Community Climate Action in the wake of coronavirus – Key learnings from Semble’s LCAW webinar


As part of London Climate Action Week, Semble hosted a webinar on Community Climate Action. We were joined by an all star panel of community action leaders and environmentalists including:

  • Community energy expert tackling intersectionality in climate crisis Dr Afsheen Rashid MBE from Repowering London
  • International climate change lawyer, author and activist Farhana Yamin from Camden Think and Do
  • Community solutions specialist Julie Parish from leading Community Network Octopus
  • Climate change adaptation and conservation specialist Sarah Taylor from Natural England
  • Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA Rebecca Pow, winner of the Green Heart Hero Award from the Climate Coalition

Our panel explored what lessons communities can learn from the coronavirus response to help inspire Climate Action.

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Key learnings from the webinar

Let’s show love for hyper-local action

Our panellists reflected on how the coronavirus community response has demonstrated the power of local people coming together to take action. We discussed how the sum of small, local actions will have a huge impact. Going forward we need to build on the momentum gained in recent months and make use of local people’s knowledge of the issues affecting their community.

Farhana told us: “There is a thirst for community based, hyper local connectivity” and in the chat said that “We have to convince our leaders and funders that the small-scale is the BIG new opportunity.”

Afsheen stressed the need to be inclusive in our decision making: “When [climate action] is done in an inclusive and community led way, this is where we see greatest impact.”

By working together, we can increase our reach and impact

Farhana stated that: “A lot of the changes we need to make have to be rooted in a very strong sense of partnership and community with other citizens, other players and in the locality that we live… There is a thirst and willingness, including by businesses, to collaborate.”

Julie described how Octopus were able to work with Islington council to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 crisis: “If you work really closely with your local authority, on an equitable level and they treat you as equal partners, you can move really quickly. Going forward there has to be a place based approach, that’s how you get things done rapidly. There has to be a belief that there is huge community assets that are untapped. Decisions should come from the community. ”

We need to address inequalities and build back better

Sarah discussed the inequalities which have been highlighted by the coronavirus crisis: “We have seen there are stark differences in the access to green spaces, the quality of green space. There are many unequal impacts that this pandemic has had, people with less are impacted more. This is a continuation of an inequality that we have seen in the natural environment sector: air pollution, flooding, climate change impact and so on. We need to address these inequalities and change a system and way of living that isn’t working. We know that people in communities want this, we don’t want business as usual, we want something that’s better… we need to have those to restructure our economy around people and the environment.”

In the chat Farhana added: “1.5million Britons reporting food poverty (not eating for a day as have no money). 40% of these are BAME.”

Afsheen pointed out that whilst we must address inequality, we need to understand the challenges facing people and meet them where they are: “We need to make sure that this transition is a just one. When people are facing issues of heating or eating, climate change does not hold any significance.”

Minister Pow talked about recovering from the crisis in a sustainable way: “Recovery from coronavirus offers us a real opportunity to Build Back Better… we don’t want or need to go back to the high carbon, unevenly distributed model of the past. There is huge potential to invest in great, green, more resilient growth. A sustainable use of natural systems can really help to bring climate change under control and safeguard biodiversity.”

There is a need to build resilience in people, communities and nature

Sarah discussed preparing for future crises: “We need to reduce our greenhouse gases and reach net zero targets. But we also need to build our resilience, for people and for nature. A lot of the stuff we need to do for nature is also what we need to do for people, to have better health and wellbeing.”

We must make sure this work is properly supported

Julie discussed the how the good infrastructure her organisation has built helped them to respond to coronavirus quickly, and how others need help to improve their own: “There is a need for a better local infrastructure to deal with climate change.”

Fahana spoke about the inequality in support for community groups: “there is a huge amount of unconscious bias [within funding]… much of the brilliant work being done on the community level with communities of colour, with women, with people with disabilities has been unpaid or done with very little money.”

Sarah stressed that whilst it can often feel like solutions to climate change are all on the individual: “We need big action from the top to support the grassroots [climate action].”

In the chat Sarah said: “There is also the Nature for Climate Fund £640 million, mainly for Net Zero – woodlands and peat restoration – but these should be multi-functional, i.e. for nature, people, access, adaptation too.”

