The climate crisis is the issue of our generation. It is the biggest problem we face in terms of consequence, urgency and scale. Terms like ‘global warming’, ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ have become buzzwords that are hurled about to signal our understanding of the gravity of climate change, even if we are burying our heads in the sand.
If we want to successfully protect our planet, we must approach climate action in a fundamentally different way – we need systemic change. This isn’t just about everyone owning electric cars or having low-energy lightbulbs. This is about fostering a different relationship between people and planet, understanding the consequences of our consumption, and recognising that our inaction has a knock-on effect on our neighbours and communities.
Individuals, big business, governments and local authorities are the usual targets of climate campaigns. But the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector has a major role to play in combatting climate change. There are over 7,000 VCSE organisations in North-East England alone working to reduce inequalities and improve life for residents and communities. Often, they are the only support for the ‘average Joe’ or marginalised groups and communities. In many cases, a VCSE organisation is the only organisation that a local person trusts.
The climate crisis and inequality go hand-in-hand. Not only will climate change affect the poorest communities and countries most, but policies around climate action also typically have a harsher impact on people with low incomes. The climate crisis seems to breed and deepen inequalities. Without VCSEs there is a big gap in climate action. VCSE organisations have three unique opportunities to tackle the climate crisis.
The first thing VCSE organisations can do is lead by example. Given the unique role VCSE organisations play in the lives of individuals and communities, our examples will be seen by and will influence our communities and other organisations. If we all appear to be relaxed and unworried about climate action or waiting for policy and technology to come and save the day, then those around us will do the same. Leading by example allows us to signal to others how important it is that we act now. We need to consider how best to get our own house in order. How can we reduce our carbon footprint? How can we support staff to make better ecological choices at work? How can we ensure that environmental action is sewn into the fabric of our work, right through to governance structures?
The second thing we can do is have conversations with our communities about climate change. There’s so much information out there that trying to figure out how to act can be overwhelming. There’s also so much misinformation out there that many people won’t even believe that action is necessary. VCSE organisations must have open conversations with their communities about what climate change is to help break down some of these barriers. The more barriers we help to remove, the more individuals will feel able to contribute to climate action.
The third thing we can do is to influence the private and public sectors. We need adequate local and national policies and practices to make sure that people and organisations are accountable for their actions. This cannot solely be achieved though leading by example, but also through building strong relationships with policymakers, working together on climate action and lobbying for change. The VCSE sector is well placed to influence policymakers as they are typically closest to communities, with the greatest insight into the lives of those upon whom climate change will have the biggest impact.
As a VCSE organisation, to help build confidence in the sector to do these things, we at the Collective Impact Agency have joined the VONNE Climate Action Alliance (VCAA). The VCAA wants to help VCSE organisations to be bold, take collective responsibility for climate action in the sector and region, and share our skills, our experience, and our ideas to generate new and effective ways of working together.
The VCAA has recently launched a new campaign called Going Green Together to support organisations and communities in the North East to take action on the climate emergency. As part of this, the VCAA has developed a website to help organisations take their first steps in climate action. The website is full of innovative ideas about what organisations (VCSE or otherwise) can do. It showcases local organisations leading the way in the North East to inspire more people to get off the starting blocks and start running with their climate actions.
Visit the Going Green Together website for more information and to get involved! No action is too big or too small.
If you’d like to have a conversation about anything in this blog, email me at email@example.com so we can arrange time for a cuppa.