Community action against climate change

RSE Podcast
Publication Date
12/04/2022
Featuring
Dr Nick Fraser FRSE
Dr Andy Kerr FRSE
Joan Lawrie
Louisa Harvey
Podcasts by the RSE
Podcasts by the RSE
Community action against climate change
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The pandemic revealed the impact of poverty and disadvantage on coping with lockdowns, including whether it was possible to work from home or have access to green space. Climate change will continue to expose further inequalities within our society, disproportionately affecting those from marginalised communities. There is an urgent need to look at the prejudices of climate change and how these impact individuals and communities. As more households fall below the fuel poverty line, we need to work with communities to identify alternative solutions and minor improvements to tackle climate change in an affordable, community-focused and sustainable way. Reinforcing that climate action can be created and sustained through small and tangible steps.

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Featuring

Louisa Harvey, Community Climate Action Team Leader, Scottish Government

Louisa has worked for the Scottish Government for 15 years and is currently responsible for the climate action hub and climate action town programmes. She has previously worked in economic development leading on the 4 city and regional growth deals across the Highlands and Islands, managing the sustainable ERDF strand in the 2014-2020 programme and the H&I ERDF projects for 2007-2013 programme.

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE, UK and Ireland lead, EIT Climate-KIC

Andy is a leader in catalysing innovation in climate policy and practice. He mobilizes and connects resources, insights and capabilities to enable cities and regions, investors, and entrepreneurs to deliver their ambitious climate targets. Having co-founded and directed the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation and the Scottish Centre of Expertise on Climate (ClimateXChange), he now leads EIT Climate-KIC – Europe’s largest public-private climate innovation partnership – in UK and Ireland and EIT’s Global Outreach programme in Silicon Valley and Israel. He is an Honorary Professor of University of Edinburgh, having previously been appointed as Personal Chair of Climate and Low Carbon Innovation.

Joan Lawrie, Project Manager, North Highlands & Islands Climate Hub

Joan has been the development manager of Thurso Community Development Trust for four years, the Trust have embedded community-led climate action into all of their projects including being chosen to operate one of the pathfinder regional Climate Action Hubs by the Scottish Government. Joan has been operating and project managing the North Highlands & Islands Climate Hub since September 2021 focusing on supporting and encouraging community-led climate action throughout the region.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE, keeper of natural sciences, National Museums Scotland

Nick received his PhD in Geology from the University of Aberdeen in 1984. He then spent six years at Cambridge University as a fellow of Girton College studying Triassic reptiles. In 1990 he moved to Virginia as the curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History where he subsequently became Director of Research and Collections. He was appointed keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland in 2007.

Episode transcript

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE
Good evening, and a warm welcome from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to this evening’s event, community action against climate change. I am pleased to say that this event is being held in partnership with the Edinburgh Science Festival. I am Nick Fraser keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland and I shall be chairing this evening’s discussions. This evening, we are going to look at how communities can consider minor improvements to tackle climate change. Reinforcing climate action can be created and sustained through small and tangible steps.

Louisa Harvey 
Okay, good. Well, I’ll just start, I’m going to share my screen. Thank you to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for having me today. I’m delighted to be here. My name is Louisa Harvey. I work in the work for the Scottish Government in the Domestic Climate Change Division. And I’m going to give you a quick overview of the work that we’re doing in the Scottish Government to raise awareness of climate change and to support individuals and communities to take action. So the transition to net-zero is going to impact all of our daily lives. managed well, it can offer opportunities to reshape local areas in a fair and just way that will improve health and well being, will tackle inequalities and improve quality of life. Our public engagement strategy was published in September of last year and outlines our overarching framework for engaging the public and communities on climate change. And it has three main strands: ‘understanding’ – so ensuring that people are informed and ensuring people are aware of the steps they can take and are supported to do so; and ‘participate’. Just because of time today, I’m not going to focus on ‘participate’ other than to highlight, as the Scottish Government is committed to meaningful participation, including with those communities, and people that are most affected by our transition to net zero. For example, the work that we’ve done with Scotland’s climate assembly ministers has welcomed their recommendations and the challenge that they’ve set. And it’s certainly helped shape policy design. And we’ll continue to do so, we’re also working on a series of Just Transition plans. So looking at how we get to a fairer and greener society for all and ensuring that that process is undertaken in partnership with those impacted by the transition to net-zero. So that work is underway, in terms of co-producing those plans to ensure that we move to try net-zero on the climate-resilient economy in a way that delivers fairness and tackles inequality and injustice. But my main focus just now is going to be on what we’re doing to support understanding and acting. So we have our website www.netzeronation.scot, I would encourage everyone to have a look, it aims to help everyone in Scotland to recognise the implications of the global climate emergency. And it’s got plenty of resources to help people to take action, as well as helping people understand what the government’s doing to help.
We are also working with SCCAN (Scottish communities Climate Action Network), which is adopting a Climate for Change programme, it’s based on an Australian model. And it encourages conversations at a very local level, to discuss and raise awareness of the climate emergency and encourage people to change their behaviours and take action. So they’ve spent the last few months adapting the Australian model so that it’s fit for use in Scotland, and they’ve started training an initial group of facilitators, and that work is going to continue across 2022 to 2023. So they’ll train facilitators across Scotland, anyone that’s interested, the websites on the slide and you can sign up to be a facilitator. You are then invited into a host’s home and they will invite 10 family members, friends, and members of the community, to have a discussion about the emergency and actions that can be taken. The Australian models had really good outcomes in terms of raising awareness, but also in terms of the number of people that have left feeling empowered, to take action and to take those steps that are needed.

