Co-ops are key players in building a Zero Carbon Britain

What role can co-operatives play in reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions? A new report by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) explores the main challenges to delivering...

What role can co-operatives play in reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions? A new report by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) explores the main challenges to delivering a Zero Carbon Britain, looking at various business and ownership models, including co-ops.

Zero Carbon Britain: Making it happen analyses psychological, political and economic barriers while suggesting solutions drawing on real life examples.

Project Coordinator Paul Allen explains: “Providing clear evidence that workable solutions already exist is vital. It empowers citizens and gives policymakers no excuse for inaction. CAT’s previous research has shown that we have all the tools and technologies we need; this new report now demonstrates how we can overcome the cultural, economic and political barriers.”

The report focuses on new business and ownership models that can prioritise environmental and social benefits as much as economic returns. These include energy co-operatives, social enterprises, new energy supply models, and municipality owned companies as well as community and public ownership.

The research explains how in Germany around half of renewable energy is owned by citizens while in Denmark three quarters of wind turbines are under forms of community ownership. Similarly, in the USA around a quarter of all electricity is generated by co-operatives or public power utilities.

The report argues that fostering world views based on values of co-operation, social justice and ecological concern rather than power and status could play a large part of the transformation necessary to build a zero carbon future.

“It is also possible to design models of ownership and financing to improve inclusivity. For example, Brixton Energy, a renewable energy co-operative, used crowdfunding to finance a solar array in a social housing estate in Brixton and offered residents of the estate a lower minimum investment threshold (£50) compared to outside investors,” reads the report.

The authors also point out that the existence of co-operatives in one sector can facilitate the emergence of the model in another sector. For example, in Germany a long tradition of civic and municipal ownership of energy supply could be traced back to regular access to finance from co-operatives, state owned and local banks, argues the paper. Denmark is another state where co-ops and citizen ownership models contributed to the rapid expansion of onshore wind.

Referring to the research, CAT chief executive Adrian Ramsay said: “The shift to zero carbon could be one of the most exciting opportunities in human history, offering many benefits including better housing, accessible transport, reduced obesity, better physical and psychological wellbeing, and more jobs. It’s essential that we understand and start to overcome the barriers to making this shift happen.”

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