Manchester’s first ever Community Assembly on climate change enabled people from across the city to play a key role in shaping our response to the climate emergency!
The Assembly was facilitated by the Manchester based cooperative Envirolution with support from a coalition of partners including Manchester Climate Change Agency and Partnership and was partly funded the URBACT Zero Carbon Cities Project. Residents from all over Manchester took part during the summer of 2021 in a unique opportunity to play a key role in shaping the future of our city. It is only with our residents’ ideas, thoughts and input we can create a city that's greener, healthier, and more connected.
The Assembly ran from 9th August – 24th September and all the workshops took place in person in a Coronavirus conscious and responsible environment.
The project was delivered as part of Manchester Climate Change Agency’s (MCCA) ‘In Our Nature’ programme, which aims to engage people and communities across Manchester to find new and creative ways to inspire climate action. By collecting ideas, stories and actions the programme aims for people to have their say on what’s happening in the local area, find practical tips and get involved in local initiatives.
More about these projects can be found here: https://zerocarbonmanchester.commonplace.is
Environmental charity Hubbub, the communications and campaigns lead for the ‘In Our Nature’ programme, also supported the assembly and made a documentary film about the project: https://www.hubbub.org.uk
To tackle climate change we need ambitious action from all levels of society, from national and local government, businesses, communities, and individuals. We believe that it's only by working together that we can build a more sustainable, just, and cleaner city and see a Community Assembly as crucial to build consensus around a shared plan of action.
The key aims of the Assembly were:
- Each geographical area group engaged to produce actions plans of responses which are relevant and appropriate for their local areas. These represent actions which are very possible to implement with the right people, capacity, energy, support, and funding
- A mandate, which represents which actions are crucial for us as a society to take for us to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. Importantly, the Mandate details those actions which are not possible for the citizens of Manchester to be able to implement alone. Therefore, citizens require the support and leadership from the local council, businesses, and national government to make the necessary policy and infrastructure changes.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human caused greenhouse gas emissions from the pre-industrial period (1850–1900) to the present (1998–2018), have caused the global average temperature over land to increase by 1.41OC (IPCC, 2019). Even with significant and immediate reductions, GHG emissions have already led to major changes to our ecosystems (IPCC, 2019).
Yet the IPCC states we need to halve our GHG emissions by 2030. At this point current international governmental pledges will still push global temperatures over the 1.5OC target set out in the Paris Agreement and subsequent IPCC reports.
This will cause current extreme weather events to intensify, rates of species decline to accelerate and other mass extinction signifiers to be triggered. The most deprived communities will be hit hardest, especially those Global South countries who have caused almost none of the emissions or damage, but nevertheless already bear the brunt of the most catastrophic impacts.
We have to act now.
National governments and business are the key players in enforcing or instigating the societal changes needed to set us on the right path. That is the role of those in power. Unfortunately, the decisive societal changes needed are not being implemented and global GHG emissions continue to rise. The IPCC project that we have until 2028 to significantly decrease our GHG emissions before the global ‘carbon budget’ is used up and we reach the projected tipping point of 1.5 OC (IPCC, 2021). Therefore, communities and individuals need to form groups and deliver informed responses to those in power, requesting or demanding these changes to be made.
This is the rationale behind the Manchester Climate Change Assembly. The assembly was run by Bob Walley, Researcher in Climate Change Engagement and Communication with the University of Central Lancashire and co-founder of Envirolution, a Manchester based volunteer-led 4 cooperative which organises community engagement events concerning climate change, in partnership with MCC, MCCA and Hubbub.
Following an extensive recruitment campaign over 100 participants were then contacted with information about times, dates and venues for assembly workshops.
Weeknights and times after normal working hours were chosen. Although it was accepted by project leads this may exclude some parents who have childcare duties and others who may have other commitments at this time, it was also accepted that there is never going to be a perfect time for everyone.
Further reflections on this can be seen in the recommendations section. Workshop times of 18:00 – 20:30 were chosen, with a break of 30 minutes in the middle for food and refreshments.
Firstly, there were four workshops conducted with each of the five area groups which focused on the following themes:
- Introduction to the subject and the emotional impact of climate change
- Transport and Food and Agriculture
- Fashion and Retail and Buildings and Energy
- Development of Action Plans and recommendations for the Mandate.
In this final area group workshop participants were invited to form contact groups using WhatsApp (or something similar) so they could carry on conversations, swap ideas, and think about actions going forwards.
The two final workshops were conducted with all the group participants at a venue in the city centre. This was to allow all participants to meet each other and discuss what actions needed to take place on a city-wide level. These two workshops also created the opportunity for the creation of the Mandate with participation from all participants.
Equal participation was a key aim of the assembly, and thoughts on this can be found in the recommendations section. These final workshops also allowed time for presentations on Policy and Leadership and for participants to learn about how Manchester was doing in achieving its GHG emissions reduction targets.
For the final workshop executive members of Manchester City Council, councillors, MPs, other local community leaders and businesses were invited. Participants could then present the project findings and make requests of those present. There was also a celebration at the end where the achievements of participants were recognised. Reflections on this can also be found in the recommendations section.
The assembly took place during the Covid-19 pandemic when restrictions on gatherings had eased and so in-person meetings could take place. It was decided by project leads that this was crucial for the outcomes, so all possible precautions were made.
The Community Assembly was undertaken in a very short amount of time and was very time and resource intensive, however proved to be very profound to participants.
The climate emergency can be incredibly difficult to conceptualise, but it can also be made tangible and relevant. Local parks and green spaces can provide links to the natural world that can build connections, understanding and value.
The assembly showed what most participants already knew: “All the issues are solvable. This is political, not technical”. The crucial ways forward for further action is the education of others to accelerate the formation of groups. People need to see changes being made and get motivated and inspired to get involved.
So communication and engagement of the most appropriate and relevant topics for each area or community is key. An issue like air quality is tangible and immediate, whereas climate change can seem distant and abstract.
The Mandate represents which actions participants identified as crucial in order for us to be able to achieve our greenhouse gas emission targets - limiting global temperatures to 1.5OC compared to preindustrial levels as set out in the Paris Agreement and subsequent IPCC reports. This document sets out the requirements of local council, businesses and national government made by the concerned citizens of Manchester who took part in the climate assembly.
The Action Plans represent the major issues that should be tackled as a priority on a local level. These were identified by participating residents of these areas, who after learning about different subjects at the climate assembly decided as a group that these action points were the most relevant and appropriate for each geographical area.
The Manchester climate change assembly was presented at fringe events across Glasgow as part of the International UN COP26 Climate Conference during November 2021. Although the COP26 conference itself was widely viewed as a failure (Hales and Mackey, 2021), fringe events outside of the conference brought together individuals and groups from across the world, providing opportunities for international collaborations at the grass roots level. It was widely recognised by attendees that there needs to be widespread changes made across all the political and industry sectors. Most importantly, there needs to be a “moral revolution” if we are to avoid the worst impacts of global climate change and the associated global ecological and societal collapse. Project lead Bob Walley gave presentations to attendees from all over the world, including from across the UK, Brazil, and the Philippines. The project was well received, and partnership projects are currently being developed in collaboration with Envirolution using the Manchester climate change assembly model and its finding
We are continuing to support the Community Assembly attendees, with events and projects that they can get involved in to keep their enthusiasm going!
To see more detail around each groups progress see: https://zerocarbonmanchester.commonplace.is/proposals/in-our-nature-community-assembly/step1
Written by Lisa Lingard, Manchester Climate Change Aagency