A community wealth building energy transition
by Eleanor Radcliffe
On the eve of COP26, and with the challenges we face in tackling the climate crisis becoming ever more apparent, CLES and Carbon Co-op today release a major new toolkit for councils, a community wealth building energy transition. The toolkit shows that councils have a vital role to play in addressing the climate emergency in a way that generates the greatest benefit for communities.
A critical element of tackling the climate emergency will be the transition away from fossil fuel-based energy – meaning a significant shift in the way our energy system operates, and how we generate and use energy. The government’s most recent announcements – with their heavy emphasis on new and innovative technology around hydrogen and nuclear energy – are blind to the importance of ensuring that this transition serves local people and places. But, as is becoming ever more apparent, our localities are where the social and economic consequences of the climate crisis will be felt. That is why we have developed this toolkit: to explore the work happening across the UK to progress the energy transition on a local level, whilst also building community wealth and – most importantly – to enable local authorities to develop their own community wealth building energy transition.
Why do we need this?
The current energy crisis is the latest episode in a decades-long drama. Although the energy price rises are the product of a combination of global factors, this crisis has exposed the underlying fragility of our energy system. This is just the start of the challenges we are going to face as we try to tackle the climate emergency.
The frailty of the current energy system in the UK, privatised in the 1990s and still dominated by the “Big Six” energy companies, condemns millions of people to struggle with the choice between heating and eating. Of the government funding allocated to supporting people to heat their homes, only 15% currently reaches fuel-poor households, leaving local services to pick up the pieces due to the knock on effect of poor housing on health and social outcomes. Far from Westminster, every day, our councils feel the impact of an energy system that is not resilient, does not work for everyday people and is not sufficiently prepared to transition away from fossil fuels.
An energy revolution
However, as the toolkit shows, we have within our grasp an energy revolution with the potential to transform our local places, bringing opportunities for community ownership, new local businesses and innovative approaches to energy transition which serve our people, our places, and the planet. Local authorities and communities must have a stake in the transformation of our energy systems and they can do so by using community wealth building to support the development of new approaches which ensure that the wealth generated sticks within our local areas.
Informed by practice across the UK – and personal insight from officers and elected members from thirteen local authorities delivering energy projects – the toolkit is a great starting point for local authorities seeking to build a more resilient and just local energy system. In four parts, it outlines the case for community wealth building as an approach to energy transition, presents practical tools to advance this approach and explores existing and emergent practice.
However, the energy transition is a challenge being faced by all councils, wherever they are, and there is much to be learned from practice both within the UK and beyond – particularly as we consider how we scale up the approaches we are already seeing, and how we finance them.
Europe has driven this agenda forward at a faster pace than we are seeing in the UK. Eeklo, Hamburg and Mouscron are just a few of the places taking forward innovative approaches to working across the public, private and community sectors to place social purpose at the centre of their journey towards energy transition.
CLES and Carbon Co-op will be developing our thinking on this work further – if you would like to join us on this journey or are interested in discussing how you might advance this approach to energy transition in your area please get in touch.
This was originally posted in the CLES blog on 29th October 2021.
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