CovSoc and Climate Change

The Society has decided that it needs to engage with the most important issue facing all of us today – climate change.

We held a public meeting on Monday 14th March to catch up with what is happening in the city.
This was a most interesting, if contentious, meeting. It was one of our best attended meetings for some years with over 50 people participating.

The speakers were Bret Willers, Head of Sustainability and Climate Change at the City Council and David Ridley of Coventry New Green Deal, deputising for a sick Tony McNally of Climate Change Solutions Ltd.
Bret Willers explained Climate Change from first principles, taking us from global to local, and stressing the significance of containing global warming to an additional 1.5 degrees this century if we are not to pass irreversible tipping points and into runaway climate change.

The recent Glasgow COP-26 summit had failed to achieve international agreement to this target. At the City level Bret identified a number of Council initiatives which have put the city ahead of the game in many respects. These include a green business programme, the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, planning permission for a gigafactory (industrial scale battery manufacture), Heatline district heating, electric charging points for vehicles, the creation of an all-electric bus fleet, research into Very Light Rail, and a regional materials recycling facility. He indicated that he will be drafting a new Climate Change Strategy for the Council in the coming months.

David Ridley is chair of Coventry New Green Deal. This is a campaigning non-party political group. focussing on building a green economy from the bottom up, involving local citizens in creating this New Green Deal. In David’s view the City Council is now acting unlawfully as it does not have a Climate Change Strategy in place, the previous one having lapsed in 2020.

He noted Bret’s long list of ideas that the Council was pursuing but felt that, even taken together, they did not constitute a strategy, which he felt needs to have clear time-bound targets. He was particularly critical of the recent creation of a Coventry Climate Change Board, comprising of local businesses and the Council. His concern in this respect was that it was unclear what were its terms of reference, its legitimacy and its democratic accountability.

Because of these concerns the Green New Deal group lobbied a conference on Friday March 11 held by the Climate Change Board and Coventry and Warwickshire Councils at Warwick University and set out their ideas for a Green New Deal for the city. As a result of this lobbying the conference was live-streamed, though a number of groups who legitimately thought they should have been invited were excluded.

The subsequent discussion at our meeting ranged over Council transport and clean air policies, particularly in relation to proposals for road improvements and recent tree cutting at Spon End, policies for tree planting, and alternative energy sources including solar and hydrogen power.

In considering what the role of the Coventry Society is, we are conscious that we do not have any climate change expertise to contribute. We therefore need to collaborate with organisations that have this knowledge. We are therefore planning to collaborate with the Coventry Green New Deal and others with similar aspirations.

Our position in the city enables us to campaign for community engagement in the process of developing the city’s Climate Change strategy and sharing knowledge within the community and voluntary sectors.
In recent years the City Council has had a very poor reputation for consultation and community engagement in the major changes taking place in the city, as exemplified by the proposals for City Centre South.

With this in mind, before the conference on 11th March, the Society signed an open letter from various organisations in the city and county to the City Council and Warwickshire County Council. Extracts from that letter include:

“Unfortunately it seems that the organisers [of the recent conference] are not interested in the participation of the civil society groups and individuals who are actively working on climate change. We believe that this will jeopardise the success of the conference and of the two councils’ work going forward.

“Meaningful progress in tackling climate change will only come when all of society is galvanised to respond. That is why so many civil society groups are taking action and pressuring politicians to take the difficult and potentially unpopular decisions that are needed if we are to avert disaster. The evidence is all too clear that they have not been, and still are not taking these decisions. To shut civil society groups out runs the risk of perpetuating this historic failure.

“Ultimately, the success of any climate action plan will be highly dependent on the involvement and contribution of the public. Civil society groups provide a vital link by acting as a conduit through which politicians can share and debate their ideas with the wider public in order to facilitate their support and action.

We all need all the help we can get, to solve this deeply intractable problem. Public engagement, openness and the willingness to listen, to explain, and to question, are essential. It may be too late now for the March 11th conference to widen the range of its invitees, but it is essential for all our futures that the two councils start to listen to and communicate with the public.

“A good first step would be to organise a People’s Assembly on Climate Change, as have done many local councils around the UK, including Warwick District Council. We call on Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council to take this step and begin the real work of facing up to the climate crisis.”

Moving forward, the Society sees a new role as campaigning for community engagement in the development of the city’s climate change strategy and then using its communication channels to ensure that the discussion is widely shared. The next step is likely to be a public meeting in April, organised by the Coventry Green New Deal, to start working towards a grassroots climate coalition, peoples climate assembly and eventually a people’s climate strategy. We will keep you informed of developments.

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