In July 2019, Camden Council held a Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisis, the first of its kind in the UK, to develop a set of proposals on how Camden should address the climate emergency. These proposals, based on evidence and recommendations from scientists, environmental groups and energy practitioners, informed the new Camden’s Climate Action Plan (CCAP) which was published in June and launched in July 2020 [1]. The CCAP outlines four core themes to define and shape Camden’s Climate Change programme: People, Places, Buildings and Organisations [1]. In the same way, this article will comment on these themes, in search for opportunities where Camden Friends of the Earth and other grassroots environmental organisations can contribute to making communities more sustainable and less carbon intensive. 

People, the first theme of the CCAP, is perhaps the loudest call to action for environmental groups in the borough and surroundings. In this theme, the CCAP commits to providing public information and to supporting community groups in the borough to help deliver wider action to decrease individuals carbon emissions. We have seen the reach and success of community-led projects like Think & Do and the Camden Citizens’ Assembly [2]. With the CCAP, projects like these will continue to close the gap between the policies that local authorities are presenting, and the activities and priorities of citizens. Campaigns around sustainable food and food waste are a great example of this. As reported by the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) [3], the food we eat is responsible for the largest consumption-based emissions in London. With the support of the council through the CCAP, Camden Friends of the Earth and other grassroots groups, have a great opportunity to work with individuals and businesses to make their consumer choices and supply chains less carbon intensive and more sustainable. Just to mention a few routes to achieve this, we could campaign to i) reduce food waste both at the household and restaurant levels, ii) ban or restrict single use plastics in supermarkets and takeaways, and iii) use our skills to help restaurants to engage in more sustainable practices [4]. Other initiatives include building on our plastic free communities program inside the borough [5]

Places, the second theme in the CCAP, aims to nurture biodiversity and support cleaner means of transport. Besides being ground for our borough to grow, the places we share can lead us to healthier and more sustainable communities. This is why Camden Friends of the Earth shall be committed to the nourishment and protection of nature around us. As the Council continues to manage our 76 parks and over 300 green spaces, it is our responsibility to encourage a sense of ownership and protection in our communities so we all take care of these spaces. This includes encouraging citizens and landlords to support Camden’s Tree Policy and Biodiversity Action plan, which could improve air quality, mitigate the ‘urban heat island’ effect, give us a sense of place and belonging while making our borough more beautiful [6].

Buildings, third theme of the CCAP, focusses on more sustainable, fair, and comfortable buildings in the borough for a zero-carbon future. As 85% of the direct CO2 emissions in Camden come from the electricity and gas used by buildings, the goals and programs in this theme are essential. Alongside the actions by the council to increase energy efficiency in buildings and reduce the fuel poverty in Camden, we have the opportunity to increase the community’s energy literacy and awareness of programs that give people access to individual and community-owned renewable energy [7]. In addition, citizen’s approval and support of retrofitting of buildings and community investment programs will be critical for their implementation. More awareness of energy usage in the borough may result in citizen’s pressure on landlords and large building owners in Camden to increase their energy efficiency and outperform Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in the country [8]. The education and awareness that we can bring to our communities can be a simple but effective way of supporting the borough’s actions to decrease the CO2 emissions associated with power and heating in buildings.

In Organisations, the last theme in the CCAP, the council commits to helping all organisations to operate more sustainably, in response to this climate emergency. As reported in the CCAP, organisations have led the largest CO2 reductions in the borough to date. Organisations have a great potential to significantly reduce emissions and generate positive change in waste generation. This is particularly relevant for SMEs that may not be covered under the umbrella of the Climate Action Plans of the borough. The promotion and implementation of the circular economy for SMEs in the borough and the citizen awareness of these initiatives are just examples of how Camden Friends of the Earth could help the CCAP’s goals [9]. For instance, helping restaurants and food providers to reduce food waste and single use plastics could lead to a huge reduction in local emissions [4]. To do this, we have the chance to leverage larger initiatives like the “Food that doesn’t cost the earth: A circular economy guide for the foodservice industry” by the Advance London program and supporting local initiatives like Robin, for food scraps recycling [4]. Some other examples of this include the Camden Town Brewery and London-based charity TRAID (Textile Recycling and International Development) partnership, and the Refill Station Camden [10].

It can be easy to read the CCAP, or similar documents by local authorities, and find an endless list of voids and unconformities. Instead, we invite you to look at these types of plans as a landscape of opportunities and roadmaps for organisations and citizens like Camden Friends of the Earth. Climate Action Plans and sustainability goals are great reading into where local authorities are looking and what they think is important in your borough. This article is just a call to take action and find opportunities in the limited, yet mostly well intended, plans and commitments by our local authorities. Let us continue supporting our communities, let us continue growing this movement for a better future.

We must not go on without saying that the actions by the Camden Council have been highly progressive, in comparison with other councils in London. They are paving the way for other local authorities, not only to recognise the nature of the climate emergency, but to take actions to move us forward. The resources throughout this article are only examples of plans, guides, and handbooks for us to use as the basis for campaigns in our communities.

Finally, and in the wake of the most recent Black Lives Matter protests, it would blind for us, grassroots environmental groups, to miss the link between climate change and race. We have to take every opportunity to recognise and battle racial and economic inequities in our communities if we want to have the slightest chance to to live, grow and develop sustainably. Friends of the Earth will continue to fight for the planet and people, for the right to live free of discrimination, and the right to be treated equally. We recognise that these rights are not protected and upheld for all black communities around the world. We will continue to amplify the voices of black people and other peoples of color fighting for climate justice as black, asian, and minority ethnic people are more affected by the climate crisis. We join the fight to protest against racism and racial injustice [11].