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Climate action must be something we all have a stake in

Too often, earth-shaking decisions on how to build a post-carbon future are the preserve of the few. It’s well past time that the voices of the majority were heard on climate issues, writes Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake.

Hallam Climate Manifest at No 10

Olivia Blake MP and constituents presented the Hallam Citizens’ Climate Manifesto to No 10 in October 2021, ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

A year after the climate conference came to the UK, COP27 is now well underway in Egypt. Rishi Sunak was dragged kicking and screaming to the international negotiations, having first declared that he would not be attending – to rightly outraged cries from all those who understand that the summit in Sharm El-Sheikh will have global consequences for us all.

There could be no greater contrast between, on the one hand, the parochialism and lacklustre foot dragging of the Prime Minister and, on the other, the attitude of people in my constituency, Sheffield Hallam. Because this conference also marks a year since the launch of our Hallam Citizens’ Climate Manifesto, the fruit of a series of monthly climate assemblies I hosted over the course of last year in the run-up to COP26.

There are some who like to counterpose meeting the challenge of the climate crisis with democracy – who say that tackling the climate emergency means trampling over democratic freedoms. They are wrong. Our manifesto proves that it’s not people who are the brake on politicians, but the opposite.

Too often, earth-shaking decisions on how to build a post-carbon future are the preserve of the few. COP26 was, and COP27 is, far too important to be left to the whims of politicians, parties and world leaders. Climate action must be something we all have a stake in.

We can see this in the failures of previous COP conferences. Even if every commitment made at COP21 in Paris was kept, the earth would be facing a catastrophic 3.2°C rise. Leaders from across the world repeatedly gather, discuss and fail to commit to the radical action we need.

This is most evident in the dismal lip service paid to loss and damage. If we are to deliver climate justice, industrial countries that are responsible for the climate emergency must provide funding to help countries like Pakistan recover from already irreparable damage.

We know from polls that ordinary people are far more ambitious on climate action than their politicians are. Far from the lazy caricatures, most people in the so-called “red wall” are fed up of crumbling green infrastructure and want public ownership of rail, water and energy. The majority of people – and almost half of Tory voters – want us to be zero-carbon by 2030, not by the government’s target of 2050.

Our manifesto was an attempt to engage with that disconnect between people and politics – to throw open the doors of COP26’s Glasgow conference centre and let the people in, taking the ideas formed in the discussion and deliberation of our public constituency meetings and bringing them to the corridors of power. That’s why I was proud to speak about the manifesto in the House of Commons Chamber, and to join a delegation of constituents to present it to No 10, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Attendees at the assemblies came with a wide range of knowledge about climate issues. What came through were innovative and radical suggestions on how to tackle the climate crisis, alongside calls to support the abundance of nature, and ensure the right to a dignified life and safe planet for everyone.

The product of that debate and discussion covers issues from green public transport, where people called for transport to be integrated, pleasant and free at the point of use; to agriculture and food, where constituents wanted to make more use of Council and public land to produce local, community food; and even decarbonising finance, adopting a 'polluter pays' principle, so that those responsible for emissions pay for our green transition.

There were also specific local calls: decarbonising steel production and restoring it to public ownership; buses owned and run by the Council; Council support for local renewable energy providers through a community wealth building approach – something I’m happy to say our Council recently voted to implement.

Seeing how disastrously Tory governments have run our country – particularly in their handling of the cost of living crisis – I’ve only become more convinced of the need for greater democracy in shaping future climate action. If instead of Trussonomics, the Hallam Manifesto had been government policy, everyone would be so much better off – and our planet would be too.

A year after the launch of the manifesto, one thing is abundantly clear: it’s well past time that the voices of the majority were heard on climate issues, and for us to devolve power and deepen democracy, so that when politicians and lobbyists shirk and dither, ordinary people can lead the way.

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