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How Can Communities Work Together Towards Contributing to the UK’s Net Zero Target?

Updated: May 28

Amid increasing concerns about climate change, reaching net zero targets has emerged as a beacon of hope on a global scale. But what exactly is ‘Net Zero’, and how did the United Kingdom (UK) come to endorse this as one of its  major climate goals? Let’s address this briefly before looking at how communities might help attain this goal.

According to the United Nations, the term "net zero" refers to balancing the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced in the atmosphere. It encompasses every action undertaken to reduce carbon emissions to an amount that can be absorbed and stored by nature, resulting in zero emissions in the atmosphere.

The UK's journey to net zero dates back to the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which governments around the world agreed to keep the global temperature below C02 above pre-industrial levels. As part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement, the UK government enacted legislation establishing its net zero target in June 2019, becoming the first large economy to do so. According to the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019, the UK intends to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This landmark legislation lays out a clear path for transitioning to a low-carbon economy and demonstrates the UK's leadership in the global fight against climate change.

The importance of this target cannot be overstated. The effects of climate change, from extreme weather events to increasing sea levels, become more obvious and urgent each year. Data from the UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) emphasises the importance

of fast and decisive actions. According to the CCC's 2020 Progress Report to Parliament, the UK's emissions have reduced by 44% since 1990, but progress has slowed in recent years, making the net zero target more difficult to meet.

In this context, the role of communities in accelerating progress toward net zero has never been more important. While actions to reach net zero are often seen as the responsibility of big industries and corporations, on the contrary, achieving net zero is a collective effect, and even the most granular of efforts can make an immediate significant impact.  As we explore ways in which communities can contribute to the broader climate action goals, it is important to understand the communal responsibility we all bear in protecting the world for future generations.

Preserving the Future Together: How Communities Can Drive UK's Net Zero Mission

1.      Collaboratively Raising Awareness: Working together to raise awareness and educate people about the importance of reaching net zero emissions and the actions needed to achieve it is one of the ways communities can get involved. Community energy projects can be a centrepiece for this, involving young people in sustainable practices, educating residents on energy poverty levels and the need to invest in community projects such as solar panels on schools and college roofs. Communities can organise educational workshops led by experts. 

Croydon Community Energy (CCE), with the help of its amazing energy experts and volunteers, undertakes community awareness and energy advice sessions across Croydon and beyond to educate residents about renewable energy options, energy efficiency, and the benefits of transitioning to clean energy sources. This enhances public engagement by outlining the advantages of solar energy, financing possibilities, and the process of installing solar panels on residential premises. Residents can also learn how to estimate their energy needs, navigate government subsidies, and find competent solar installers using CCE’s energy network. 

2.      Advocating for Renewable Energy Policies: Lobbying for favourable policies is another strategy communities can use to push for renewable energy legislation at the local and national levels. This can include advocating for more funding for renewable energy projects, promoting policies that support community-owned renewable energy installations, and advocating for legislation that encourages clean energy adoption. Further, community members can create coalitions to support or refuse policies. These coalitions can visit with elected officials, write letters to legislators, sign petitions and organise public rallies to show their support and push for favourable renewable energy policies or the refusal of unfavourable ones. An example is the controversial #StopRosebank campaign with over 100,000 signed petitions calling for the UK government to halt the development of yet another oilfield. You can read all about it on our website here.

3.      Encouraging a Sustainable Lifestyle: Communities can encourage and support residents in adopting sustainable lifestyles, such as reducing energy consumption at home by switching to more sustainable devices e.g. LED lights, using public transportation, and supporting local businesses. For example, communities can launch a "Cycle to Work" campaign to encourage residents to commute by bicycle instead of driving, host cycling and walking safety workshops, and organise group rides to popular destinations. Such campaigns can be made more appealing by incorporating fun social media activities such as TikTok challenges to encourage widespread community participation. If more residents choose to cycle, it would reduce the need for car transportation, while supporting small businesses would reduce the need for the import of goods. These can contribute to reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions while improving public health.

4.      Sharing Resources and Best Practices: Sharing resources and best practices can help accelerate progress towards net zero targets. For example, a centralised resident estate online platform or resource hub can be created to give communities access to a wealth of knowledge, tools, and a network of energy suppliers linked to sustainability projects. Furthermore, scheduling frequent workshops, webinars, and training sessions can enable community members to share their knowledge and experiences with implementing sustainable practices. Also, online discussion forums and social media groups can encourage continuing dialogue, collaboration, and knowledge sharing among community members. Through these collaborative efforts, communities can leverage collective knowledge, expertise, and resources to drive progress towards a greener and more sustainable future.

5.      Creating Green Community Spaces: Communities can work together to transform underused or neglected sites into green spaces, such as community gardens or urban woods. Residents can come together to plan and design the garden, plant native species, and trees and install rainwater harvesting systems. The garden can become a gathering place for community events, or educational workshops and fun training on sustainable gardening practices. These efforts will not only encourage biodiversity but will also reduce CO2 levels for a more sustainable living environment. 

6.    Investing in Community-Funded Renewable Electricity: Investing in renewable electricity is a critical step toward achieving net zero targets, and communities can play an important role. CCE, for example, has led initiatives to increase renewable energy adoption across communities. CCE will establish a community fund from installing solar panels throughout Croydon, allowing citizens to invest in clean, sustainable energy alternatives. According to recent data from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), renewable electricity generation in the UK set a new high of 41.6% in the first quarter of 2021, exceeding fossil fuels for the first time. This amazing milestone emphasises the growing importance of renewable energy in the UK's energy mix and the substantial gains made towards reaching the net zero target. Communities that invest in community-led renewable energy projects, such as those coordinated by CCE, can not only decrease their carbon footprint but also help to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

To conclude, community-led initiatives, collaborative efforts, and a shared commitment to sustainability will pave the way for the UK to achieve its net zero target. Communities have the capacity to drive the shift to renewable energy and sustainable living habits, as demonstrated by the efforts of CCE and similar organisations around the country.  As we face the difficulties of climate change, we can choose to act collaboratively for a common purpose.  

How can you contribute? You can get involved in CCE’s activities by investing in our renewable energy projects, becoming a member, volunteering or even reaching out to us to facilitate your energy programs. We’re here to spark a global movement for change and set a path for reaching net zero, one community at a time!


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