Our main programmes have worked, though, to ensure that we are empowering people to take action in their own communities and in their own lives. It’s through a developing network of climate action hubs and climate action times. And these initiatives will provide a vehicle for communities to come together to share learning and engage in collective climate action. So there are a number of key principles for the hubs, which can be developed in a number of ways depending on what is needed by local communities and what will add value and really support them. But the main principles are around inclusion, collaboration and networking and making sure that the hubs are shaped and responsive to community needs. So Joan’s here today and she’ll tell you about the work of the hub that she manages. But broadly, the hubs will be there to really raise awareness locally of climate change, change and the actions that can be taken in terms of mitigation and adaptation that will provide support and advice around projects that can be developed encouraging collaboration, and the peer to peer learning in terms of best practice and what works and what doesn’t. They will build and develop resources and materials and provide seed funding to develop projects and small scale activities and will help signpost to agencies that can offer support and whether it be funding and ensuring that the views of local communities are heard both in government and also at local authority level.

We only have two hubs up and running at the moment two Pathfinder hubs. They were launched in September of last year, and the journal obviously tells you about the North Highlands and Islands Climate Action Hub. The other hub is called NESCAN, and it covers Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. And their website is there if anybody’s interested in having a look. And they’re in the last seven months really worked to map all the activity that’s already happening and really promote that to raise awareness of actions that groups can take and help people come together, they’ve spent a lot of time doing visualising where communities with communities where they want to be by 2030 and the steps that they can take to get there and working through that with them. The communities in the Northeast are particularly with the storms and floods this year. I’m particularly concerned about adaptation and the impact of climate change on the weather. And so NESCAN of working with adaptation Scotland and CPAC to hold a big event to discuss with communities steps that they can take. They also looking to help inform policy and service design. And there’s a picture there of some of the members of NESCAN and some of the community members with Mr. Locket. And that was just from the last week, and they met to discuss their ‘just transition’ strategy plan and to help inform and shape that plan as it develops.

So we have the two hubs up and running. We are now looking to develop that network so that we have hubs across Scotland. And we’ve just held a number of regional sessions to start that conversation and look at how we support the hubs to develop across the rest of Scotland. If anyone’s interested, you’re more than welcome to, well there is the information on our website, but also you can contact me directly if you want to. And the other initiative that we have just now is looking to really support place-based climate action, really looking at local priorities and local steps that local communities can take as our Climate Action Time Initiative, which is delivered by an Architecture and Design Scotland. This year went through a process of identifying six times. Those times are based on a population of under 10,000. There was no evidence that the communities within those times had started thinking about steps that they could take and thinking about climate action. They also looked at SIMD and flood risk. So those times are actually seven, but two of them are very close together and Alness and Invergordon, so they’ve been counted as one. So in the last six months, they’ve worked to identify the towns, work with those communities, with the local authorities and key stakeholders, to start thinking about the priorities and what those towns could do. They are about to produce the first-year report of the learning from that so that it can be shared with other places. And the second year will all be about mobilisation, so really looking at the priorities of the towns and the opportunities there to really support change. So they’ll be working with the third sector, local authorities, they’re working with Scottish Water, they’re working with the Crown Estate Scotland and others to look at what collectively can be done to support those communities and those towns to move towards net zero. So that the focus could be on adaptation and the creation of resilient food networks. It could be about community energy, and will very much depend on the town. And we’re hoping again, the learning from the second year can then be adapted and applied to other places.

And so finally, I know, probably over time, but just to also say that the Scottish Government does have grant funding that can support communities to take action and invest in communities fund, which is focused on reducing inequalities also has climate outcomes embedded in it to make any group applying think about the steps they can take. And I think, well, a community and renewable energy scheme CARES, we’ll be more particularly relevant just now given the impact of the pandemic and rising prices. And I’ve put a link there to local Energy Scotland’s website, which delivers CARES for us, and they can provide advice and support and financial support to help communities look at local energy projects. So that’s everything from me. I will pass it back to Nick and thank you very much.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Thank you very much, Louisa. And so many apologies for dropping out there. The trials and tribulations of the internet from home. Moving on to our second guest, I am delighted to introduce Dr. Andy Kerr. Andy is a leader in catalysing innovation in climate policy in practice. he co-founded and directed the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation and the Scottish Centre of Expertise on Climate. Among other things, he now leads EIT Climate-KIC – Europe’s largest public-private climate innovation partnership, and this is for the UK and Ireland. He is an honorary professor of the University of Edinburgh, having previously been appointed as personal Chair of Climate and Low Carbon Innovation. Andy, over to you. And hopefully, my Internet does not pack up on me altogether, Andy.

