Derby Climate Change Coalition – Reaching out?

1 Background

We started Derby Campaign against Climate Change in November 2005. Although Derby is well served by environmental groups, we thought that we needed both a network and a group which focused entirely upon climate change.

Great care was taken not to have a false polarisation between the individual’s wish to do her or his bit against collective action, but the group rejected the idea that individuals alone can be the answer, or even an important part of the answer.[1]

So from the beginning, we have been more than a group advocating individual actions over specific environmental issues. Although we supported the National Campaign against Climate Change, the national marches and events were important[2] we have always known that we couldn’t just build a movement by organising around such events. [3]

As we have met and organised in Derby we have kept on refining our main focus and have not sought to duplicate activity around specific campaigns, such as the closure of the local bus station or the erection of an enormous TV screen in the city centre. Of course we have tried to support all actions around issues where there are climate change implications.

2 Focusing on the Council

It seemed that the Council was a most obvious focus point. Although the City Council was trying its utmost to take the threat of climate change seriously, in practice, it saw itself as a conveyor belt, as a way of getting individuals to do their bit. What it was not doing was leading by example. The critical issue of carbon emissions seemed to be a way of uniting all of us. As an elected body the local Council with a remit for the area, was, in theory responsible and accountable. And we were more likely to have some impact upon the Council than, say, Rolls Royce. Hence our local campaign, setting a target of 25% over five years. We launched a petition at the showing of the Al Gore film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’; the petition read

In order to fight climate change we need to develop a strategy akin to that of the government fighting the Second World War. Hence we need

  1. an agreement that climate change is the major challenge facing all of us
  2. recognition that it is necessary to implement a programme of carbon reductions as soon as possible
  3. a strong cross-party commitment
  4. recognition that there will be problems in implementing a radical programme, some of the solutions will have pitfalls and that mistakes will be made.

The leader of the council, Chris Williamson (now the MP for Derby North), signed before he went into the film. Subsequently about 300 – 400 signed the petition. By the beginning of 2007 the main political parties agreed that all parties support a non-partisan campaign. The council unanimously agreed to the demands and the strategy. The council also set up an official cross-party Climate Change Commission, which officially met a minimum of 5 times a year and it co-opted members of our group onto it.

The first priority was the reducing of energy consumption: the council is in charge of 405 buildings, many of them old and poorly insulated. A number of councillors were attracted by this, perhaps more driven by the potential to save money than climate change considerations. In practice, it took more than year to actually agree a benchmark. After 3 years, a considerable number of meetings, and developing a well developed and sharp caucus across the parties, the reduction in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions was negligible.

There were so many bad practices; and only a few quick gains could be made (a lack of ‘low hanging fruit’). The emphasis has shifted onto some bigger projects, such as building a hydro power plant on the river Derwent, and planning a complete refurbishment of the Council House. Derby was slightly ahead of its time and since then the Labour Government introduced NI 185 which sets rigid procedures for the councils to meet targets, albeit more modest, but accompanied by penalty clauses.

Furthermore the leadership of the Council changed, from Labour, to Lib Dem, the the Conservatives and now to Labour. For a short period the Lib Dems were brutally frank about the lack of progress; they said it was so bad that they refrained from signing the Council up to 10 by 10. After being pressurised by Nick Clegg, and hearing that 10 by 10 only means 3% for councils, they signed up. But even then one doubts whether the 3% by 10 target will be met.

To cut a long story short, although 25% reduction over five years is still Council policy, it took 2 years to even agree on the actual emissions and the start date has been moved to 2009. For that year the emissions were reduced by 8% (the low hanging fruit and for 2010 we are told it will only be 3%). Incidentally, the Lib Dems and the Tories combined this month to shut down the Climate Change Commission, in the name of reducing bureaucracy and rationalisation. We as a campaign are still involved with the council, one way or another, but are increasingly openly critical.

3 Organisational Features

Regular meetings

In general we had a principle that we would have two types of meeting, monthly public meetings and monthly (at least) business ones. The public meetings have been held pretty regularly, until Copenhagen, when we formed in effect a coalition. Excluding one meeting held in the summer, there have never been less than 15 people at these meetings and sometimes 30-40 people have attended and even more. One of the principles has been that the meeting don’t get bogged down by business; there was a need to have discuss ideas and differences.[4] We have had several formal debates, internal and external, for example re biodiesel and over life style politics. Many of the meetings have been held jointly, e.g. with WDM who had their AGM, with the Fabian Society, and with visiting speakers from organisations with supporters in the area.


Early on we adapted a constitution and set up a bank account. The constitution has in practice been of little importance, but it was good that we had it.[5] (When setting up the coalition we have not gone to the lengths of drawing up yet another constitution). Membership has been exceeding loose.

