Policies for Transition
How might it look if government policy, both at the local and the national level, were underpinned by the desire to enable resilience and localisation, and seeks to support and accelerate Transition and remove any obstacles in its path?
How would things look if local and national government began to shift its focus towards enabling the rapid building of resilience and localisation nationally – drawing from, enabling and supporting Transition initiatives on the ground?
If the transition we have discussed in this book is to take place at the scale it needs to, it will need the support of meaningful, well-thought-out and visionary legislation. This is not about the ‘greening’ of society – its gradually becoming more ‘environmentally friendly’ – it is about a shift in focus, enabling resilience at all levels and fast-tracking the creation of a more appropriate and, where possible, localised economy.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the kinds of places outside the political mainstream where the new politics might be incubated, take a look at the Transition movement . . . [it] is engaging people in a way that conventional politics is failing to do. It generates emotions that have not been seen in political life for a long time: enthusiasm, idealism and passionate commitment. Madeline Bunting[i]
How would things look if local and national government began to shift its focus towards enabling the rapid building of resilience and localisation nationally – drawing from, enabling and supporting Transition initiatives on the ground? Here we start to enter the realm of the speculative, but already some good thinking is going on as to what this might look like.
One example is Holyrood 350, set up in Scotland to try to push the Scottish Government “to take immediate action to stop accelerating climate change by radically reducing our carbon emissions and so setting a global example for other countries to follow”. They have identified and proposed four key areas of action that they see as central to a government-led push towards taking climate change seriously:
- Pricing carbon out of the economy.
- Shifting from an energy-obese to an energy-healthy society.
- Establishing a ‘New Green deal’.
- Rapidly relocalising the economy.
What might happen if local authorities actively got behind their local Transition initiatives and supported their work? We have already looked at the Monteveglio resolution in Italy (see Connecting 2, Involving the council, page xx), and peak oil resolutions have already been explored in Tool for Transition No.21 (page xx), but some local authorities have also passed resolutions in support of their local Transition groups. The best-known is that passed by Somerset County Council in July 2008. While not committing the council to any financial support of initiatives, it stated that the council:
- Acknowledges the work done by communities in Somerset on Transition Towns and that the independence of the Transition movement is key to its grassroots appeal.
- As demonstrated in its Climate Change Strategy, fully endorses the Transition Town movement and subscribes to the principles and ethos of the organisation’s goals to reduce dependence on fuel oil and create more sustainable communities.
- Commits to providing support and assistance to all towns in Somerset that wish to join this initiative to help them achieve the goals they set for themselves as local communities, as demonstrated under the ‘Community Initiatives’ section of the Climate Change Strategy.
- Therefore, requests the Scrutiny and Executive Committees to consider through the council’s strategic planning process; allocating funds to assist in achieving the outcomes of the Transition Towns Movement in Somerset and requiring all directorates to engage with and provide support for Transition Initiatives in Somerset.
- Through the work outlined above, seeks to become the first Transition Authority in the UK.
- Agrees to undertake a review of its budgets and services to achieve a reduction in dependence on fuel oil and produce an energy descent action plan in line with the principles of the Transition initiative.
This took everyone by surprise. It was drafted and passed with no consultation with either the Transition initiatives on the ground in Somerset or Transition Network. We were all amazed and delighted. While clearly an exciting and ground-breaking development, it resulted in a lot of head-scratching.[ii] Subsequently, as a way of exploring how the resolution might work in practice, a document, ‘A Transition Audit of Somerset County Council’[iii] was written by Dan Hurring for the Council in 2009, which audited existing activities and how they overlapped with Transition.
However, soon after it was published, there was an election, and the administration changed, becoming a Conservative-led council. This brought with it a considerable change of attitude and organisational priorities. In February 2011, the council moved from having a commitment on climate change, as stated in its 2008 Climate Change Strategy, to:
providing leadership to prepare the county for the effects of climate change and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as engaging local communities, key stakeholders, government agencies and the business community to deal with the challenges presented by climate change
. . . to their ‘Medium Term Financial Plan’, which states that:
some services will be stopped completely, e.g. climate change work, work on renewable energy, natural environment policy and delivery.