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
Thanks very much, Nick, and a very good evening to everyone. It’s a real pleasure to be here. And thank you for inviting me. As an expert, I worked for this, this slightly weirdly named organisation called Climate-KIC. And we work with a range of organisations of cities of local authorities, in terms of the how do you deliver some of the climate goals, the ambitious climate goals that they have, and we work right the way across Europe. Now, I don’t have any slides this evening, what I thought I’d do is actually just tell you a story, to try and illustrate some of these issues around community action.

And the story I want to tell you is about a project that we helped to fund and we helped to design three years ago, three-four years ago, which was really about, it was a big multimillion-pound project, where we were trying to explore how to widen access to electric vehicles, partly because of the greenhouse gas emissions, partly because of clean air. But it was very much aimed at certain urban communities that were poorly served by transport but didn’t have access to cars. They were poorly served by public transport and bus networks. And so the question was, could we find a way in which we supported both the community aspirations to be more mobile but also do it in a way that was clean in carbon terms. And so we launched this project we worked very hard with the technology companies on the economic modelling to check the pricing that we were doing was right with the local authorities to make sure that we could get the vehicles in the right place. We could get them charged, we could price it in a way that was attractive to some of the local communities. And then we launched it three years ago. What could possibly go wrong? You know, this was all good intent. It was looking at supporting multiple outcomes within particular urban communities. And yet within a few weeks, what we found was, firstly, one of the vehicles got vandalised, and then the next week it caught them all got vandalised, and eventually they were just being smashed up, all of them one by one. And so we had to stop the whole programme and bring the police in and so on. And we were trying to work out what the issues were. And what we found later that year was that the folks who were essentially vandalising the vehicles were from some of the local private hire taxi firms that service those communities that we were trying to help. And of course, for them, what we were doing was bringing in public money, we were offering essentially, largely or near-free transport, which was entirely undercutting their entire livelihoods. Essentially, they could see their livelihoods just disappearing in front of them. And so they took their matters into their own hands and went and did the damage to the vehicles.

Now, nobody comes out of this particular story particularly well. We, from our side, and our partners who were implementing the project, the local authority and so on, basically had missed an absolutely critical part of what we were doing, which was properly engaging the community to find out what the issues were local. To find out what was required, rather than thinking we have a neat solution that can be imposed on a community. And so if you just spin forward a couple of years, over the last two or three years, we’ve been working with cities across Europe, including places like Edinburgh, but we’ve also got interest from Glasgow and elsewhere. And we’re now leading some of the big European, what they call the city’s mission, which is taking 100 cities to net zero, so really ambitious climate targets over the next few years. But the learning we’ve had from work with urban communities, but it’s equally applicable to rural communities, has been that if you’re looking at the sorts of transformative change that is required to deliver the targets that local authorities are setting in Scotland, and elsewhere, then you need three things almost to underpin everything we do.

One of which is you need an investment mindset.  You need to be thinking about what are the costs that are going to be required to deliver this. Not in terms of can a community afford it, can the local authority afford it on its own? Because the answer is neither can do that. The scale of the finances is too big for that. We need to be looking 10-15 years, and match it with pension fund funding and things like that.
The second thing is you’ve got to think about places, you’ve got to really think about the interactions, the relationships, the communities that actually live there, and think about how they want to see their future. In other words, how do they want to build their future going forward?
And the third part of what is, I guess, the sort of the underpinning thing that you need is what we call civic legitimacy, which is just a fancy way of saying, you’ve got to work with communities, if you’re making this sorts of radical, this sort of transformative change, you cannot do it by imposing it on communities. And far too often, I think, in climate terms, we descend into technical solutions, we descend into neat sort of things that look good for economic policymaking or for technology solutions. We don’t think about what does this community, how does this community want to articulate how they want to take forward some of these opportunities?
So a lot of the work that we now do is very much about how do we build that community sense of where they want to go? How do you ensure you’re properly engaged in communities, in understanding their vision, and working with them to deliver it, rather than trying to impose it on them? So I guess it’s worth saying that when you do that, of course, what you find is that these are hugely contested spaces. This is a difficult challenging area to be working in. So we need to be very conscious of that.

So let me just finish it with a couple of thoughts. One is that this key point, the scale of the challenge that we have set ourselves, as Scotland, as local authorities, as cities, as rural communities, as towns, is such that you cannot try and just sort of leave communities to one side and deliver some technocratic solution. But somehow magically, they go forward. It doesn’t work. We have to be working with the grain of communities. And secondly, I would challenge a little bit I think the framing of the talk tonight in the sense that the way it’s framed in the text is, you know, we need to work with communities to identify alternative solutions and minor improvements to tackle climate change in an affordable community-focused and sustainable way. I absolutely agree with that latter part in an affordable community focused on a sustainable way. But I don’t think it is a minor improvement. I think it is absolutely at the heart of how any local authority, any business, local authority, partnership, public-private partnership, needs to work with communities to see the sorts of changes we require. So I think we have to put people at the heart of this, rather than on the outskirts as something that is done to them, whether it’s by a public authority or by a private business. And I’ll stop there. Thanks very much.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Thanks very much, Andy. Very important and telling lessons I think came across in your example there, much appreciated. Our final speaker is Joan Lawrie who is Project Manager for North Highlands and Islands Climate Hub. She has been the development manager of Thurso Community Development Trust for four years. And the Trust has embedded community-led climate action into all of its projects. Joan has been operating and project managing the North Highlands and Islands Climate Hubs since September 2021, focusing on supporting and encouraging community-led climate action throughout the region. So Joan, over to you.

