On September 8, communities across the globe rose up to demand that their neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and nations shift to 100% renewable energy. In London, these calls resounded, as we have little choice but to light and heat our homes with fossil fuels (if we can even heat at all, given the astronomical rates of fuel poverty). And the United Kingdom is not moving in the right direction: fracking is poised to start in the North, and new coal mines are opening up around England, though both industries are facing powerful grassroots resistance.
A shift in the energy that powers our city––to wind and solar, hydrothermal and tidal––is vital. But, as speakers at London’s Rise for Climate, Jobs, & Justice rally so eloquently voiced, a transition to renewable energy in the city of London does not necessarily ensure climate justice. Hundreds of us gathered outside of the Tate Modern museum and called for climate policies that are transformative and just.
We recognised that climate justice is more than reducing carbon emissions in the Global North. It requires that we think very carefully about how we get to a clean economy: how can London’s economic transformation in the face of climate change ensure that everyone that lives in the city can live well––today and in the future? How can London accelerate the climate transition while also fighting for racial justice, both at home and around the globe? And, perhaps most importantly, whose voices ought to be centered in crafting creative and effective solutions to these questions?
Tackling these questions demands that we carry this momentum beyond the global day of action. The events of September 8 were beautiful and inspiring: hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in 850 actions across the globe. And they are certainly powerful––they revealed the geographic breadth of communities that are rising up, connected place-based struggles across the world, and put pressure on governments at many scales. But they do not stand in isolation. We know that strong, effective, and equitable climate policy will only be achieved with long-term campaigns and participatory processes, which are ongoing and unfolding across the climate movement.
Here in the UK, the energy democracy campaign that I am a part of––Switched on London–– has turned to the Canadian climate movement for some guidance, as they’ve been thinking quite a bit about the concept of a ‘just transition.’ In 2015, Naomi Klein convened a meeting with representatives from Canada’s Indigenous rights, social and food justice, environmental, faith and labor movements to imagine the country that they want to live in. Those discussions resulted in The Leap Manifesto, a document that envisions and articulates a different sort of Canada. That vision centers respect for indigenous rights and treaties, investments in renewable energy, a rejection of austerity, and, more broadly, a shift from an extractive economy to one that is built on caring for the planet and for each other.
Inspired by the process through which this diverse set of people and movements gathered together (and by the exciting and beautiful future for Canada that they came up with), we are launching the London Leap! Over the coming months, we’ll be organizing participatory events with communities, movements, activists, and artists, opening up spaces to imagine the London that we want to see. The London Leap sets out to root climate politics in the lived experiences of people in London, build relationships across communities and movements, and tell a much bigger story about the climate transition that stretches way beyond energy policy.
For us at Switched on London, that story starts with the colonial history of the United Kingdom and London’s central role in financing the extraction of fossil fuels and other natural resources around the globe––a role that London continues to fill to this day. That story also must acknowledge that climate change is bound up with structural inequalities in our city. And to tell this story well, we must centre the voices that have been excluded from the environmental movement for decades: diaspora communities and other communities of color, workers, and carers. As I said earlier, climate justice is more than a matter of emissions; it demands that we make space for those that have not traditionally been included in the climate movement to imagine and articulate different futures.
We invite you to join us in imagining the London that you would like to live in. You do not need to have a degree in climate science or be an expert in urban planning to take part. Just by living in London, you have a great deal of experience and knowledge that is so valuable as we fight for a just climate transition, and we’d love to hear from you.