Co-ops are a valuable tool in tackling climate change, argues new ICA report

The report was co-produced with the involvement of the ICA global and regional offices in the framework of the ICA-EU Partnership

The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) has published a report setting out ways for co-ops to help the fight against climate change.

Cooperation for the transition to a green economy draws on existing literature and resources and covers eight case studies, two from each ICA region: Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. These showcase sustainable practices used by co-ops to make a positive contribution on the environment and climate change.

The paper was co-produced with the involvement of the ICA global and regional offices in the framework of the ICA-EU Partnership, known as Coops4dev.

The report argues that as businesses driven by values, not profit, co-operatives act together to build a better world. Benefits of the model include long-term vision, preserving assets and indivisible reserves, encouraging value creation and delivering education, including on ecological matters.

The case studies feature co-ops of varying sizes in the energy, forestry, housing, transport and finance sectors.

They include Certel, the oldest energy co-operative in Brazil, which provides affordable renewable energy, Hepburn Wind in Australia, and Toutenvélo, a French national network of worker co-ops that provide delivery services while replacing car and van deliveries with environmentally friendly bikes in urban centres.

In Asia, credit unions are using a guide on Climate Action developed by the Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Unions (ACCU) to institutionalise climate actions. The Guide to Climate Action encourages credit unions to introduce climate compliance as the 6th C of credit – the criteria for assessing loan applications.

Similarly in Kenya the ANUSACCO savings and credit co-operative provides loans to its members to help them purchase clean and sustainable products such as energy-saving stoves (Jiko Koa), solar panels, lamps, torches and mobile phone chargers.

The report also looks at co-operative contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 13 on climate action and SDG 7 on clean and renewable energy.

But the report warns that, judging by the research, co-operatives hold great potential but “are not simply a silver bullet and it is important not to romanticise their role in the face of an issue as complex and serious as climate change”.

It also calls on co-ops to engage with young people, form partnerships with social and environmental movements and improve data and research on their environmental contributions.

“In all sectors, the pathway and actions that co-operatives choose to follow now will define their potential as a sustainable enterprise form in the future and their climate legacy, as they face increasing competition from other enterprise forms,” reads the paper.

The report was endorsed by key stakeholders, including high-level representatives from the co-operative movement, civil society, and research bodies of the United Nations.

Ilcheong Yi, senior research coordinator of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) said: “Illustrating how the co-operative movement as a model of ecological equilibrium incorporates the values of co-operation, solidarity, self-management and democracy in planet-centred development approaches, this research contributes to developing holistic policies and institutions to achieve economic, social, and environmental objectives. I recommend it as a must-read for those searching for a realistic means of sustainable development in 2021 and beyond”.

ICA director-general Bruno Roelants added: “As the co-operative movement is based on meeting needs and has among its key principles that ‘co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities’, it is bound to focus increasingly on the existential environmental challenges the world is facing today. This study will substantially help promote this evolution.”