Oxfordshire's green future: Failure is not an option

Cllr Pete Sudbury looks at the key messages that came out of Oxfordshire CC’s recent 100 Together green finance conference.

Earlier this month, we became the first local authority to organise a conference to explore how to fund our green future.

I00 Together looked at how we can unlock the investment needed to deliver environmental activity at scale in Oxfordshire and, from that, create a route map others can build on.

I wasn't sure what to expect but I was absolutely delighted with how it turned out. I got into politics rather by accident because I really fear the impacts of climate change, and it was heartening to be in a room with so many people who shared those concerns.

Bluntly, if you aren't afraid of climate change you've either been in an enchanted sleep or you haven't been paying attention. 100 Together brought together partners who understand that it poses an existential threat.

But it wasn't all about the threat; the day highlighted the massive opportunities that are available if we think differently about how we can finance a just, safe, and fair transition.

The day was energised by ecological economist Kate Raworth describing ‘Donut Economics', an economic system that thrives on creation not destruction: a life support manual for a whole planet. That idea resonated through the day: nothing succeeds like an idea whose time has come.

There is no doubt that the size of the challenge in front of us, both now and in the future, cannot be solved by current finance mechanisms, which have shown themselves deeply maladapted to tackle challenges that we face.

The current systems also mean we risk missing what Chris Skidmore MP characterised as ‘the greatest business opportunity since the industrial revolution' – creating and scaling the technology, infrastructure, and local initiatives to take back control of the future.

Against a backdrop of malignant acceleration of climate-related harm, we need to get on the front foot, disrupting markets and collaborating in fundamentally different ways, fast.

100 Together was the beginning of this process for Oxfordshire. It kick-started a multi-faceted partnership, bring together academics, practitioners, funders, and others who care about creating a sustainable future for all people and the natural world and are prepared to act on it.

That means carving out the financial headroom required by reframing the existing rules and models of return on investment. It means working with central government and regulators on rapid policy shifts allowing investment to turbocharge the race against time to get to that very different, sustainable future.

Local government decision-makers, of all political persuasions, are already pushing at these boundaries – understanding the kind of projects and initiatives that need to be in place, whether they be energy, retrofitting buildings, active travel and transport schemes, or investments in public education and safety. All of us are in the shadow of increasingly grave threats to our health, wealth, and wellbeing, and all of us, individuals, groups, societies, businesses, and institutions are part of the solution.

The absolute requirement for those solutions to work within the unique patchwork of local conditions and communities is why climate action is six times as cost-effective delivered at local government level, than by a ‘one size fits all' central dictat: small is beautiful, but at the same time we can all learn from across the globe about what has worked and what hasn't worked, and each of us can be a beacon for others.

The conference created connections, within Oxfordshire and more widely. As a direct result of the event, I will be in discussions with a financial institution about funding retrofitting work, ramping up funding to match the growth of supply chains, to hit a scale that can really start to make a difference.

It also prompted discussions about how to get money into electricity grid connection. This is the sort of thing organisations would love to invest in and monetise, and 100 Together was the perfect forum to explore that: we found solutions looking for a problem to solve and need to match them with the problems we know are seeking solutions. Those are the next steps that many people put in their diaries as they left the conference.

Rarely does an event feel so well-timed, like a starting gun everyone has been waiting for. We created a springboard from which the redefine the bounds of the possible and now we need to make it happen.

Failure is not an option.

Cllr Pete Sudbury  is Oxfordshire CC's deputy leader with responsibility for climate change, environment and future generations


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