RSA puts focus on local solutions to the climate crisis

Thu, 12/15/2022 - 11:39


The RSA North event, “Local solutions to the climate crisis”, held on 18 November in Sheffield, highlighted the role of place-based action as a proving ground for climate initiatives. Andrew Wood, Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission’s Senior Engagement and Impact Officer, attended and contributed to the agenda of lightning talks from speakers across the region. 

The RSA’s Al Mathers kicked off the day by using photos her young son had taken around his neighbourhood as prompts. Richard Souter from Schools’ Climate Education South Yorkshire followed with an inspiring story of how his organisation is getting schools to show leadership, not only by including climate issues within the curriculum but also through how their buildings and projects are managed.  

Scale of challenges

David Glew, Director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute (Leeds Beckett University) spoke about the scale of the retrofitting challenge and the UK’s ongoing failure to make it happen. Much of the problem, he said, is the inconsistent and short-term funding and incentive arrangements – these should be 10- to 30-year programmes, rather than inconsistent short-term grant schemes with shifting goalposts.

He was followed by Greg Hewitt from Plastic Free Sheffield Central, who are campaigning against single-use plastics. Whilst it is often complex to determine whether a single-use choice is better or worse, the campaign reflects the wider problem of disposability in our products, supply chains, foods, and packaging. 

Untapped creativity

The afternoon’s contributions came from Charlie Thorneycroft of Forum for the Future; Geoff Cox of South Yorkshire Climate Alliance; and James Lock of Foundation Earth. The unifying theme of all four talks was that, although the scale of change that is needed seems vast, local communities are full of ideas and creativity just waiting to be tapped. Charlie gave the example of Our Zero Selby, a community-based initiative using similar collaborative decision-making to a citizens’ assembly, and Geoff described how neighbours were sharing their experiences of using different technologies such as heat pumps, electric bikes and retrofit. 

Experimental approach

Andrew Wood’s talk focused on the importance of being experimental and open-minded to all possible solutions. Waiting for fully tested and agreed solutions risks excluding many people and ideas from the overall mission. 

“I’m frequently struck by the genuine appetite for climate action that exists in what we might call the ‘real world’,” said Andrew. “Recent YouGov polls showed that 85% of MPs accept that climate change is caused by human action, and only 11% of Britons believe COP27 will make progress.  

“It is easy to become cynical and demotivated when you observe the painfully slow progress of nations from one COP summit to the next, but this shows more than anything that waiting around for top-down leadership is never going to work.  

“Local action is crucial to showing leaders that the public will support them in this mission. The RSA has a fantastic role in channelling these local stories into the work of big thinkers who can, perhaps, persuade national decision-makers.” 

Photo of Sheffield by Harrison Qi on Unsplash