Joan Lawrie 
Thank you, Nick. And thank you for having me along tonight. I think Louisa has already partly introduced me and the work that we’re doing with the North Highlands and Islands climate hub, and what the aims of the hub are. And just from what Andy has just said, there, as well as I would fully agree with the fact that we need to put communities at the heart of, of community, late climate action and all climate action that needs to come from communities, which is really what we see the role of the hub, as doing as that we’re supporting communities. And then we’re feeding that through key partnerships. And so one of the keys to the formation of the climate hubs has been that there are operated by community-owned and led organisations. And so just as nekkid (unclear) introduced me, I set the GIL hat on of being both the development manager of the Community Development Trust and the project manager of the North Highlands and Islands claimer hub, those are Community Development Trust in the operators of the hub. So the Trust was formed in 2018. And we’ve taken the approach of rather than been avert climate action group, to instead embed it through all of our work projects, initiatives, taking a holistic sustainable approach to community-led development based on the needs of our community, and very much based on the evidence that comes from our community. And I’m going to talk a little bit more about rural areas because that’s where recovering with the North Highlands and Islands, climate hub, and the framing of tonight’s talk as well, which was partly about the energy crisis. So communities in our region in the north Highlands and Islands are generally just passionately affected by living costs compared to the rest of Scotland, say estimate that living in rural areas close 15 to 30%. More than an urban area. While our region does not like green spaces or the space to get outdoors, we do pay more for energy delivery costs are higher and food costs are generally higher. The cost of travel in rural areas can be excessive in many of our rural areas, it would be impossible to live without a car. As public transport doesn’t exist. The climate acts that North Highlands and Islands really sees mixed demographics between pockets of affluence and subsequently inequality, and those who are struggling my own community and those will be no exception to that, where we almost have a dual community of those who have and those who haven’t. If we think of any qualities, the impacts of someone experiencing disadvantage or not just living without the impacts are experienced and comparing yourself to your nearest neighbour. And in rural areas that can be more pronounced, living next to somebody who’s affluent to not having anything. So with such differences and communities, it can be really difficult, difficult to communicate and gain support for climate action projects. On one side, you can have members of the community who are really keyed into the climate emergency and have the funds to support living more sustainably, changing heating systems, air vehicles, even simply replacing plastic use with reusable but when you’re dealing with your every day and you’re every day isn’t great trying to consider the climate and take climate action isn’t always the end of your priorities. If we make climate action projects about climate, and that’s not necessarily what we do at the North Highlands and Islands climate hub, we talk climate we tell everybody about the climate emergency we educate people on the climate emergency. But what we also really need to do is take a place-based approach and communities identifying first with the community leaders and then assessing community organisations, from Community Councils to development trusts, to small grassroots groups, grassroots groups, to engage with the communities around needs, sustainability and climate, then looking at how improvements can be made to both addresses that community needs, but also to do it sustainably in the kindest way possible to the climate. And also well engage in climate in the climate emergency.

And it’s quite a big ask, but I’m gonna give you some examples. An example of this is where we’re currently working on a multi-partner approach to the current energy crisis in Caithness. Caithness Sutherland of the islands has high levels of fuel poverty even before the prices started rising. Working with community organisations throughout the area, we’re supporting an action group to support communities based on the current needs of the energy crisis. The way we approach that in communities is to first listen to their needs, not just one need, in this case, the rising cost of living, but what else is going on? Are people feeling socially isolated? Are there opportunities to connect with others? So looking at the energy crisis, yes, we need to look long term with communities. Are there needs for district heating systems, insulating and retrofitting homes? Yes, that becomes part of the longer-term solutions and becomes even more multi-agency with more significant climate action benefits. But what our community is telling us right now? They need advice on energy efficiency, budgeting, and how to save money. And that comes in workshops to make draught excluders and lined curtains, food waste workshops, and teaching people how to cook communal and community meals. All of which brings people out of their homes, meaning for those few hours the heating is not on, but bigger than that they bring people together in shared experience, create community connections, give a practical skill. Are they there to create climate action? The people who are attending, are they thinking about climate action? No, that isn’t the foremost priority. But they are taking climate action by coming to all of these things. And once we have them in the door, we can also then start to talk to them more about climate action and the things that they can do. They’re also not feeling stigmatised by their needs.

