If we’re being honest, so far, it’s not looking too successful. The UN has been working for nearly 30 years, primarily through the various rounds of conferences we know as the COP – or Conference Of the Parties. COP21 in 2015 gave us the Paris Agreement. But progress towards achieving these targets has been extremely slow, while the evidence is mounting that we are running out of time.
Increasingly frequent extreme weather – from wildfires and record high temperatures to floods and storms – is giving early signs of the massive disruption that is likely in the years ahead.
There is no shortage of campaigning organisations and social movements, agitating for rapid action and trying to force governments around the world to move more quickly and make more radical systemic change.
But what would that systemic change actually look like? Can we afford to wait for government? What can we be doing constructively – here and now – to help bring about the sort of economy and society that isn’t reliant upon the ever accelerating burning of fossil fuels that characterises our current way of life?
What is clear is that business as usual is not going to cut it. Emissions are climbing, inequalities are getting more extreme by the day, and crises are hitting us with increasing frequency.
Can cooperation provide a unifying principle that we can rally round? It wouldn’t be the first time. The pandemic saw a very rapid grassroots community response at scale through thousands of mutual aid groups – informal cooperatives – that sprang up spontaneously to ensure that people got fed and looked after despite the lockdowns.
Cooperation has been used effectively over hundreds of years to ensure that the most vulnerable are not excluded, and to build economic power that provides real agency and puts people before profit. Can we put these same proven models to good use to build the business and social infrastructure we need to survive and thrive through the next hundred years?
Local governments across the UK have suffered through a dozen years of centrally imposed austerity to the point where many are struggling to provide core services or even remain solvent. Ideas of community wealth building, re-localising the purchasing power of local government, and actively supporting the development of local social and cooperative economies, have gained a lot of traction in recent years, with good evidence to show that – working in real partnership with their communities – local authorities can begin to rebuild some of the strength and resilience that austerity has stripped out.
Can we build strong cooperative partnerships with local councils to grow the organisations and networks that we need if we are to address the impacts of climate change? The cooperative movement has for many years delivered robust and effective solutions: community renewable energy projects using wind, solar and hydro; community-led low impact housing; local food cooperatives; worker-owned cooperatives leading on economic inclusion and empowerment. These types of solutions are widespread, but often are not as visible as they deserve to be. Yet they provide great examples of how we can work together to build robust organisations that deliver very real benefits.
A key challenge has always been how to take these solutions and deliver them at scale. Their bottom-up localised nature often appears to militate against rapid growth. And yet what’s needed now more than ever are ways to rapidly scale out these solutions, replicating them across many more localities. By working with local and city-region governments, in real partnership, we believe this is not only achievable, it is essential if we are to create the inclusive green economies that will give us a chance in the face of the challenges that lie ahead.