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Communities must be given greater ownership, not just of the process of the green transition, but of the assets and benefits that arise from it, according to a new report by IPPR supported by Local Trust.

Recommendations urge the government to set goals to significantly increase the proportion of community owned green economy assets in England, including aiming for a third of new onshore renewables to be under community ownership.

The new report argues that progress toward tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature can be accelerated if communities are empowered to act, whilst also spreading common ownership and community wealth building; improving place; empowering local people; and increasing the political mandate for addressing the climate crisis.

The work uncovers the breadth and depth of local community climate action already happening across the country. It highlights ways people are already coming together to create shared low carbon assets – renewable energy, district heating, housing, woodland and food cultivation, in order to improve their health, wellbeing, local neighbourhoods, reduce poverty and increase local control.

Putting our community’s needs first empowers local people to engage and take action on climate change

The report introduces a new approach to devolution in order to empower more communities to take similar action with legislation for community rights, a community right to own or manage and for the creation of to deliver returns from shared assets proposed. These new ‘climate commons’ should be supported through a new Thriving Places Fund and changes to planning laws to accelerate community owned projects.

An abundance of examples of successful community owned and run schemes that the government and communities should take inspiration from are showcase in the report, including Bristol-based Ambition Lawrence Weston, one of 150 areas across England to receive £1.15m to create resident-led, long-lasting change in their neighbourhood through the Big Local programme.

Case study: Ambition Lawrence Weston put residents’ needs first in North West Bristol

An area with high levels of fuel poverty have generated a substantial local income by creating community owned renewable energy projects.

Motivated by a desire to cut fuel bills in an area where 70 per cent of people reported struggling to pay, the community-led organisation continues providing insulation to fuel-poor households and facilitates and supports the delivery of a community owned solar farm with Bristol Energy Co-operative.

The group are now working to finance a planning application approved 4.5 megawatt 150 metre high onshore community owned wind turbine. Once complete it will power 3,850 homes saving 1,965 tonnes of CO2 and return a profit to the community of between £50,000 and £400,000 a year depending on the level of capital grant raised.

Mark Pepper, development manager at Ambition Lawrence Weston said: 

“Our priority is our resident’s needs, not many people in our area would put climate change at the top of the list when asked what was most important to them. But, we’ve realised we can meet our community’s needs whilst simultaneously adding climate value, through championing energy efficient new homes and sustainable public transport or setting up our own community owned wind turbine.

“These are things our residents benefit from, whilst also ensuring a positive climate impact at the same time. Putting our community’s needs first empowers local people to engage and take action on climate change, rather than feeling like they’re being told what’s best for them. ”

The recommendations in this report will be considered by the cross-party IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, co-chaired by Hillary Benn, Laura Sandys and Caroline Lucas, for its final report, which will be released in early summer 2021.

Luke Murphy, IPPR associate director and head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“Empowering communities with new powers and resources has the potential to unlock an accelerating, transformative approach to addressing the climate and nature crisis.

“Under the radar there are already flourishing and transformative community initiatives to pool resources and create shared low carbon energy, housing, and natural assets. While often set up to tackle other issues, such as poverty or poor housing, these community actions also reduce carbon emissions as co-benefit.

“These groups have shown that they can increase community wealth and create thriving places while addressing the climate crisis. Now the government needs to act to enable all communities to have meaningful control of how their area adapts and benefits from the transition to net zero.”

Read the full report