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Climate emergency: is community development doing enough?

September 20, 2019

Rory and his pal at Glasgow's climate strike"The climate is changing: why aren’t we?" That’s the message on my 7 year-old’s placard for today’s global climate strike. And it strikes home with me too, given that I haven’t really changed much in my life over the past decade despite being well-aware of the scientific consensus that we are currently heading towards climate catastrophe.

And my feeling that I haven’t done enough extends to work. Until now, in more than ten years working in community development, climate change hasn’t been high on the agenda. SCDC has worked with plenty of groups and projects addressing local environmental issues, but we haven’t done much work directly related to the climate emergency. Something clearly doesn’t sit right with this given that one focus of our sector is on supporting communities to take action on the bigger issues affecting them.

Community activism on climate change is already strong in Scotland, with networks such as Scottish Communities Climate Action Network (SCCAN) promoting a community development approach. Some national voluntary organisations are actively supporting today’s strike. But arguably the community development sector hasn’t engaged with the climate change agenda enough. Maybe there’s been a view that the environment is further down the list of concerns for disadvantaged communities who have more immediate priorities to deal with. In this light, the environmental movement may appear divorced from inequality, poverty and power - the things we see as really mattering.

Well, the climate emergency matters, arguably more than anything else right now. And the communities that will be worst affected are the same communities that are already worst impacted on by inequality. When you see it this way, there’s an obvious link between climate action and community development’s traditional focus. Radical social and economic change is needed that addresses climate change and inequality at the same time, and communities have to be at the heart of making this change happen.

I’ve not really said anything here that we don’t know already – but I’m not sure if it’s being said enough. Clearly a lot more work is needed and CHEX/SCDC is working in partnership with a range of other community organisations around advancing community action on climate change. We’ll say more on this soon, as well as updating you on any more work we’re doing in this area.

It’s time for climate justice to take its place alongside social and economic justice. In fact, when these become divorced from each other we make the problems worse.

Andrew Paterson, Policy and Research Officer at Scottish Community Development Centre

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