Take a further example of the rise of two libraries, which promote a circular economy, or the Highland’s phenomenal rise of the community’s largest prejudice. And taking a climate approach to these types of projects. We’re reducing consumption and redistributing food that would otherwise go to waste. These projects draw people in all people within communities. Those attuned to the climate emergency, they’re making climate-friendly choices for those who are accessing because they need additional support. These initiatives of our community needs. That community heed has been afforded a solution. We see through community growing projects in particular that yes, community lead climate action, but also reducing social isolation,  green health, being outdoors, promoting healthier eating, people come together and talk. I’ve never heard of so many uses for all of the parts of a cauliflower. I’ve never had as many tips on how to minimise food waste. And I’ve never learned more about recycling from volunteers, at the community garden project, and community growing projects in particular really work, we find that 90% of the volunteers at the community garden project will have taken up growing to some sort of skill in their own garden, from window boxes to fill polytunnels. Taking these simple actions of community growing a community larger, their initiatives, helped to solve issues within communities, but they also start to take those communities, and people within those communities into the conversations about climate.  So this work that we’re doing through the north Highlands and Islands Climate Hub, to support communities throughout our region, we find that communities want to do more, they want to bring people together and they want to address the climate emergency. They want to do it through localism, through their local community, we’re able to offer more and offer solutions to the needs of their communities. So it might be that installing a renewable heating solution at community building, to make it warmer, and for that community hall to have more usage. Even that in itself is a practical element. But it can also engage a community and what’s going on just a village hall having a new heating system installed, and making a renewable heating system – that provides an opportunity for that organisation to literally influence other people within the community. And there’s more innovation that comes from community-led climate action projects as well. For example, we’re working with a group at the moment who are looking to do community composting, because they see an issue with food waste in the community, they also see an issue with will in their community, which has now become a waste project as a waste element. So we’re working with them to develop, creating compost from will from the back (unclear) and from food waste, which reduces all of the waste within their community, and also could provide an income to that community, which can then go back into other projects.
 
And the kind of terms of what we do, just as Louisa said, we work with other agencies, we work with other groups and initiatives and the North Highlands and Islands, in particular, we work very, very closely with Highland Adapt, which is a local authority initiative, one of the first in Scotland to look at both adaptation and mitigation to the climate emergency. And that brings in further partners. And that brings us to working very closely with the local authority and feeding back all of these place-based approaches that we’re trying to do within communities through that community engagement. Including climate action towns of Alness and Invergordon. We’ve kind of thoroughly believed that if you start taking these small actions, yes, we need the bigger actions, but by taking these small actions, we can start to mobilise communities. We can start to get communities to think about things, to talk about things, and become more sustainable. And particular what we see in the highlands is that there is a growing sense of wanting that localism. To want that sustainable food system, to want those solutions, particularly since COVID. It’s a coming together, it’s a connection within communities. And that’s really the way that we do it is that we don’t treat climate as being something separate. We treat it as being something that needs to be embedded throughout all that we’re doing throughout our communities, through our community organisations, and throughout our daily lives. Thank you.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
I’m sure you’ll agree that all three of our panellists have given us lots of food for thought. And I think I’d quite like to start the discussion by asking each of our guests what I would consider a fairly simple question. And I hope it doesn’t go off the subject at all, but we’ve heard a lot about COP26, but rather less about COP15. And the Convention on Biological Diversity. Do you see climate action and wallies over global warming to be separate from issues surrounding biodiversity loss? Or do you see them as part of the same broad programming when it comes to community action? And maybe I’ll start with you, Joan, on that.

Joan Lawrie 
I think for me being based in the Highlands, I would generally see them as being one and the same. Where we have communities in Highlands, you have actual communities anywhere in Scotland, you have issues around land ownership. Land ownership also affects, you know, who owns land that could affect the biodiversity and what’s going on with that land. Particularly in Highlands, we have a very controversial rewilding, where that gets spoken about quite a lot. And I mean, we have several communities in Highland who are looking at basically land, you know, that the lands that they own, and increasing that biodiversity, so I would really see them as one of them. And I think that communities would genuinely treat them as one and the same, but then it may be a slightly different perspective from an urban area than what we have in rural Scotland.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Okay, thank you. And just a reminder, please post any questions as they pop into your mind into the Q&A function at the bottom of your screen. So can I now pass on to Louisa the same question?

Louisa Harvey 
The Scottish Government is of the view that we have the twin crises of both – it’s around biodiversity, and it’s about moving to look at mitigation and adaptation. And I don’t think they can be separated, I think we have to think about them and deal with them together.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
And Andy?

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
Yeah, I’d say the same. I think the work we’ve been doing in terms of what’s talked about in the rural communities, but certainly, in the urban communities, we’re working with a lot of the focus on climate action. We’re trying to get away from focusing on, you know, the sort of, can we do something house by house and actually much more is focused on how do you do placemaking within the community, and for that, actually, green spaces, access to nature actually becomes part and parcel of those local communities, wherever they’re based, even right in the centre of a city. So in that sense, it just becomes part and parcel of placemaking and wellbeing, rather than thinking of it as sort of completely separate initiatives that need two different things to look at. Because actually, you’re talking about how do you build better places, led by the communities who live there. And that just is part and parcel of improving the quality of that place.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
And do you think that people generally when they hear about climate change, also really think about biodiversity? Or is it all about global warming? And how are we going to stop our emissions to halt that? Is that something that we ought to focus a bit more attention on? Do you think and getting that message across?

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
My own view is that there are real problems with the language. But biodiversity is, I mean, it’s fine for the nerds, and for the, you know, for those of us who are policy wonks and interested in that stuff, but you need better ways of communicating what that is to and with communities and how they want to communicate about it themselves. So I do think there’s a real issue with the language we use here.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
A good idea also to hear from Joan loud and clear is to focus on community needs. And once you do that, then you come in with solutions that will help the need. But the need is that is the real focus, I think in these communities. What they really need for their well-being and for being productive. And so maybe just talking about climate and biodiversity, we should not do that at the outset, we’ve got to talk about potentially, what does that community need to function really well in a sustainable way.