But in order to build and sustain a group we need more than just a handful of ‘activists’. Having it just around one or two people makes us accident prone and those few of us may suffer ‘burn out’. So we needed some sort of collective, hence a steering group. [6] This is a very open committee. Indeed anybody can, in practice, join. One of the central issues was getting people to take on core organisational responsibilities. This has worked largely by harnessing peoples energies and not cajoling them people hence lots of things (e.g. membership secretary, web design) have not been done.

Communication, Web sites and newsletters

The email list, now comprising about 400 people, has been very important, and we send out an email about once a month. Quite a lot of effort has been made in checking and adding names. This has in effect been our supporters list.

We had a web site, long abandoned, but as you can see it is now up and running.

A critical feature is the capacity to exchange and debate ideas. For a time we ran a Ning group, and although it has shown great potential, it has not really worked, largely due to the inability for people to automatically get notifications when somebody else posts an item.

We have never undertaken a newsletter, rightly, because of the energy and commitment required.

4 Local Coalitions

In Derby we had set up an ad-hoc joint organisation in the run-up to the Wave and Copenhagen, which included organising public meeting of 70 people and meeting our target of filling 3 coaches. Subsequently a more permanent coalition focusing entirely upon climate change was set up. Wherever there are activists in the same area they should consolidate and form coalitions in order that they can work together on the bigger climate issues. We argued that the challenges have not gone away, if anything there is now a much more urgent need to focus upon climate change, locally, nationally and internationally and there is a need to pull in a wide range of organisations and views to strengthen and diversify the climate change movement. These would include Trade Unions, faith organisations, young people and campaign groups.

This was agreed unanimously at our public meeting after Copenhagen at which there were 14 people from a variety of organisations including members of Transition Town Derby, the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), Greenpeace and also from several churches.

Here is our mission statement:

The Derby Climate Change Coalition is a campaigning group that brings together a wide range of organisations and individuals, who support and want to take part in activities that inform, influence and raise awareness about the effects of global warming. It believes that it is only through the efforts and actions of the largest numbers of people will governments take the measures needed to address climate change.

We worked together around the General Election and we were able to organise a climate hustings (of about 45 people) for one of the constituencies. Recently work has been done with local Muslims and more with the TU movement, including a speaker on Green Jobs at the local Trades Council and a planned public meeting with the NUT on Climate Change.[7]

5 Need for a national structure.

While there are national organisations, all of which have something to contribute, there is no overall national structure. Clearly we need to have a national organisation which has a relationship with local organisations and other organisations. This is a way of learning from one another, establishing principles, and encouraging groups and alliance to set themselves up, but seeing themselves as part of the larger movement.

Peter Robinson; updated 14 April 2013

[1]We did not want to be caught up in examples of the Blue Peter school of greenery – ‘gather up your old jam jar lids and rescue a glacier’ – accompanied by the message that the planet can be saved if we all just try awfully hard. Green voluntarism, where we all become educated and do our bit, often creates an avoidance of political responsibility. It implies that the duty of dealing with climate change lies not with the state but with individuals, who in practice cannot even begin to make up for official failure to do anything serious.[2] We sent 13 on the mini-bus in 2005 and a coach in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and three coaches, as part of an alliance, to the Wave. (Matlock have always supplied a significant portion) In addition we sent a mini bus to the Heathrow demo and smaller groups to other events.

[3]If climate change is as great a threat to human existence as politicians and scientists say, then this is an issue which cannot just be left to the experts and politicians. Nor can it left to individuals doing their ‘thing’. As David King, chief scientific officer to the government says, “what we need is the greatest collective response ever!” The question is “How?”

[4] Regular public meetings on interesting and informative topics, with discussions and debates. These are a lifeline. Don’t get bogged down by local business but ensure that the structure is there.

[5] One of the reasons I wanted a constitution was that in the past I was involved in an organisation (around support for Kosovan Albanians) which was trundling along very well then the objective situation changed (NATO joined in) and we became an massive organisation of people who wanted to mainly collect clothes for people in Kosovo. Our informal group was torn apart and completely split and had we had a constitution in place we would have been able to respond to growth and tensions much better.

[6] The original steering group of eight comprised: three from various churches, one member of the Green Party, one from the SWP. Most of us were members of environmental groups.

[7] We had a meeting in Derby around Vestas in the summer of 2009, organised in a rush, chaired by a local Trade Union Official, from Unison. About 40 people attended including about 10 from Nottingham. Also about 5 people came from the IWA and that is the first time they have attended one of our meetings. Maybe more than half the people were trade unionists or SWP or leftie libertarians.