DEFRA has launched a £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund that will bring forward funding to help environmental organisations start work on projects across England to restore nature and tackle climate change.

From the chat on the role of local and national government:

“all of this is inspiring. how does it get communicated to this government which doesn’t seem to be listening to all the Build Back Better initiatives?” – cbm

“Shouldn’t these initiatives be supported by Government for them to be more cohesive, collaborative and nationally recognised? Thank you” – Yasmin Mahey

“Good point about councils: 28 London boroughs have declared climate emergencies (out of 33). Around five have set out their climate emergency plans – many more to issue them over the coming months. Do get involved in responding to consultations on these plans; get involved in local climate assemblies; make the link between what we’re learning through lockdown and what needs to be done to shape our neighbourhoods to respond future climate challenges.” – Syed Ahmed

We need community input ahead of COP26

Minister Pow emphasised how the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how clearly we need to protect the environment and said that COP26 will recognise the value of community based climate action: “As part of the UK presidency of COP26 we are championing the all of society approach, that will recognise that if we are going to achieve global climate action, we will need to bring everyone together. We want to harness the energy and galvanise local communities, providing them with spaces to identify and promote innovative and locally appropriate nature based solutions.”

Defra has launched a £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund that will bring forward funding to help environmental organisations start work on projects across England to restore nature and tackle climate change.

About our panel


Afsheen Rashid is an influential community energy specialist working at both local and national level. She pioneered Lambeth Council’s Community Energy Programme, was a policy advisor at the Department of Energy and Climate, and is chair of Brixton Energy and Community Energy England. She has also been instrumental in setting up the Muslim Women’s Collective in Tower Hamlets, seeking to empower women to play an active role in improving the environment. In 2011 Afsheen cofounded Repowering London, an organisation that empowers local communities to develop community-owned renewable energy projects with particular focus on deprived, inner city social housing estates. In 2016 Afsheen was awarded an MBE for work delivering renewable energy to deprived London communities and in 2018 she won the Regen Clean Energy Pioneer award.

Follow Afsheen on Twitter

Farhana Yamin is an International Climate Change Lawyer, author and activist. She has worked on international treaties including the Paris Climate agreement. And has been instrumental in linking climate and development policy. She was involved in XR’s strategic team and last year glued herself to Shell’s London offices in non-violent direct action. More recently, Farhana has established Camden Think and Do – a hub for the local community to connect with stakeholders and collectively reimagine a green future in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In reference to the hub, she has spoken about ‘ambitious, people led climate action’, calling on ‘people to have the courage to create new ways of living that put ecological and social justice centre stage’.

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Julie Parish has a wealth of experience in designing and implementing community based social action and learning projects. She has led on the partnership development and business plan production of six European Regional Development Fund projects, as well as various IEA (International Energy Agency) backed schemes. Today, Julie is on the team of Rinova, a social enterprise that develops partnerships to support youth, employability, culture and enterprise. And is the Development Director of the Octopus Community Network. Octopus is a network that brings together the 14 major community centres in Islington to support collaboration and community cohesion. Among the campaigns led by Octopus is an urban growing  project transforming underused spaces to create community food growing spaces.

Follow Octopus Communities on Twitter

Sarah Taylor is a specialist in nature conservation and climate change adaptation. She is a Senior Specialist at Natural England – the public body that advises Defra and is responsible for protecting and improving England’s biodiversity as well as helping people to enjoy, access and understand the natural environment. Sarah works on climate vulnerability assessments at a national level. She is also involved in climate change adaptation within Natural England – embedding climate action across the organisation through a network of local climate actors.

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Rebecca Pow is the Conservative MP for Taunton Deane in Somerset, she is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) where her ministerial portfolio includes domestic natural environment, climate change adaptation, land use, floods and water. Before entering politics, Pow had a career in journalism and PR specialising in the environment, and was trustee of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Follow Minister Pow on Twitter

Useful resources

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About the Author:

Keir is a project officer based in Semble's Bristol office. Most of his time is spent on two of our movement campaigns, Outdoor Classroom Day and Backyard Nature. One of Keir’s main interests is food equality and outside of Semble he runs a small community food waste project.