The question here for Andy: how to work with communities when they are so divided in opinion? How do you implement and push the right changes that need to be done? But perhaps people don’t understand it and oppose it, just because they didn’t change.

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
It’s a good question. I’m just trying to think how best to answer it. The answer is, that one of the things you have to do is you have to start to tease out what the challenge actually is behind the scenes. So what is it actually within the community? So for example, a really, really good example that we’ve seen locally, where I live near Edinburgh, has been that they were big, there was a big challenge around communities when they started closing off roads to try and create more space for pedestrians during COVID. Yeah, and so the spaces for people became incredibly contested, because essentially, car drivers said, whoa, you’re taking away our ability to drive cars through this space. So you ended up with often a very vocal minority, demanding that certain things happen, which actually impacted the majority who didn’t have access to the car in particular communities. So a lot of the focus is, then you have to accept that there is a diversity of opinion, but there isn’t a right answer. There is a way of then saying how do we find ways of working through that. And there are some really good examples that we can show with local citizens’ juries, working with local citizen assemblies, and so on to make that happen. But you also have to accept that there will be a diversity of opinion. And the other thing I think we’re trying to show is actually showing where you can deliver what we’re trying to do is often showcasing what is possible in different places. And what we’re showing is that if you go to certain cities, and you say, actually, you can do without, or do with less cars, you can do with less if you improve public transport and active travel, and you can actually show a better way of living, and then start to get people building into that. But it is hard. And I think we shouldn’t pretend that there is, you can walk in and say there is a right answer for that community and we just got to get them to persuade them, that that’s the way they need to work and go forward. Because it just doesn’t work like that. They do need to come to that solution themselves. But do it in a very open and transparent way.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
And another question here, many say retrofitting buildings is helping fuel poverty, health and well-being as well as climate. Should we as activists raise that first or wait for communities to ask for building improvements? So what do you think about that, Louisa?

Louisa Harvey 
I guess you could have communities that are maybe better informed that may come forward for building improvements automatically. And maybe areas that aren’t won’t and so yeah, it’s about raising awareness, isn’t it? I don’t think as raising with communities that they could build those, do those improvements, do that retrofitting. It’s informing people. And I think that’s what climate literally used to see is about and what the hubs, the work of the hub should do. It’s about informing people of the evidence, of the data and the choices in front of them and what’s available. So I guess, I don’t know if that answers the question. But yes, I think we should raise it in terms of informing people so they can make that choice.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Thanks, Louisa. And I’m just coming back to the language one because I think I’ve probably brought that up a little bit. And another question here on language. How important do you think using terms like climate crisis or climate emergency are rather than less urgent terms such as climate change? Should we be using the more sort of urgent type of terms when we’re talking about these issues? And I’ll pass that over to Joan to start off with.

Joan Lawrie 
Thank you. It’s all still about informing people and I think that we do need to get across that there is a climate emergency. We do need to get across that the issues are very serious. But it also goes back to using the appropriate language for who it is that you’re talking to. So I think that it’s and just as the previous question about the rate of retrofitting buildings as a lot of people in our community won’t understand maybe unnecessarily that retrofitting their home is going to have an impact on the climate emergency. But having a warmer home, they understand. So it’s how we go about engaging with people, and how we go about using that language and taking people to step by step. So it’s that bit of, I always believe very firmly in taking our community on our journey. So from my own organisation, as far as a community development trust, when we started, nobody believed that we could make a difference in our town, we’ve made a significant difference in our town. But we have taken people on a journey, and we’ve been transparent along that way. But we talk to people in a language that they understand. So it may be that you’re not talking climate events, maybe even be that you’re not talking climate, to begin with. But as you move through and you engage more with people within your community, then you can start to bring in more of these concepts, you can start to bring in, you know, you can do full carbon literacy training with people. But actually, some of that carbon literacy training happens, standing next to a compost pile in a community garden. So our standard of having a cup of tea doesn’t need to happen in a classroom or in a formal setting. So I think it’s different stages of the language.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Thank you. And, Andy, if you’ve got any thoughts on terminology like that?

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with Joe. And I think I think that point that I think our experience was that the use of terms like climate emergency was really powerful three or four years ago because what it got was a whole bunch of, in particular, local authorities to say, look, we’re gonna go do something. And they set these really wild targets and had pretty much no idea how they were going to achieve them. But actually, what it did was kickstart a whole series of processes, which actually have been really useful. But when you’re actually talking with individuals or communities, you don’t talk about just the climate emergency, you’ve actually got to talk about the things that matter: warm, affordable homes, you know, access to jobs, access to, you know, there’s a whole bunch of things that really matter. And I think the point that we would argue with the work that we’ve been doing is that actually, there is a sort of virtuous circle where you can actually help communities to deliver almost as a byproduct, the climate targets, whilst actually delivering what they want as a community, in terms of quality homes, in terms of green spaces, in terms of jobs and investment. And actually, you can do that in a way that delivers multiple co-benefits, you know, better cleaner air, lower carbon, and so on, and improve the quality of buildings. So I just think that you don’t start by going in and trying to tell people about the climate emergency. I think that’s been done really effectively in multiple ways over the recent years. What you actually talk about is the very practical, the granular, that makes a difference on the ground. So I agree with Joan, absolutely on that.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
I have another question here for all panellists. Does the relative disempowerment of Community Councils in Scotland, eg when compared with TMP councils in England, provide an obstacle to community empowerment on climate? Or does the lack of agency at that level actually enable the greater connection between Holyrood and communities? Your thoughts on that, Louisa?

