Community-led change is fundamental in our transition to net zero. People across the UK are fearful of how climate change will affect them and aware of the potential injustice for those least able to bear it – yet the desire to reduce carbon emissions is shared by 97% of us. The will for change is very real. The enablers and incentives for change are far less in evidence.   

A paper from The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies explores how policy changes can reduce the negative impacts of net zero on vulnerable households, while maximising the potential opportunities. It highlights the totality of change required, and offers clear routes for any government to take progressive action. These include covering upfront costs of adapting homes with ‘green’ technologies; supporting community-owned renewable power schemes; instigating localisation initiatives to create decent places for people to meet, create and work together; and increasing opportunities to learn skills aligned to green industry needs, and in places with high unemployment, working with universities and businesses. These proposals support a just transition, particularly for poorer communities.  

At the same time, community businesses have steadily been growing across the UK, and evidence suggests that, through their broader work on wellbeing and local rejuvenation, many undertake both direct and indirect climate action. But they are often hindered by local bureaucracy and regulations, and are unsupported by current net zero policy. Creating incentives and enabling environments are no-brainers – especially given 72% of community businesses are already active in this space, and that many present opportunities for low-carbon, local economic development while building trust and connections in their area.    

A Community Power Act is a foundational policy change that would give local people the power and resources they need to shape their area and drive meaningful and relevant climate action. Alongside this, it is incumbent for any government supporting community-led climate transition to introduce targeted climate policy to:   

  • invest in climate-related energy initiatives, such as the community-led Retrofit Coop, and measures to erase the poverty premium, such as Fair By Design.   
  • educate, with opportunities for everyone to access learning about climate action in their local area and on their high street. This would build expertise and bring local hubs, government, and social and eco entrepreneurs together.  
  • nurture the next generation of climate leaders, rethinking our approach to school citizenship education.    
  • incentivise community-powered innovation, using Enterprise Grants to support social businesses and charity trading arms, and launching a nationwide competition for UK neighbourhoods to cut their carbon emissions, with a £1m prize for the winners to invest in their communities.   
  • leverage the commitments of UK businesses in their ‘Race to Zero’ and those championing a ‘just transition’ by incentivising partnerships with communities, government, and academia.

Communities across the country already make huge contributions to our society, and the need to build pride, belonging, power and agency in the places we live has never been greater. Let’s make this a lifetime opportunity, not our last opportunity.   

Climate change Families & Youth Inequality climate change climate crisis communities community community business environment families family just transition net zero policy policymakers poverty Posted on: 23 September 2022 Authors: Helen Goulden OBE,


Community research

We are a not-for-profit tackling societal issues with a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach.

Contact our team

Social innovation

Involving people from diverse sectors to shape game-changing initiatives.

Find out more