Our friends at Surrey Climate Commission are hosting a talk, “What’s Stopping Us Stopping Climate Change? in Leatherhead on 28 September. The event will feature three of the UK’s leading climate thinkers – Lord Deben (John Gummer), Natalie Bennett and Ed Straw – who’ll be shedding light on the blocks in our political system that are derailing delivery on climate change action. This blog by Paula Gilbert describes how the event came about.

Seeking System Change

I’m a mum who works from home and volunteers with the Surrey Climate Commission, an independent body seeking to support the county’s transition to a carbon neutral future. In the last year, I’d read a number of thought leaders saying we need to focus on one thing to tackle the climate emergency.

George Monbiot said he’s realised system change is the “only fast and effective means of transformation”, while Chris Packham concluded that we “need system change now”.

So I suggested to our Chair, Richard Essex, that the commission should host a talk on this subject. What would “system change” look like and how could it provide answers to the climate catastrophe?

Fortunately, I know someone who knows a lot about how you need to fix things to deliver. I’d worked with Ed Straw years ago. He’s led the reform of numerous large-scale organisations and been a consultant to two governments. He’s also co-author of The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking: Governance in a Climate Emergency, a book on why we’re failing to move the dial on climate change.

Ed reveals how complex problems like the climate emergency need systemic solutions. His book shines a light on why our system of government – and not just party politics – is holding back our collective efforts to deliver.

So we booked Ed for a talk and agreed the overall aim should be to help local activists and community groups learn about the core challenges at stake. But we were also interested in taking interest in the subject further.

Who else could speak?

We needed notable people who knew about government and climate – people who could help us understand why we’re not on a war footing. George Monbiot and Chris Packham were very kind, but committed to filming and other projects.

Amazingly, Lord Deben has agreed to speak. For 11 years until he stepped down in July, he led the UK’s Climate Change Committee – the group tasked with holding the government’s feet to the fire to deliver on targets. He’s keen to get the message out that “Altogether we are failing to deliver, and I think the whole political system is responsible.”

We were also thrilled that Natalie Bennett, Green Peer and former leader of the Green Party, has said she’ll speak. Natalie will focus on critical governance issues, especially around our lack of a constitution in the UK.

But of course, the talk is just the beginning.

What could we do to harness more interest in the subject and drive action? We exchanged a fair few emails with SECA Core Group members Geoff Barnard and Tony Whitbread on this subject, and we contacted the University of Surrey. At the Commission, we have a great relationship with the university and developed our baseline study with them several years ago. A new institute been set up in the last year to focus on sustainability, led by former Italian government minister, Professor Lorenzo Fioramonti, and counting 152 research fellows.

After a few zoom calls, we learned the Institute for Sustainability were also looking at “systems thinking” approaches to create impactful change. The Institute has now come on board to co-host the event, and vitally is set to lead a new collaborative partnership with us to create transformational change in Surrey.

What next?

Are we going to start a revolution? We are, of course, not known for our revolutionary streak in Surrey! Our plans are to create grass roots change from the ground up, in tandem with a large deliberative democratic initiative.

To hear more, we’d love for you to come to our talk, and if you have the time and are willing, to get involved. It’s on from 6.30-8.45pm on Thursday 28 September at the Leatherhead Theatre, a very short distance from the station. There’s parking nearby and the bar will be open after the event for chats with like-minded people keen to move the dial on climate.

To book your place, please click here. We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

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