Louisa Harvey 
That’s a difficult one to answer. I think it will depend on the Community Councils I know that Joan will be able to comment maybe a little bit better in terms of what works. I know that the hub has been working closely with the Community Councils across the area. And I know that we’ve had a number of regional sessions on the climate action hubs. And a number of members from Community Councils came along. And we’re interested in actually looking at how they can support climate action and the work that they can do, and how they integrate and support the wider work that will be going on through the hub. So I know that doesn’t answer the question. But I think everyone needs to be involved. We need Community Councils involved. We need local authorities involved. Everybody needs it, we all need to work together. And we need to find a way to do that effectively.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
I can see you nodding your head there, Jones. So I’m assuming you agree to that.

Joan Lawrie 
Yeah, I think it really depends on who the Community Council is. And I also come very firmly from the development trust network. I mean, the development trusts have generally sprung out of Community Councils as well. I mean, the issue being with Community Councils is that they, you know, the technicality is that it’s difficult for a Community Council to own land or buildings. So quite often a development trust actually springs up to take that sort of more enterprising approach within their communities and becomes a community anchor and can employ staff and do all those sorts of things. So I actually, I feel that Community Councils do actually have that impairment, but it does depend on the Community Councils. And we have spoken to Well, not me personally, but one of our development officers, Amanda, who I think is actually attending this as well. She has spoken to numerous, numerous Community Councils across the Highland area. And it depends on the Community Council, I would say.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Anything to add there, Andy or do you agree?

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
I can’t add anything on the Community Councils, I think there is a wider democratic deficit that we have, in terms of, and again, you know, I’m working much more at a local authority level where in terms of the capabilities and the funding to allow things to happen, I think there’s been a, you know, we’ve been degrading our democracy at that at a local level. And that is not just at the local authority level, but it’s below that level as well, over many years. And I think there’s a real challenge for how we sort that out. And that certainly in comparison with the work that we’re doing in, in the Nordics in Denmark, or in Sweden or places like that, it’s just a very different framing.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
The question here on climate literacy, should climate literacy be taught at all levels and subjects of education? And in all vocational training? I’ll push that one to you, Andy.

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
I mean, the short answer would be yes. And the reason I say that is that, again, there’s always it’s very easy to look at the world as it is now if you’re looking at the world, as it will be in five or 10 years’ time, you know, things that are changing so rapidly in terms of and just think about vocational training, you know, we’re still seeing people in vocational training coming out, we’re doing a lot of gas safe work great. But in three or four years, five years, there won’t be gas boilers being put into homes. So similarly, with electric vehicles, similarly so there’s a whole series of vocations in that space, where there is fundamentally transformative change going on right now, over the next few years in terms of construction materials, in terms vehicles, in terms of electric charging points, everything else. That whole business needs to be brought through right from an early stage from the basic climate literacy as to why is does the changing taking place, what’s the understanding of climate, but also because new markets are emerging, new opportunities are emerging. And actually, we as Scotland need to be really well equipped to take advantage of that, to support the supply chains, to support the investment in businesses, small businesses, as well as large. And that does require both a really basic level of climate literacy all the way through from very early ages, but also to ensure that we bring the technical education and indeed the higher education through that, that that point as well. But the short answer is yes.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
And just see a few more questions here. I would describe the different aspects as being like air, you need all the parts to be in a quick ratio. Too much oxygen, for example, can have a negative impact, not just CO2. Do you agree? Louisa?

Louisa Harvey 
I’m just reading that through again.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
So it’s the ratios, making sure you’ve got the balance, I think, and is that the correct approach?

Louisa Harvey 
Yes. I’m sorry, I don’t know how to respond to that. And yes.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Joan, Andy, any thoughts on that question?

Joan Lawrie 
I think if I’m gonna answer it correctly, as so we need things like that the community is to be onboard we need local authorities to be on board, we need the private sector to be on board. And yes, I would fully agree. And that is I’ve kind of mentioned it a little bit when I spoke but that’s why we’re working very closely with Highland Adapts, which has been set up to look across the Highland region at both mitigation and adaptation to the climate emergency. That’s the private sector, the public sector, and communities all working together. And I think that we need that kind of work happening, and all sorts of regions across Scotland, but yes, I agree. It’s a delicate dance of stakeholders, perhaps the best way that I can describe it.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
It is a nice way of putting it, a very nice way of putting it. And here’s a question for both Joan and Louisa, in your mind, do you think it is essential to work together with a local council? And if the hub is in a bit better position than individuals, what is the most effective strategy to get the results needed? As in my personal experience, I was working with my local council in Edinburgh forever about bins and recycling, but it was years ago and changes still haven’t been implemented. So it feels Council is not interested. So, thoughts on that, Louisa and Joan?

