Credit: More Than Minutes

This summer we brought together on-the-ground experts from the worlds of energy and health, to ask how we can improve lives today while also tackling the climate emergency. They shared inspiring examples and proven success stories at our conference in London.

Our illustration of the discussion – drawn live on the day – captures some of its key themes and inspiring ideas. The image is a powerful reminder for funders, public bodies and politicians of what really works. The most important message? Climate action is not just about giving things up – it’s about getting a whole lot back too. Here are five essential lessons.

We need urgent action

First, the painful truth. We can’t avoid catastrophic climate change without a quick, and dramatic, cut in carbon dioxide emissions. We’re heading in the wrong direction though – in 2018, global carbon dioxide emissions grew 2% and reached a record high of 37 billion tonnes of CO2. There is still no sign of a peak in global emissions.

Let’s motivate people

But taking on this huge challenge can bring positive change – something we all need to shout about. Because we can’t take radical steps without serious public support – not just from die-hard climate campaigners, but from millions of people whose concerns about global warming sit alongside a host of other worries – such as costly heating bills and threats to their children’s health.

Many of our day-to-day problems would be tackled by climate action, such as improving insulation in old homes, or helping people stay healthy through cycling and walking. So let’s work to get everyone behind these kind of changes – many of which will deliver better, happier lives from the moment they are introduced.

Involving communities is key

Let’s work with the people leading climate action in their own neighbourhoods, and make sure all our efforts are guided by the people they set out to help. A host of brilliant projects show us what’s possible. London’s Repowering helps communities develop their own clean energy co-ops – as well as generating clean energy, the project has given more than 100 paid interns skills for the future. In Oxfordshire, the Low Carbon Hub has completed more than 40 installations, backed by more than 1,000 investor members. These have created financial savings for partners including schools, health trusts and community groups.

Why are volunteers and supporters investing their time, effort and money in sustainable solutions? Maybe because the benefits include a fairer society with more opportunities for everyone. So many of the problems they solve – from draughty homes to air pollution – hit the worst off hardest. Councils can play a key role as community leaders bringing together citizens’ groups and local partners such as universities, local enterprise partnerships and clinical commissioning groups to scale up good projects and initiate new ones.  

Finance is a major barrier

Along with public support, climate solutions need investment and financing. For public bodies such as councils and health trusts, the co-benefits approach helps here too – if the solutions have proven effects beyond tackling global warming, they can be supported by a wider range of funding sources.

But to make this happen, we need much more work to quantify and understand all the benefits of climate action. More data is needed, but also bold partnerships within and between different sectors – these will help spread learning and highlight evidence. These partnerships can even be a money saver – for example, councils in Lancashire have banded together to create more comfortable homes that also lower energy use.

We are all activists now

Our energy and health event featured an inspiring keynote speech from Ellen Dorsey, executive director of ethical investment organisation the Wallace Global Fund. She said we could face down the climate emergency, but only if we recognised the need for dramatic, systemic change. How do we create this? A willingness to think big, try new things and work together. Our societies are waking up to the scale of the challenge ahead – we are all activists now.