Our ambition is bold – to create a city that can take effective climate action by:
Creating community hubs: facilitating community-led climate action within neighbourhoods.
Supporting sector groups and campaigns: building capacity and bringing together sector groups and campaigns to support community-led climate action.
Enabling city wide planning and action: informing, empowering, connecting and mobilising communities and acting strategically across the city – a movement of communities.
Building on this ambition, the overall aim of Climate Action Leeds is to create a zero carbon, nature friendly, socially just Leeds by the 2030s.
For us, climate action is about empowerment. Climate Action Leeds supports communities to take action that meets the challenges ahead and is based on local needs. We want communities to be empowered to take action, build alternatives and learn new skills.
The key thing is to ‘think big, act small and start now’.
There are three aspects of our overall aim, and each one represents a particular challenge we can take action on together:
To get to zero carbon, we need to concentrate on the key areas which cause the most emissions: energy, transport, housing, food, the things we buy, and how much we fly.
Here are some projects – small-scale or city-wide – which can help us reach zero carbon over the next decade:
Community renewable energy projects
Accessible zero-carbon public transport
More and connected greenspaces and tree planting
Energy-efficient homes (whether new or retrofitted)
Locally sourced food, including micro-gardens, city farms, and community growing schemes
15-minute neighbourhoods, where the essentials are easy to get to on foot or two wheels
Resource sharing, like tool banks, and repair
Green jobs and more equitable pay in the city
Zero-carbon, car free community led homes
Our first aim is to cut the carbon emissions of the city from what they are today – about four million tonnes per year – right down to zero by the next decade. Scientists say we need to do this to have a good chance of keeping within safe levels of global warming.
If we don’t cut carbon emissions, then it’s likely we will have to live with the less safe impacts of a hotter world – disruption to energy supplies and food, climate migration, sea level rise, and the spread of pests and diseases.
But we can choose what happens next. Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 after public pressure from groups such as Youth Climate Strikers and Extinction Rebellion. The Leeds Climate Commission has produced a ‘Roadmap’ which shows how to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and now we have a Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission too.
We have lots of ambition in Leeds – our challenge is to use it for action and real change that improves people’s lives.
We can see the effects of climate change happening now. Wildlife and animals are dying. Extreme weather is battering communities. And then there is the ‘social emergency’ that has always been there – unequal public services, overstretched hospitals, poor transport, debt, insecure jobs, stress, media scapegoating, disconnected politicians, polluted air, health crises, and racial injustice.
The climate and social emergencies are two sides of the same coin.
1. A zero carbon Leeds – the climate emergency challenge
From school strikers to politicians and scientists, all sorts of people are talking about the climate emergency. We know that an increase of global temperatures above 1.5°C will result in dangerous impacts on the planet.
We’re calling this an emergency because – as Greta Thunberg said – our house is on fire, and we need to do something now. But we don’t use the word ‘emergency’ to create panic. We want to tell the truth, empower people to act, and equip them with the skills and knowledge to make a difference. We can all become ‘first responders’ with the skills and tools to deal with this crisis together.
Projects like these will help take Leeds towards zero carbon emissions, as well as making it more nature friendly and socially just.
They will also make life better for the people of Leeds, through less pollution, better local amenities, and more connected communities.
Projects and actions to make Leeds a nature friendly city could take many different forms, such as:
Regenerative farming – switching to organic, agroforestry, permaculture, silvopasture and other forms of nature friendly farming
Edible landscaping and meadows – rethinking how we use parks and public space
Micro-gardens – with more people being supported to grow their own food in small urban outdoor spaces
City farms – one example that exists already is Meanwood Urban Farm
Helping communities build natural flood management
Creating sustainable drainage systems to use water more efficiently and make it easier to clean and filter water
Promoting green roofs to support biodiversity
Creating ‘green walls’ – vertical growing spaces on buildings, to improve air quality and reduce the heat created by the city’s concrete
Increasing food waste collection and supporting local composting schemes
2. A nature friendly Leeds – the healthy ecosystems challenge
Right now, most cities are impacting their natural habitat –the ecosystems in and around them – in negative ways.
To create a nature friendly city, we need to look at how nature does things, for example how trees purify air and capture carbon or how forests support lots of different wildlife. Then, we can create strategies that imitate and support these systems. We can also make sure we create more green spaces in Leeds, and look after the ones we’ve got, to give nature the chance to do what it does best.
Leeds has a huge amount of agricultural land, so there is a big opportunity to enhance biodiversity and create a more resilient food system.
Healthy ecosystems provide the keys to life and health – clean, breathable air; clean, drinkable water; fertile, productive soil; diverse, thriving wildlife.
What would it mean if our city could provide these things in the same way that a healthy wild space does? We can design buildings, neighbourhoods, green spaces and services in a way that works with, not against, natural systems.
Creating a nature friendly Leeds means supporting nature to support us.
Making Leeds nature friendly will also help reduce carbon, so these actions will help us reach our zero carbon goal too.
A nature friendly Leeds will help people, and the other living things in our city, to live well and flourish in a sustainable way.
Socially just climate action requires us to focus on the process of change (how we do change) and not just the outcomes (the goal). We need to redistribute power, democratise decision-making, and support self-determination and accountability.
In practice, this might take different forms, such as:
Making sure decision-making is accessible to everyone, especially those most affected by climate change
Creating local and city hubs, and providing training to enable people to access information and participate in decision-making
Creating processes which empower the most marginalised communities to set priorities
Acting in solidarity with the people least responsible for climate change but experiencing the worst impacts
3. A socially just Leeds – the climate justice challenge
The idea of climate justice came from grassroots groups in countries where climate change has been affecting people’s lives for decades already.
In Climate Action Leeds, we use the term to mean we acknowledge that climate change increases oppression and injustice, and it does most harm to those who are least responsible for it. The people most affected by climate change are usually already dealing with unfair disadvantages based on class, race, gender, nationality, disability, or other factors.
The effects of climate change are clearly connected to unfair societal structures created by capitalism and colonialism. To work towards climate justice, we must acknowledge this and seek to correct these injustices.
Climate change is affecting some people more than others – both within our city and across the world. We need to make sure the actions we take to address the climate emergency are fair and meet people’s different needs.
The best solutions are created by the people who are the most affected by the problem, so we need to seek out and listen to these people’s experiences and ideas.
Working towards climate justice means creating change that’s socially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable.
This kind of change will help the most and last for the long term.
Over the next five years we want to connect with all those who want to create a zero carbon, nature friendly, socially just Leeds by the 2030s. There are opportunities for involvement across all our activity areas.
This is only the beginning.
We want to lay down a legacy well beyond this five year programme of work. We want to form further partnerships and gain further funding to keep our work going.
What we would like to see as a result of our five year programme:
A connected and informed city wide network with research and training supporting community-led action.
A network of community-led hubs and action plans that empower and ensure broad participation of community members for tangible benefits to life.
New processes and spaces that support local communities to plan together to solve shared challenges. Community members have more agency over their lives.
Productive exchanges and learning between sector and campaign groups and community-led networks.
Siloed working is reduced and different sectors and communities now plan together to solve shared challenges.
Enhanced cooperation between groups for mutual benefit and emergency action on the climate crisis.
New learning and evaluation approaches are embedded within a cross-sector partnership process.
A partnership that is self-aware, self-critical and maximises its potential, sharing its learning widely in Leeds and beyond.