With the most recent announcement by the United Nations that there is currently no credible pathway to remain within the 1.5 degree global targets for climate change, and an equally damning report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggesting that we may already be at the point of no return for some of the global indicators, it is easy for individuals and communities to feel both helpless and despondent. For the average person, these feel like insurmountable issues over which they have no power or say. Indeed, a recent research paper by Sangervoi found that ‘climate anxiety’ was a growing phenomenon as the effects of climate change are increasingly reported.
There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel. Recent PhD research carried out by Coppola (2021)ii, suggests that when individuals are able to engage in meaningful climate positive activities, they were less likely to feel despondent and experienced lower levels of powerlessness. Global thinking is a demand that we must rise to, however for many, it is local action that makes this a more achievable goal and that is why it is important that projects such as Down to Zero, in partnership with Cynon Taf Community Housing Association (CTCHG) and Cardiff Metropolitan University, works with local communities to enable individuals and groups to make real changes in terms of carbon footprint, local resilience, and food growing.
The Down to zero project is an ambitious multidimensional scheme that not only aims to measure the embedded and operational carbon of CTCHG but also looks to reduce and offset these through a series of community led actions.
As a project it is possible to align many of the Down To Zero activities with both the Welsh Future generations Act (2015)iii, following principles such as cohesive communities and a globally responsible Wales, as well as clear alignment with the United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals. For example:
SDG2: Food security and sustainable agriculture: Through the acquisition of land in the Cynon Taf area, Down To Zero are creating local projects that engage communities in planting new trees, setting up food growing areas and establishing community led agriculture. Food security has been highlighted as a factor underpinning resilient communitiesiv and therefore access to community growing spaces becomes part of a wider network of factors that can strengthen local food security.
SDG13: Action to combat climate change: Through a series of land based projects, Down to Zero look to offset the carbon produced by CTCHG from the historic building and current management of social housing. As such, we have engaged Jack Nodwell, an academic associate in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan university to assess the total carbon footprint of CTCHG and set out an ambitious plan for how to achieve net zero by 2030. Through a whole organisation carbon audit, assessing both embodied carbon (that is carbon found in the buildings and infrastructure) alongside operational carbon (that produced through the day to day activities of the housing association) Cynon Taf Community Housing Group aim to set out a series of actions that will both reduce ongoing carbon emissions, but also capture and sequester carbon for the long term.
SDG15: Reverse land degradation and increase biodiversity: As a land based project, Down To Zero is taking on the stewardship of land that has previously been either unmanaged or used for monoculture (growing single crops). Through the creation of zones, the plot situated near Mwyndy has set aside an area for wild meadow creation which will increase biodiversity and attract pollinators. The planting of a variety of fruit trees using the methods of agroforestry, where other crops are grow alongside and between rows of trees will also contribute to a more enriched ecosystem.
There is a recognition that sustainability is a complex interweave of factors, where carbon reduction and sequestration go hand in hand with other goals such as reducing food inequality and increasing levels of good health and social justice. Achieving one of these in the absence of others can only ever be a partial win. As such the Down To Zero project, although focussed on the goal of zero carbon by the year 2030, has also incorporated community led land based solutions to reducing and sequestering (locking up) carbon. As a community focussed initiative, it is envisioned that as the project progresses it will grow the capacity to support not only local food growing but also environmentally sustainable enterprise, such as biochar production and plant sales as well as skills sharing and the non-commercial outcomes of building community resilience through shared land based activities.