For all the changes, shifting priorities and, at times, weaponisation of environment policy seen through the election period, people in communities still lack a clear answer from government on why they should support green economic and societal transition. Labour now needs to make this case, convincing the public to accept holistic and wholesale change to their daily lives.

This isn’t just a national or UK challenge. Chairing the ‘just transition’ sessions at this year’s global Regional Studies Association conference, it was clear to me we need fair, shared goals for a sustainable future that local communities can recognise and relate to, both in their places, and as part of a globally connected movement.

Communicating net zero gains 

Focusing on ‘net zero’, as most UK debate has, has felt like a ‘zero sum gain’ because it seems focused on reductions (or even loss) – even though the opposite is true and there are many clear benefits. It’s time to change the narrative, the language, and the sense of hope and aspiration, to communicate a more compelling vision.

A vision must focus on what we can gain if we get a just transition to a low-carbon future right. How we may transform our human experience of systems that currently feel fragile and insecure – such as welfare, job security, food and energy supplies, wellbeing, the economy, technological transition, our natural world, and the climate itself. This vision must be locally specific but connect to the bigger goals of societal progress and renewal. It communicates the peace of mind, or peace in the world, we may gain from becoming a greener society.

We can do this by building on the foundations laid by longstanding movements globally and in the UK. By shaping plans with communities we can co-create a fairer, greener, safer society that local people can own and believe in. Done right, a just transition can be a means not only to connect communities fragmented by hardship and fear of insecurity – but also to reconnect the UK to the rest of the world.

‘People goals’ 

It can feel tough to admit, but the fact is it’s people’s perceptions that are often the strongest litmus test of the challenges – and movements of change–that are imminent. At the conference, I heard that negative climate impacts seen and felt around the world (through community voice and data) fuelled a sense of urgency and anxiety.

But anxiety without goals or direction, as experience and political theory tells us, breeds not action but polarisation, disengagement and resistance. We need to connect the goal of a greener future to a strong, clear set of ‘people goals’. This resonates with the Human Development Report (UNDP)’s aim of ‘expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live. It is an approach that is focused on people and their opportunities and choices’. Similarly, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise that ending deprivation must go hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our natural world.

But global frameworks feel distant and remote to the majority of people, because our relationship with what we need, and the future we want, starts at home. The Young Foundation’s work with local authorities on co-producing locally-specific goals for net zero that communities endorse and agree with is a good example of what we’ve found works.

Change in our communities

We need now a more compelling, human and accessible agenda focused around shared and fair societal goals for the UK’s green transition. Goals that unite the – to some – unappealing, scary, but necessary changes we need to make to how we live and consume, with goals for the lives, livelihoods and places we would like to see. Goals that may differ in priority place to place, but have a shared vision that balances fairness with sustainable change. Tinkering with the narrative will not be enough in the struggle against populist – and indeed, mainstream political parties’ – revolt against green energy, green economic and green societal transition.  Calmly setting terms for a shared, stable community goals to own the narrative of green transition, can. This should be locally facilitated, independently coordinated, and nationally led and supported.

Cooperation towards a ‘just transition’

Beyond this, there’s a need for collaboration and cooperation between institutions, systems, powers and people– a need to shift our mindset from the ‘impossible’ and ‘undeliverable’ to a new possible in policy, legal and financing terms. This means collaboration between political parties and government, and between business and the public sector. We need to colour in the dotted lines of collaboration, innovation and investment across the globe, sharing and learning from best practice and being steadfast in our commitment to the UK’s vision of a fair, green transition. At the RSA conference, a case study of green transition in Nottingham – the poorest city in England – was shared alongside those from places in Italy, Germany, America, and across Asia. We have much to offer – reciprocally and generously – from the UK’s local innovation, science, technological, and human movement-building to support a green transition. Let’s share these successes and democratise the conversation, as efforts are much needed to listen locally to, and build belief and pride with, those who currently do not see a green transition as something the UK can be proud.

Fair, sustainable human development for a greener future isn’t just about aiming for low-energy use, or for green economic prosperity. It’s about aiming for peace, prospects and sustainable progress for our places and communities, and a humanised vision of stable and progressive country and world, where everyone has an equal right to have opportunities to thrive. In owning a new narrative, the shift will be well worth the return. There is greater hope in striving to thrive in safer, stronger, communities with opportunities and restored ambitions for the future.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Environment Inequality Local government & public services Places Posted on: 5 July 2024 Authors: Emily Morrison,


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