Justified by the cuts sweeping through local authorities, the council’s climate change officer was made redundant, and the Sustainable Development team abolished. This short-sighted demoting of climate change, and insistence on seeing it as a stand-alone issue rather than one that cuts across all activities, represents a huge missed opportunity and is hugely disappointing after such a promising start. There are many local authorities, however, who are still showing leadership and vision around climate change, such as Kirklees, and the potential for visionary authorities to engage creatively with their local Transition groups is enormous.
On the national scale, some tools already exist which could prove very useful to Transition, such as the Sustainable Communities Act. Passed in 2007, it establishes the right for local people and councils to submit proposals for government action. It requires government to ‘try to reach agreement’ and to implement those agreements. It is based on a core philosophy that local people are the experts on their own problems and the solutions to them.
You and your councils can use the Act to submit proposals for government action to promote and protect truly sustainable communities. So you can put forward any proposal, so long as it meets the following two criteria:
- It requires central government action, e.g. to change the planning rules so that local people have the final say over whether a new supermarket opens.
- You can show argument and evidence that it would promote at least one element of the Act’s four-part definition for ‘local sustainability’:
- local economies, e.g. promoting local shops, Post Offices, local businesses and local jobs
- environmental protection, e.g. promoting local renewable energy, protecting green spaces
- social inclusion, e.g. protecting local public services and alleviating fuel poverty
- democratic involvement, e.g. promoting local people participating in decision-making and democracy.
Transition initiatives can submit their proposal via the government’s ‘Barrier Busting’ website.[iv]
The Localism Act is less clearly beneficial overall, but on the positive side it will introduce Community Rights to Buy, Bid and Build (in the light of the huge unmet demand for allotments, one might add a Right to Dig to this . . .).
One government-led strategy that has proved very successful in Scotland has been the Climate Change Fund, set up by the Scottish government to support community initiatives around carbon reduction. The fund, of £27 million, has led to 360 substantial projects in 260 communities, and has proved a considerable kick-start for community initiatives. In England and Wales one can only speculate as to the impact such a scheme would have, and the potential of what it would unlock. It is important to state, at this point, that government support for Transition, and for localisation/decarbonisation projects in general, needs to be founded on a Transition analysis of peak oil, climate change and economic fragility: solutions designed to address just one of these can often have undesirable side effects. For example, the UK government’s Green Deal, which is built around Tesco and B&Q being among the key deliverers of energy-efficiency products and advice, could have a disastrous impact on smaller traders and local businesses unable to compete.
Another strategy that national government could implement is Tradeable Energy Quotas, developed by Dr David Fleming with support from Shaun Chamberlin. This is a national carbon-rationing system which would allocate a carbon allowance to everyone in the UK, to be gradually contracted annually. It is simple and easily implementable, and introduces a much fairer system than what we have at present, which is, in effect, rationing, whereby the poorer struggle disproportionately with rising oil prices. There are also alternative models such as Cap and Share, which seek to create a similar kind of government-led intentional and gradual reduction in carbon emissions.
Might it be, as some are now suggesting, that what is needed now is a ‘Transition Enabling Act’ – a piece of radical legislation designed to urgently accelerate the localisation, decarbonisation and resilience-building process across all sectors, in the same way that legislation passed just before the onset of war is designed to enable a rapid re-gearing and refocusing of society? The discussion as to what such an Act might look like is already under way, and it is hoped that this book will stimulate these discussions. The UK Government was able, between 1936, when the Food (Defence Plans) Department was set up, and 1939 to completely refocus and rethink the UK’s food system to that it was able – just – to support the nation. We need that kind of legislation at both the local and the national level.
with input from Peter Lipman
[i] Bunting, M. (2009) Beyond Westminster’s bankrupted practices a new idealism is emerging: progressive politics will take root from the rubble of a Labour defeat. The Transition movement is giving us a glimpse now. The Observer. 31 May 2009.
[ii] McDonald, M. (2009) The role of Transition Initiatives in local authorities’ responsiveness to peak oil: A case study of Somerset County Council. MSc. Thesis for the University College London Faculty of the Built Environment, Bartlett School of Planning. Available at http://transitionculture.org/wp-content/uploads/09_09_15-DISSERTATION-FI...
[iii] Hurring, D. (2009) Transition Audit of Somerset County Council. Somerset County Council in association with Transition Somerset.