Global challenge, local opportunity – Catherine Cameron

Earth is my favourite place in the universe. Truth be told, it’s the only viable place in the universe, even if you are a billionaire with a rocket fetish. Over the past two weeks, we have been bombarded with messages from COP26 on what the challenge is, how countries can take action, and which global coalitions are making new trillion-dollar commitments. But these announcements can seem a bit abstract, and some days the combination of urgency and scale of the challenge makes it hard to visualise a positive plan of action for the here and now, on our street, in our town.

We do not lack information on the risks; we have the data, the science has been telling us we need to make changes for decades. But for too long the issue was framed as a science-led debate, arguing about the facts. Then in 2006, the Stern Review was released: Lord Nick Stern led a UK team, housed in the Treasury, with the backing of Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Brown. The report had a global impact.  It famously made the economic case for action, highlighted the costs of inaction and the benefits of doing something now. This in turn allowed the business case for action. Trillions of dollars of investments have since been moving markets to invest in clean energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and other green technology.

What is less well known is that the Stern Review also made the ethical case for climate action. It flagged questions of inter- and intra-generational equity. The breadth, magnitude and nature of the impacts of climate change indeed make ethical arguments in all their dimensions relevant – whether focusing on welfare, equity, justice, freedom or rights. All these arguments are now advanced by XR, School Strike for Climate,  Greta Thunberg and many, many more. Climate change will have serious impacts within the lifetime of most of those alive today.

More recently, the framing of necessary climate action has shifted still further. The argument had already moved from science, to economics, to ethics, and to business and investment. Now a case is made that is both more appealing and ever more urgent in the new public narrative of ‘building back better’, supporting green jobs and accelerating our path to net zero. At national level in the UK, we have a 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. At city level, we have Mayors taking action all over the country, with the Place based Climate Action Network (PCAN) working in Leeds, Belfast and Edinburgh, and also now across the larger region of Yorkshire and Humberside.

In the last 18 months, I have been supporting work at county-wide level at the Essex Climate Action Commission. This is an independent body, set up by the county council to advise them on how best to tackle the climate challenge and become a net zero emissions county by 2050. The Commission first met in May 2020 as a group of over 30 people from academia, business, civil society, the public sector and scientists. It was originally chaired by Lord Randall, with two Young Essex Assembly members as co-chairs. We were charged with the task of reviewing the key areas where change is needed to drive down emissions; to manage increasing risks from an already changing climate; and to open opportunities for a new green economy. We looked at six areas: adapting to an already changing climate; the built environment; energy and waste; land use and green infrastructure; transport; and most importantly, community engagement. The report, Net Zero: making Essex carbon neutral, was launched in July 2021 setting out a pathway for net zero, tackling climate and biodiversity challenges. In the second year of the Commission we are looking at green growth for the future, unlocking new opportunities for business and for residents in the form of more sustainable homes and jobs. Essex is working to attract green finance to create a resilient and net carbon zero Essex by 2050.

So whether you invest in a clean, green pension and savings, buy or generate your own green energy, eat a plant based diet, take clean green public transport, drive an EV or ride a bike, grow your own veg, recycle your waste or rent or recycle your clothes – 15 years ago these were fringe ideas, now they are becoming mainstream. We are in the midst of a systems shift and we can all be part of it – on this street, in our town, here and now.

Catherine Cameron

Director, Agulhas: Applied Knowledge

Essex Climate Action Commissioner 2020-21

Stern Review core team 2006


Watch the IPPR fringe event at COP26 – Workshop 2

COP26 logo

Sign up to our bulletin

Sign up to our free weekly bulletin for the latest international development news and analysis