A Time to Move Up? The Community and Climate Sector

If the success of an event is measured by the diversity of participants and the level of their enthusiasm, the Communities and Climate Action conference was certainly a success. The two day conference held in London on 16-17 January 2011 was organised by the Low Carbon Communities Network (LCCN), on behalf of the Communities and Climate Action Alliance (CCAA). In spite of the pouring rain, over 200 people gathered to share their experience and get their voice heard. They were not a homogeneous group of community activists. You would easily find yourself talking to people from local authorities, various intermediary agencies, researchers, investors, campaigners and, if you are ‘lucky’, even government officers. Overall, the conference was more centred around English and Welsh contexts, but a Scottish counterpart was also present by a manager at Keep Scotland Beautiful as one of conveners and a development officer at the Community Energy Scotland as a speaker.

Two days were packed with group discussions, seminars and workshops as well as speeches by a variety of key people. Just looking at the list of these sessions and speakers would make you realise the complexity of community climate action in terms of their areas of working and the ways in which community action is run and managed not just by communities themselves but also by other stakeholders. Overall, the main questions addressed on Day 1 were whether and how communities’ climate action can be recognised as a sector and how to work better with other sectors. Brainstorming sessions produced communities’ responses to the issues arising from the relationships between communities and their relationships with the rest of society, for example, communities’ visions and barriers, lessons they want to learn from other communities, guidance for novices, the ways in which their added-value can be demonstrated, what they want to see happen in infrastructure for behaviour change and in the media to change social norms, etc. Thoughts were also given to communication and networking as a means of forming common visions and presenting their potentials and influence to other sectors. Day 2 was spent on discussions about the key areas of work, e.g. housing and home energy services, community renewable energy, engaging with people and promoting behaviour change, and transport. Workshops run by exemplary community groups and intermediary agencies at the local and the national levels show that the community and climate sector – if it exists- has certainly developed in collaboration with other sectors and partners. Furthermore, one cannot help noticing that supporting agencies and networks themselves are evolving and more specialised in terms of the services they provide. Not surprisingly, no one dared make any conclusive remarks on either the fate of community action or that of climate change.

One of the strongest impressions the event made on me was the scope, whether a sector or not, for community climate action to give its priority to members of communities, rather than community activists or community agencies. In this way, they can maintain their integrity whilst moving up to the mainstream and working with other sectors.