Searching for the path to net zero is a bit like trying to navigate the multiple strands of a rich and vibrant river delta. The river splits into many confusing and winding tributaries that make it hard to see where you’re going, but ultimately all are needed to bring the water out to sea.
The rivulets of this delta will include many diverse elements. We will not reach the net-zero destination without considering climate action in light of myriad challenges facing our cities and the inequitable impacts these challenges have within our communities.
TAF set out to discover just how climate actions might meld – or clash – with other areas of community concern in a 2-year, $300,000 funding initiative that supported local leaders looking to blend climate and other actions in ways that brought new voices, concerns, insights and perspectives to the work – and created better outcomes for all concerned.
Funded initiatives ranged from assessment of interest and capacity for community hubs to play a climate leadership role; deep engagement of existing grassroots leaders in climate education and awareness and support for the resulting community projects they designed; the best practices to support tenants during energy efficiency retrofits; to green workforce training for Black youth. We recently took some time to reflect on just what we learned from this effort to help improve our future approaches.
Three key insights
- We have a lot to gain. Funders like TAF need to address how the views of technocratic and professionalized elements of the climate movement are elevated at the expense of other perspectives and knowledge. We do this by actively surfacing and acknowledging the valuable contributions of all participants, including opportunities to innovate and increase community support for critical climate policies.
- Our existing measuring sticks don’t fit. The success of efforts to engage underrepresented communities in the climate sector should be measured by human impact, not carbon outcomes. These trail-blazing projects rarely result in direct carbon reductions as an immediate outcome, but rather cultivate new relationships, build individual and organizational capacity, and strengthen grassroots leadership. If we only use our traditional approaches to evaluate this work, it won’t get funded.
- Conflicts are inevitable, and their resolution may take us to unfamiliar places. While we want to design carbon action to contribute constructively to other community needs wherever possible, sometimes there will be clashes. For example, energy retrofits can have detrimental impacts on tenants by creating above-guideline rent increases. This could lead us to consideration of how to support policy in areas outside of our sphere, to ensure that our program successes are not diminishing our allies’ efforts.
Drawing from the insights of this funding TAF is makes some changes to our way of working, and a commitment to continued learning.
- We continue to seek out – or imagine – powerful ways that climate action can be integrated with and support pressing community concerns like housing affordability, improved public health and wellness, and creation of good jobs, and to learn how to co-design our programs to make them into multi-solving strategies – and share the resulting stories.
- We are working with our colleagues at Low Carbon Cities Canada to consider how to proactively embed equity consideration into our grant, loan and program work, strengthening our own and our allies’ skills in this area as we go.
- We are examining our own work to find opportunities to strengthen relationships with community partners that bring voice, wisdom and experience to the task of ensuring equity is addressed in TAF’s own program areas.
Back at the net-zero river delta, the complex web is daunting. But we must press on, scanning the full scope of the landscape, keeping our targets firmly in mind, and purposefully advancing. We’re counting on you, our community, to take this journey with us, bring others along, and share your lessons and wisdom with us to help achieve our common goals.