Thinking through climate change and the VCS

Climate change is a complex issue which can seem overwhelming and possibly irrelevant to voluntary and community sector organisations. However it does have implications that could affect your organisation.

Have you thought about how it may impact on your organisation or those who use your services?

  • Climate change will shift global population movements. Increasing numbers of ‘environmental refugees’ could change the demographics in communities as well as lead to greater demand on services. These people could come from other countries but equally could be from communities within in the UK that have been affected by storm surge or flooding. Does your region incorporate any of these areas?
  • The shape and structure of communities could be altered by the effects of climate change, particularly in relation to resources and their use. We could see increasing emphasis on communality: communal use of energy and food, as evidenced by concepts such as microgeneration and transition towns. These are alternatives to the existing societal structure. How would this impact on your organisation? What could your organisation do to prepare for this?

It also could have a more direct impact; as pointed out by Professor Minik Thorleif Rosing:

Most people will actually feel climate change delivered to them by the postman. It will come in the form of higher water bills, because of increased droughts in some areas; higher energy bills, because the use of fossil fuels becomes prohibitive; and higher insurance and mortgage rates, because of much more violently unpredictable weather.

How would your organisation live with higher costs?

This post can only address the tip of the iceberg (excuse the metaphor) of climate change implications for the VCS. On 5 March, we will be holding our next foresight seminar on just this topic. As always with our website posts, we welcome your thoughts and perspective on what we say. But this time there’s another way to contribute: debates started here can be continued in person on 5 March. Bookings for the seminar are now open.

The impacts of climate change are going to be felt most by disadvantaged groups in society, and by developing countries. Many VCOs exist to support these groups and to help meet their basic needs for food, security, sanitation and healthcare. This has been recognized by the increasing number of organizations getting involved with climate change issues, beyond the usual suspects like Greenpeace.

Witness Oxfam, who list climate change as an issue they work on alongside gender equality and the right to be heard, taking a flood victim from Yorkshire to India to show how climate change-driven disasters impact across social and geographical boundaries. Look at Christian Aid or the newly formed Consumer Focus or the RSA; perhaps not obvious candidates to concern themselves with climate change and sustainability issues. As a result there are new voices pushing for action on climate change issues: lobbying government, trying to motivate the public. Climate change then, has also had an effect on campaigning: it has shifted the way in which organisations work together (see for example Stop Climate Chaos and other coalitions) as well as the values of some of them. Could this be a catalyst for campaigning change in a manner reminiscent of the ‘obama effect'?

The Carnegie UK Trust has done some interesting work on the interaction between civil society (as an association of trade unions, faith organisations, alongside VCOs) and climate change. Work they have commissioned from nef sees climate change as a theme that can strengthen civil society. This is an interesting concept. Are we seeing the beginnings of this with the way in which communities are reacting to climate change? For instance, there's the development of networks such as COIN which draw together individuals with common concerns. COIN are spreading action on climate change further into ‘traditional’ civil society territory with their training for trade unions.

There is also the development of transition towns. They embody the way in which the spectre of climate change can draw communities together to face this ‘common enemy’, with their 'mission statement':

It all starts off when a small collection of motivated individuals within a community come together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change?

The possibility of climate change to provoke an empathetic and communal mindset is explored by Roman Krznaric in his essay, written for the Future Ethics project at the University of Manchester.

What could the implications of this be for civil society as a whole? And what role could the VCS play in this?

Have you experienced any changes which are due to climate change and its effects? What are your thoughts on what your organisation might do to adapt or mitigate?



Last updated at 18:09 Mon 12/Apr/10.
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Natalie's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Will the green movement fall out of favour in this economic climate?

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The ‘green’ intentions that bloomed in a sunnier economic climate will wither in the chilly economic winds now blowing Fiona Harvey

People have made quite few comments on this website on how environmental concerns (see the ethical consumer driver, Caroline’s post ) will be superceded by concerns about the economy.

Environmentally friendly options are typically more expensive – from green energy tariffs to organic food. You can see why, if purse strings are tightening, people may decide they can’t afford to have a green conscience. The idea that small individual actions can impact on large issues such as (promoted by for example, ICOUNT, a Stop Climate Chaos campaign), has resulted in people making these small changes and feeling they are doing their part. The emphasis on easy quick wins, with the idea that if enough people do them they make a significant impact does have a flip side which is that people may make these changes, like buying energy efficient lightbulbs but not be committed to more energy or time intensive actions to take their environmental actions further. Threatened by rising costs of these small changes, some people do respond by dropping the changes. They’ll swop their energy tarrif back to the cheapest, regardless of how it’s generated.
Faced with this viewpoint, you can just see the environmentalists girding their loins for another barrier to environmental action to battle in 2009.

In a credit crunch, people’s focus shifts to the immediate, to the short term. This is a problem for environmental issues as they are by their very nature more longeerm. Any way of tackling them is talking about decades, generations, not next month. Environmental campaigners are aware of this as an Achilles heel of action on the environment; persuading politicians to act on something that goes far beyond political term length is tricky. This however, is an issue that environmentalists need to concern themselves with beyond shifts in the economic climate.

But is this the full picture? Interestingly, research carried out by NCVO recently has found that bq.(Charitable giving from individuals does not fall in economic downturns), whereas commonly accepted thinking has been that it would, for much the same reasons as commonly accepted thinking dictates people won’t pay more for green goods when times are tight. So we may not see a sharp decrease in green individual behaviour.
Indeed, there is the argument that many behaviours that benefit the environment also benefit the pocket. For example, the mantra of ‘reduce, reuse, reycle’ clearly demonstrates the emphasis on resourcefulness and frugality which would be popular in a downturn.

There are also wider opportunities for environmental issues to actually benefit from the current economic climate. There is the potential now for government to invest in ‘green options’ such as renewable energy which would build jobs and confidence in those sectors. For more details on the possible opportunities, have a read about the Green New Deal ; and Do good lives have to cost the earth?

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

There is debate raging over the ‘eco-town’ concept. Matthew Taylor’s article on St Austell’s eco-town on this page is a positive view of a specific eco-town proposal. To my eyes it’s refreshing to read about what an eco-town can bring to a community.

What could they mean for the VCS? It would differ for each town but there are wide ranging opportunities for how the sector could get involved.

For example, with St Austell Matthew talks about ‘Literally replacing pits and waste mountains with lakes and open habitats everyone can enjoy.’
Could this be an opportunity for a local wildlife charity? Or an educational one?

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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