Tom Hayes Oxford City Councillor for St. Clement's Ward 17th December 2019 Blog Local Government Share Tweet Oxford City Council is proud to stand alongside the Labour councils up and down the country proposing co-operative solutions to our shared climate crisis. We set up and still sustain a social enterprise called the Low Carbon Hub, providing a third loan to grow community energy just this summer, this time for £2.3millon. Through better business models, we’re accelerating the shift to renewable generation and putting energy and power in the hands of the people. But, could we do more? That’s why, when we declared a climate emergency, we felt we had to ask ourselves that crucial question. Councils are at different points on their journeys to zero and we can all play our part in supporting each other. For Oxford, a council that has reduced our footprint as a council by 40% over four years and led city-wide reductions, we had to ask ourselves a hard question about ambition. In an age of austerity, when a council can’t just stop spending in other areas, should councillors go further and faster in the fight against climate breakdown because the shared risk of inaction is too great to bear? Our local representative democracy feels strong, but when we need to mobilise every individual and community in the effort to combat climate breakdown, we knew that we needed to hear from a representation of viewpoints. That’s why we established a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, the first by a UK city on the issue, to try to answer the question bouncing around town halls which have declared a climate emergency: “what’s the plan?” During the summer a ‘mini-public’, representing Oxford’s demographics, met for two weekends. The local environmental debate broke out of the bubble of the traditional green viewpoint to hear from a wide representation of views. The Assembly tested the ambition of members for forward carbon-reduction measures in five key areas: buildings, transport, waste, renewable energy, and biodiversity and offsetting. For each area, members were presented with three visions of possible futures ranging from least ambitious to most ambitious, and their potential benefits and trade-offs. When Members voted on which of the future scenarios they would like to live in for each area of activity, their preference for the most ambitious was overwhelming. Assembly members were also asked to vote on the question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?” 90% of Members, drawn from all backgrounds and provided with potential benefits and trade-offs, voted to go quicker than the legal national target, so we’re going to do just that. Oxford City Council has just committed £19m of new money to addressing the climate emergency, on top of £90m we’re already spending. We’re upping our ambition by increasing our investment because Oxford’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change clearly told our administration to do just that. There’s no point holding a Citizens’ Assembly unless you’re going to listen to its findings and implement relevant recommendations. There’s no point declaring a climate emergency unless you act like there’s one. We held the Assembly within eight months of declaring a climate emergency and 55 days on from its close, the Council published a climate emergency budget to respect the will of Members. Foremost among our budget proposals is our ambition to be a zero-carbon council by October 2020. Council activities account for one per cent of the city’s emissions and, although we’ve slashed our emissions by 40 per cent in four years, we want to address 100 per cent of our footprint. We will buy certified green gas and electricity and offset any remaining emissions through tree planting in south east England. We want to move quickly to ensure we do not contribute to the climate crisis. It’s time to be more hopeful. After another bruising election, our country feels divided. The climate crisis causes concern, but it’s now forcing action which can make a lost sense of community – so essential to happy lives – a reality once again. At the heart of the most ambitious visions of Oxford backed by Assembly members was our co-operative spirit and new models for bringing people together. For waste reduction, Members backed the normalisation of refill and repair services, and clothing swap shops and clothing rental services. For transportation, they were supportive of car club vehicles for every ten households. For renewable energy, the Assembly voted for “co-operative run local energy generation and distribution [that] creates Oxford-based electricity suppliers that invest in community energy projects” as distinct from largely centralised energy generation. Before voting on scenarios, Members had presentations, including about community energy by Oxford’s social enterprise, Low Carbon Hub, waste reduction by Community Action Group Network (which leads Oxford’s community-led climate change action), and buildings by the Oxford architecture and design cooperative Transition by Design. Our climate emergency budget is built upon the shoulders of a Citizens’ Assembly steeped in the co-operative model. It’s only appropriate that, with this budget, the council will be joined the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN). The assembly believed that we should increase the use of renewable energy and build up the city’s community renewable energy economy. In answer, this month we are opening one of the country’s largest solar carports which will power a pool and leisure centre. Already a leading car club city in the UK, we will develop this further, particularly for non-polluting vehicles ahead of our Zero Emission Zone in 2020. The assembly was confused about how recycling works, so we are committing new funding to boost education and information, so more households can recycle more effectively. It’s not only about recycling, but also about reducing waste and reuse, and waste reduction is something the community can do. We will be holding a zero waste festival, repair café, clothes swish and swap shop in the summer of 2020. A major conclusion of the assembly was that people must be at the heart of decarbonisation plans, so our £1.5 million grants programme will be used to support community activities and engage more people from early 2020, just as our assembly did. With the aim of helping communities to enhance biodiversity, in April 2020 we will bring forward new plans to increase tree cover. A new youth climate board will reflect the views of young people who live, work, and study in the city, and this will co-produce and co-host a Youth Climate Action Summit by May 2020 to inform and shape our future work. The assembly said the council should use its position and influence to ensure all emitters play their part. In response to this we are funding a new Zero Carbon Oxford partnership. We are determined to clean up 100% of our 1% footprint in the city but also encourage everyone responsible for the remaining 99% of emissions to play their part co-operatively. The aims of this new partnership led by the council will be decided by a major climate summit of emitters by March 2020. After a decade when the public have been asked to give up so much to bail the country out, who can blame them for shrinking from the question “What have you given up for climate change?”. And, understandably, they have felt exhausted, powerless and unheard. But, with our people powered, cross-party and socially just measures, we want to show that a better way is possible. We are taking a leap forward to create a greener, kinder, and co-operative city. Our hope is that, one day, following the hard work of our Assembly and our community, the city’s present will be better than the past and all our futures will be brighter still.