This post is by Joshua Emden, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
If you put people at the heart of efforts to solve the climate and nature crises, then opportunity abounds. This is the core message presented by the final report of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, Fairness and Opportunity.
But this didn’t just come from think tank policy researchers. Rather, it’s a message of hope and warning from people across the country whose lives will inevitably be affected both by the climate crisis itself and the policy responses to it.
A cornerstone of the commission was deliberative democracy with citizens’ juries held across the country. Groups of representative local people were gathered to hear from experts, deliberate and share their own thoughts, fears, hopes and solutions for tackling the climate and nature crises in their areas.
The places chosen (in Tees Valley and County Durham, the South Wales Valleys, Thurrock and Aberdeenshire) are areas that, in different ways, will be at the forefront of the climate and nature crises.
In Tees Valley, jurors viewed industrial decarbonisation as a major opportunity, but also a major threat for workers and communities. In the South Wales Valleys, many felt disconnected from one another and were frustrated with long polluting commutes out of the area for work, the jurors there were keen to see far better and more affordable low carbon public transport. Thurrock is a major port terminal for freight transport on land and sea and the jurors there wanted to see far more action to reduce traffic and air pollution around the ports and towns, as well as making the roads safer. In Aberdeenshire, almost all our jurors either used to work in the oil and gas sector, currently worked there, or knew someone who did, and wanted to see workers supported to move out of the sector.
Enthusiasm for nature is a way into climate action
In every location, the jurors were passionate about the natural environment around them, and were all the more aware of and grateful for it during lockdown. In every instance, jurors were concerned about the degradation of nature in their areas. And in every instance, they wanted to see nature protected and any development, whether specific to meeting net zero or not, to not just avoid impinging on the nature around them but adding positively to it.
The jurors’ enthusiasm for nature also acted as a familiar launching pad from which they could relate to and understand the more scientific and technical issues around climate policy, such as changes in land use and agriculture. This is a crucial lesson from the citizens’ juries that should inform how the whole environmental movement communicates its messages: identify what people find relatable and comfortable talking about and build from there.
Because when it comes to talking about the solutions, once the jurors had a better understanding of the scale and urgency of the climate and nature crises, their ideas and proposals were much further reaching than many politicians might expect.
Jurors wanted fairness at the heart of net zero
At the heart of their recommendations, the jurors placed an emphasis on treating people fairly. The poorest should not have to pay for solutions to a problem for which that they have had little responsibility. Workers in high carbon industries should be supported to retrain in new, high quality jobs. Businesses should be rewarded for good practice, but penalised for bad practice or refusing to change.
Crucially, while some in Westminster have used arguments for ‘fairness’ and fears about the costs of net zero policy to call for climate action to be delayed, the reality is that, done right, climate policy and action to restore nature can build a fairer society.
The members of the IPPR citizens’ juries were clear that fairness was the prerequisite for taking a substantially bolder and faster approach to tackling the climate and nature emergencies. No community should be left behind, and the considerable opportunities should be seized to improve places and people’s lives and livelihoods. Net zero must deliver a people’s dividend.
The report calls for free public transport
To achieve this, the report calls for local low carbon public transport networks everywhere to be upgraded and made free at the point of use. This would bring many benefits, including lower emissions, reduced congestion and making people more connected.
There is also a call for a £7.5 billion a year ‘GreenGO scheme’ a financial one-stop shop to help households switch to green alternatives on heating, home insulation and transport. For the poorest homes, these alternatives would have no upfront costs.
There also needs to be a funded right to retrain, so workers in high carbon industries can switch to the new, high quality, low carbon jobs of the future.
These are just some of the over 100 recommendations shaped by the insights and ideas of the jurors. Perhaps most importantly of all though is the recognition that one of the main motivations for this green transition shouldn’t be about the climate, or even the economic benefit. Fundamentally, the jurors saw this moment as an opportunity to build a better life for everyone within a thriving natural world.
The Environmental Justice Commission was created on the central philosophy that people are experts in their own lives and need to be at the heart of all policy responses to the climate and nature crises. Through the citizens juries they were given the tools to speak truth to power. Now they have spoken.