Community energy body says public needs to be engaged in climate fight

Community energy is a vital tool for engaging the public as willing and active participants in hitting climate targets, says CEE

Community Energy England (CEE) has responded to the government’s announcement of its emissions reduction targets for next year’s COP26 climate summit.

The government’s new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) targets of a 68% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, in line with recommendations published yesterday by the Committee on Climate Change.

CEE – the umbrella body for the community-owned energy sector – said: “This is an improvement over the previous NDC target of 53% by 2030 and is supposed to be in line with our legally binding target to achieve net zero by 2050.”

But while it welcomed the new target, CEE warns it will be too little, too late. The organisation recently signed a joint Climate Coalition letter to the Prime Minister demanding a 75% reduction by 2030.

The letter to the Business Secretary said: “The NDC is more than just a number. It should be accompanied by wider climate commitments, including the development of a policy package and Net Zero Strategy to deliver against the UK goal.”

Ed Matthew, Cop-26 co-director for the Climate Coalition, said: “It is notable that the UK has set a 2030 target which is a step up in ambition and in line with its legal duty to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This is important progress but not sufficient. A more ambitious cut is both feasible and necessary to keep us safe and reflect our massive historic carbon emissions. We must remember too that the climate will not respond to targets, it will respond to carbon cuts. It is action that counts.”

In his announcement the Prime Minister said: “We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process – uniting businesses, academics, NGOs and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change.” 

But CEE says government measures “must include policy and financial support for community energy if it is to stand a chance of taking the public with it as willing and active participants in delivering the UK goal”. 

Instead, it says, the government’s plan “had much in it for business, focusing on big-cheque, mostly supply-side measures.

“The government failed to invest in engaging people and local communities’ consent and participation in the huge changes in the way we all do things. This is potentially fatal to the government’s plan.”

Related: Bold vision for community energy in the UK

CEE points to a report from the Committee on Climate Change Net Zero, which said:  “Much of the success so far in reducing emissions (eg power sector decarbonisation and even the phase-out of inefficient gas boilers) has happened with minimal change or awareness needed from the public. However, this cannot continue if the UK is to reach net-zero emissions.

“It will not be possible to get close to meeting a net-zero target without engaging with people or by pursuing an approach that focuses only on supply-side changes … Some of the difficult decisions that will be required… will only be possible if people are engaged in a societal effort to reach net-zero emissions and understand the choices and constraints.

“There is currently no government strategy to engage the public in the transition to a low-carbon economy. This will need to change.”

Duncan Law of CEE said: “We see no evidence that the government has truly understood the need to put people and communities front and centre of change policies that will hugely affect them.

“Community energy is key to this engagement and has for years been harnessing ‘individual and community brilliance’ the chancellor spoke of to invent and deliver local solutions at a national scale. After early exponential growth the sector has been disabled by five years of policy change.

“A comparatively small investment by the government in enabling community energy will enable it to be the people’s powerhouse for net zero. Where community energy is supported, for instance by the London Community Energy Fund, it thrives and delivers. Community energy must be in policy to underwrite the targets or they will be worthless.”

He added: “The ‘wider climate commitments, including the development of a policy package and Net Zero Strategy’ recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, must include policy and financial support for community energy if it is to stand a chance of taking the public with it as willing and active participants in delivering the UK goal. Targets are important but if the people say, “No!” then they will be missed.

Mr Law said a government package for the sector must include: 

  • a new principle of putting people and communities at the heart of climate policy, 
  • a new community energy strategy with dedicated officers within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 
  • a package of financial support which recognises the indispensability of the sector to achieving buy-in to the climate goals and to developing local community solutions – including long-term revenue support and the reinstatement of the Urban Community Energy Fund and Social Investment Tax Relief for community energy. 
  • a key role for community energy in Local Area Energy Planning. 
  • reform of regulator Ofgem to push for zero carbon, social benefit and community energy
  • changes to the planning system to ‘to achieve net zero as soon as possible’ and remove blocks to onshore wind in England.