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03/06/2019

How neighbourhood plans can help with the climate emergency

Flooding

Neighbourhood planning can facilitate discussions on climate change, says Daniel Stone

Anyone not living under a rock will have noticed the increase in public concern about climate change expressed by schoolchildren on strike, Extinction Rebellion’s high-profile actions, the passing of climate emergency resolutions by local councils, or Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg speaking truth to power.

All are bottom-up demands for greater national ambition. Several factors have provoked this. One is the lack of any meaningful climate action by global leaders. Another is extreme weather events, from wildfires in Australia to flooding in the US and India. David Attenborough’s intervention has helped, too.

On 1 May, Parliament responded by adopting a UK-wide climate emergency. And in its report the following morning, the Committee on Climate Change recommended that our existing commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 be upgraded to full carbon neutrality.

The truth is, though, that the government needs all the help it can get to make this happen, as we aren’t even on track with our current carbon reduction targets.

“Most of the technical solutions to tackling the climate crisis are already here”

What can the planning system do? The TCPA and RTPI talk persuasively about the role local plans can play in adapting to and mitigating climate change, and the need to achieve carbon reductions in line with the Climate Change Act – an existing legal requirement that would have far-reaching effects if only it were enforced.

But I believe that there’s also a critical role for neighbourhood plans. After all, does it make sense to develop five-year neighbourhood plans that don’t take into account an existential threat that needs to be solved within the next 10? What use is a plan that tacitly assumes that everything can go on unchanged?  

Most of the technical solutions to tackling the climate crisis are already here. What’s lacking is the political will to apply them, not least because now that we’ve picked off the low-hanging fruit, the radical changes that lie ahead require the informed consent of the public.  

Neighbourhood planning is a chance to nurture this consent: a rare moment when a local community gets together to talk about the future. So let’s encourage them to plan for the range of futures that might be ahead of them. Let’s use the opportunity to normalise and localise discussions of climate change that are mostly so removed from daily experience, thereby expanding the space within which politicians can safely work, and providing some of the answers to the question “what now?”  

Daniel Stone MRTPI manages the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s Low Carbon Neighbourhood Planning Programme

This is an abridged version of an article first published on the CSE website.

Photo | iStock

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