Social charities can and must empower people now to find environmental solutions that work for them
20 October 2022 5 minute read
Charities and funders have always been at the forefront of addressing major social crises. Through the pandemic and the beginnings of the cost-of-living crisis they’ve directly served people who need them, as well as empowering and advocating with them. They can and should bring this same energy and problem-solving ability to the climate and nature crises.
At NPC we’re launching our new Everyone’s Environment programme with over 30 social and environmental charities to put people at the heart of confronting the climate and nature crises. In this blog, Liz Gadd shares how and why social charities should empower people now to find environmental solutions that work for them.
People must be included in finding solutions that work for everyone
The environmental crises will affect us all. Whether through more frequent floods and extreme weather, or the policies we use to cut carbon emissions like switching from gas to electricity to heat our homes. Yet a recent report found little mention of ‘people’ in government climate strategies and documents, with much more focus on technical and economic solutions. This may explain why some environmental solutions propelled by technical and economic drivers are working well – the huge rise in offshore wind turbines for example – whilst those which rely on people such as the Green Deal have arguably failed because the government didn’t listen to the people who needed to make the changes.
The next steps in tackling the climate and nature crises will in no small part be down to individuals – like insulating your home, replacing your fossil fueled car with an electric one or using public transport. If the experience of failed home insulation programmes tells us anything, it’s that people need to be involved in decisions that affect them.
In involving people, we need to recognize that not all of us will be affected in the same way. For example, our Healthy Planet, Healthy People report showed how children, people on low incomes and people from some minority ethnic communities are more likely to be vulnerable to poor air quality and limited access to green spaces and nature. Awareness and ability to contribute to solutions are also unequal.
In a world where we all need to act, we need to empower and listen to people from all social groups to be part of the solutions. We need to design policy that puts people at the heart. Lived experience is a rich and fertile ground for finding solutions that work for everyone.
Charities must empower people
Charities should lead in bringing different social groups into the debate. Charities often work with people most likely to be hardest hit by the environmental crises and related policy, including those most exposed to economic shocks. These trusted relationships mean there is nobody better placed to ensure that everyone in our society has a voice in how we confront the environmental crises whilst protecting vulnerable groups from being hardest hit.
No more pushing environmental action down the road
The social sector has been slow off the mark. Whilst there are pockets of action, if you look through our sector’s websites you will find very few charities, outside of the international development sector, referring to how our changing environment affects the people they serve.
With crisis after crisis, you can’t blame them. In taking tough decisions with scarce resources, environmental action has been pushed down the road. In this age of ‘permacrisis’ – where systemic and complex issues, often with shared root causes, are upon us – a single-issue response will not work. If we try to tackle each crisis in turn, we’ll run out of time to address the climate and nature crises and we’ll miss the opportunities of transitioning to a green economy.
We need to move beyond firefighting and work together on solutions that work for all of society and everyone’s environment. There are limited resources to go around, so we need to respond collectively to systemic issues and be much more integrated and holistic in the ideas we put forward.
We must accelerate action together
As a sector we often ask for time to tackle long-term problems – multi-year unrestricted funding, the resources to enable collaboration, and trust. Responding to the environmental challenges we face is no different. Together with funders, we need to create the time, knowledge, and support for the social and environmental sectors, with the people affected, to find solutions that halt our environmental decline and bring social benefits to all. That’s what the Everyone’s Environment programme is about.
Over 30 organisations from the social and environmental sectors are coming together to better understand how the environmental crises affect the people they serve, and how they can empower those people to have a voice in environmental policies and decision making. More are joining us as we progress. Working with partners we will:
- Collate the evidence to inform decisions and strategies.
- Listen to different social groups, including people from ethnic minority groups, young people, older people, disabled people, people living with long term health conditions, or in low-income households.
- Bring social and environmental charities together to address barriers to action and find common ground on policies.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Join us. There is no time to waste. Now is the time for a holistic response to environmental, financial, social, and health crises. You do not need to be an environmental expert to act on the environmental crises – we need experts in all fields to act together.
Funders, will you fund charities working on the social impacts of the environmental crises here in the UK? Get in touch to discuss how NPC can help you to support existing or new grantees. Or contact Leah Davis to discuss funding the Everyone’s Environment programme – we need your support.
Charities, are you learning yourself and would you like to get involved? Or do you already work to towards understanding and acting on the social consequences of the environmental crises? Get in touch with Liz Gadd to get involved.
To hear more about Everyone’s Environment over the coming months, sign-up to NPC’s newsletter. Join the discussion on social media using the hashtag #EveryonesEnvironment.