Empower people for an equitable transition to net zero

Four people sit in a line in front of an audience, with banners reading Future of London and let's build positive change together on either side. One is speaking into a microphone.

How can we achieve a more sustainable city in a practical, inclusive way? Our City Makers’ Forum brought together experts to discuss ways to make an equitable transition to net zero.

One of the biggest challenges of our time is the ambition to  transition to net zero carbon by 2050 to avoid the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

However, people are already living and working in tough conditions, while the huge financial investment is a major barrier.

Our City Makers’ Forum event, supported by Hatch, highlighted that to avoid repeating past injustices in the transition to a net zero economy, we need to prioritise people’s livelihoods and well-being. This demands an integrated approach to improving public health, living standards and access to jobs, and which actively encourages citizens’ participation.

Our panel reflected the different sectors which need to collaborate to achieve an equitable transition to net zero.

Watch Andrew Caruso of Hatch talk about a just transition to net zero 


Take a holistic approach to net zero

We need to make sure that the transition towards a net-zero economy does not repeat what we did in the past, but brings everyone on that journey.” Jacob Heitland, Newham Council

Jacob explained that Newham was one of the first boroughs to declare a climate emergency. It was also the first in the UK to produce a Just Transition Plan: one that aims to deliver a fairer, greener future for all.

The idea of a just transition is still a relatively new concept in the built environment, but it’s gaining traction. As Jacob explained, delivering this demands a transformative mindset. The impacts of climate change are already here and getting worse. It’s about so much more than carbon – we need to build resilience into all aspects of life.

Clear communication is essential. We need to avoid using technical language that excludes or alienates most people. Instead, we should be asking, for example, how people want their homes, workplaces and schools to be comfortable, healthy and efficient.

To help achieve a more equitable and sustainable borough, Newham’s Just Transition Plan is based on a “365 framework” for climate action: three principles, six ‘futures’ and five enablers. The three principles are “increasing equity”, “reducing emissions” and “future-readiness” – which Jacob challenged the audience to apply in their own work and actions.

Supporting a greener future that is fairer for all means convening and implementing a strategic approach. Newham is therefore rolling out just transition training for all council teams, to help staff understand what it means for their service area.

Integrating social impact in investment

Capital can also serve people.” Nadine Jenkins, Legal & General

Putting forward a business and investment perspective, Nadine agreed that achieving net zero means focusing on interdependencies that include health, wellbeing and quality of life. If you provide someone with an affordable and sustainable home, their physical and mental wellbeing increases. They’re also far more able to keep their jobs and feed their families.

It’s important, she emphasised, to challenge the perception that the public and private sectors have different agendas around net zero, highlighting Legal & General’s commitment to creating value for both shareholders and society. Addressing climate issues and creating positive impact for communities can also support understanding risk exposure and strategic resilience.

Partnering effectively is key to delivering and operating sustainable developments. As an industry, Nadine said, we need to build in more time upfront to agree collective goals, to deliver better outcomes for everyone involved. Investment can also be seen as ‘catalytic capital’: funding not just for the development, but also to spark more investment.

Empower people for an equitable transition to net zero

Our energy system is broken. What Repowering London is doing … is giving power to the people so that they can create the solutions that best fit their community.” Dr Afsheen Rashid MBE

Afsheen highlighted the importance of a democratic, diverse net zero transition through community-owned energy projects. Repowering London, which Afsheen co-founded, uses a cooperative business model to create locally owned, affordable energy for urban communities.

This model gives residents the capacity and skills to build, plan, fund and manage renewable or retrofit projects. In Kensington and Chelsea, for example, a local energy coop has installed solar panels on three community buildings. It has raised £83,000 from 144 local investors.

Community energy needn’t be small-scale. Repowering has secured support from social lenders to install more assets on different sites quickly. This allows the community time to raise the capital and then buy back the asset.

Repowering London also looks to the wider picture through providing training and skills and job creation to ensure the benefits remain local.

Make the transition easier, cheaper and healthier

The panel discussion and audience Q&A focused on the importance of understanding people’s behaviours and motivations, incentivising private sector investment and transforming policy. The net-zero transition creates a huge opportunity to drive change to create a healthier, more inclusive economy.

In an era of declining living standards, people are in survival mode. We shouldn’t blame them for the choices they make: these are limited.

We need to co-design and create products and services that allow consumers and residents to take better decisions, more easily. New regulation should force industries to take more radical action to achieve net zero targets.

Five takeaways for an equitable transition to net zero

  • The three principles of “increasing equity”, “reducing emissions” and “future-readiness” are a good starting point for any approach.
  • Make the just transition the easier, healthier and cheaper option.
  • Prioritising social value should be a key part of investment decisions.
  • Be more vocal and aggressive in pushing for change, rather than accepting “not good enough” from companies and leaders: we need to agitate more.
  • Individuals should think very carefully about where they spend their time and money, including major financial decisions such as pension investments.

Thanks also to Blossom Young of Poplar HARCA for the Knitting the Air project display. Part of the Poplar Green Futures strategy, this project uses the power of knitting visualise air quality data and engage communities in conversation about the quality of the air we breathe.

The City Makers’ Forum covers the big urban topics and provides a place for the future built environment leaders of our cities to build their professional networks. Look out for more events from the City Makers’ Forum by signing up to our newsletter. If you have an idea for a theme you’d like us to focus on at future events, please email Sarah.

City Makers’ Forum is supported by Hatch.

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