UK will be joining together once again for the Great Big Green week in 2022, to ensure action to achieve net zero is front and centre.
Ben Margolis is the Director of the Climate Coalition