Louisa Harvey 
While I do think it’s essential that we work with local authorities, I think there’s been a lot of work done recently around climate literacy and local authorities deal with a huge number of areas. But I think awareness is growing. And I think there has been a real shift across the board in terms of looking at what actions can be taken. We’ve had local authorities really interested in the hubs. I think, when you look at Councils, the resources stretched and will be, they will have challenges, I think supporting all areas and all things. And they see the hubs as a potentially really good way of being able to engage with communities on what they need and what they want, and then help them influence kind of, how services are designed and delivered. I think we will start, I think we are already seeing shifts, and with a huge amount of work going on across the number of local authorities, and that will only continue to ramp up as we go forward. So yeah, yes, I absolutely think we need to work with the local authorities. Of course, there are challenges working with local authorities and with the national government. But we are seeing changes and I think we will continue to do so.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Anything to add, Joan?

Joan Lawrie 
I think I would probably echo exactly what Louisa said. We’re working across three local authority areas of Highland, Orkney and Shetland. And I would say that there’s definitely been a significant shift. And my experience is more so via Highland. And if I can give any check to dealing with a local authority, we’ve got a very good relationship with Highland Regional Council in particular. And because of the work of the trust, as well as that, meet your local authority halfway, so if there’s something that you can do, to kind of solve something for them, but you need it from them, you need something back from them as well, then that’s the way to approach working with a local authority. And I remember there is a comparison, not long after that first lockdown with COVID. And certainly what happened in our region was that it was communities that sprang into action to support people during COVID, with the local authorities following a little bit slowly behind. And the comparison was, I was told, well, you’re a little boat, it’s very easy for you to turn yourself around very, very quickly. We’re a huge cruise ship, it takes a little bit more time. But I certainly have seen that there’s and I think that COVID has actually played a part in that is that the local authorities have seen how communities have responded, they’ve seen how communities can identify what their needs are. And certainly, the experience that we have is that they are becoming very attuned to the climate emergency and what can be done, and how it can be community-led as well.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Thank you. So we’re running a little bit tight on time. Now I’m gonna see if I can fit in a couple of questions. And I’m going to the sort of more practical side of things, the question for all of you. What is one to two of the biggest things that a household can do to reduce carbon climate impact? And also with energy costs going up 54% in the UK, a lot of people would have to decide if they heat or eat. Is there a solution to that? That’s a bit of a tricky one there, but I’ll pass that to you first, Andy.

Dr Andy Kerr FRSE 
Okay, so I might be a bit contentious here. But one of the biggest thing, if you pay into a pension, one of the biggest things you can do as a household, is to make sure the pension is investing in essentially green outcomes. That’s one of the biggest single thing, which sounds bizarre compared with what you think you can do with your hands and what you buy and so on. And that is one of the biggest impacts you can have as a household. In terms of practicalities, a lot depends on, you know, things like commuting, if you’re commuting to work, you know, the vehicles you use can use public transport and so on and so forth. But I think the biggest thing that would help people at the moment is improving the insulation of homes bluntly, it’s just the energy prices we have are just brutal, and they’re going to be awful throughout next year. And I think the shambles and it is a shambles that the UK Government has done with their energy strategy, not to focus absolutely on the near term opportunities, which is about improving the quality of homes, insofar as we can, particularly in deprived communities is just a shocker because that is the thing we need to be focusing on. Because that both delivers personal benefit, such as warmer homes to people and reduces the impact of the energy crisis. And that is a crisis from very many people across the country. So I think it’s a shock of where we’ve gotten to, but that would be the biggest thing that would have the biggest impact, both in terms of the energy savings, but also, it may not create a great carbon saving, but it does. It is so important for people at the moment.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Perfect. Thank you. And Louisa?

Louisa Harvey 
Yeah, I agree around insulation. I was just gonna add in terms of the question around heating homes, just there is fuel poverty, insecurity, Fuel Insecurity Fund through the Scottish Government that can be accessed, just to support people. And obviously, we will continue to do what we can via care and other measures to look at how we support people over the coming months. And yeah, yeah. So just to highlight that as well.

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
And finally, Joan,

Joan Lawrie 
I would absolutely echo the improving insulation. However, your budget can allow you to do that. If you need to make draught excluders from old tights, then do that. If you can have your full home retrofitted and insulated, then do that. But yeah, improve insulation. And then I think the second most practical thing that I would say is, I don’t know if it’s really a practical thing, but just be that little bit more mindful. So think about your consumption, do you really need to go and buy that? And, again, just as Andy said about the pension divestment, that’s just being that little bit more mindful. The same with food in that little bit more mindful? Could you buy it locally? Could you eliminate it from going to waste?

Dr Nick Fraser FRSE 
Okay, thank you for those insightful answers. I’m afraid that we have come to the end of the evening, we have run out of time. So I’m sure you will agree that this has been a thought-provoking evening. And I hope you’ve all been as challenged and inspired as I have been. So all it remains for me is to thank you all for attending tonight, and especially thanks to our guest speakers, Louisa, Andy and Joan for their time and insights. I hope you enjoy the remainder of your evening and we hope to see you soon at another RSE event shortly. Good evening.

A person standing in a garden
RSE Podcast
Publication Date
12/04/2022
Featuring
Dr Nick Fraser FRSE
Dr Andy Kerr FRSE
Joan Lawrie
Louisa Harvey
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