Taking stock of London Climate Action Week

Nick Mabey, Founder & Chair LCAW Steering Group, looks back at the progress made by London Climate Action Week (LCAW) since it was launched by E3G and the Mayor of London and how it is catalysing change.

Taking stock of London Climate Action Week

This week sees the fourth year of London Climate Action Week (LCAW) since it was launched by E3G and the Mayor of London, and the first set of mostly in-person events since 2019.

LCAW has now firmly established itself as one of the largest events in the global climate calendar. LCAW 2021 hosted 170 digital events, attracted an audience of over 45,000 people and significant traditional and social media coverage. LCAW’s global reach has been amplified through a network of influencers including partnerships with the FCDO climate network and London Embassy networks.

This year’s LCAW is even bigger and bolder, with flagship events at major venues like the Climate Innovation Forum at the QEII Centre, Reset-Connect at the Excel, the Climate Investment Summit at LSeX and the New York Times Climate Forward at the Conduit Club. LCAW 2022 will provide key lessons on how people want to engage in major events in the post-COVID travel and work environment.

The quality and range of LCAW 2022 events demonstrate the scope and depth of climate change expertise in London, and the audiences reveal the global reach of London-based organisations.  But while providing a platform for announcements, debate and mobilisation was always an aim it was never the end goal of London Climate Action Week.

The DNA of London Climate Action Week emerged from the consultations with hundreds of London based organisations. Stakeholders were very clear they wanted an event that built on, and was based in, the messy and diverse realities of London as a global city. Celebrating success was nice but the main aim was to actually move climate action forward.

Out of this debate came the LCAW mission: “Harnessing the Power of London for Global Climate Action” which was supported by four impact goals:

  • Highlighting the big and tough issues facing successful climate action and leveraging London’s global networks to host diverse voices and debates to generate solutions.
  • Supporting the globally unique “Climate Cluster” of London-based climate change organisations to work together better in order to accelerate progress on climate action.
  • Reaching outside the climate policy and business bubble to engage new sectors, organisations and communities in “whole of society” climate action. London should become an exemplar for building broad societal support for radical climate action.
  • Helping drive the transition to a net-zero, resilient and green London where the benefits of transition are shared fairly among all Londoners. It was often said in LCAW’s early meetings: you can’t build climate leadership from a dirty, vulnerable and unequal city.

So how has London Climate Action Week delivered since 2019?

LCAW has leaned into tackling tough issues. LCAW has debated the difficult geopolitics of climate change; hosted by leading institutions such as Chatham House, China Dialogue and E3G. Governments’ commitments to “build back better” after COVID came under close scrutiny at LCAW in 2020 and 2021. LCAW has become a key forum for debating contentious issues around climate and development, building on London’s strong development networks, and providing a platform for leaders from developing countries. LCAW 2022 has a particular focus on Africa – from investment and adaption to equality and entrepreneurship – on the road to COP 27.

In 2021 LCAW became a diplomatic stepping-stone towards COP 26 in Glasgow with major speeches by John Kerry and Alok Sharma including the first public discussion of what became the “Glasgow Pact”. The Powering Past Coal Alliance used LCAW 2021 to accelerate commitments to phase out coal power which were critical to the progress at COP 26.

LCAW 2022 will be a major moment to reflect on progress on the promises made at COP 26, especially in the context of the Ukraine war and accompanying food and energy price crises

From the start, a major theme of every LCAW has been climate law and litigation, including the annual launch of LSE’s Global Trends in Climate Litigation. Debates have been hosted by the UK Supreme Court, commercial and academic legal networks. The litigation issue has been closely linked to issues of business climate disclosure and the credibility of corporate commitments. The UN Climate Champions hosted a pathbreaking digital town hall meeting at LCAW 2021 to publicly test their draft commitments in advance of COP26. With ESG investing under fire it is unsurprising that LCAW 2022 will continue the focus on improving business disclosure, transparency and integrity.

London’s growing green sector has over 250,000 people working in green jobs; mainly in professional sectors like finance, technology and business services.  LCAW has helped join up and animate the “London Climate Cluster” including through the Climate Innovation Forum, the sectoral approach pioneered by the London Schools Climate Summit, the launch of the Professional Bodies Climate Action Charter , the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance and new for 2022 the Circular Economy Network. LCAW event organisers consistently cite new collaborations as a major benefit of participating, but there is much more potential to leverage London-based organisations into a functioning cluster.

LCAW has made real progress in reaching outside the traditional climate community. Leveraging the reach and convening power of London’s world-leading cultural and sports institutions to engage on climate change with new audiences and in new ways with participation from Tate Modern, Wimbledon, Museum of London, English National Opera and the Brit School. The Culture Declares movement was launched at LCAW 2019 and despite the setbacks of COVID, the cultural sector is back in force at LCAW 2022. The Barbican and Greater London Authority will be organising “Culture for Tomorrow” as a rallying point for climate action with London’s leading institutions. Fashion, food, museums, gardening and faith communities are some of the other regular participants at LCAW exploring their climate impact and building new audiences for change.

Driving truly whole of society climate action requires frank reflection on what is holding people back; improving inclusion has always been central to LCAW. From showcasing Female Cleantech Entrepreneurs to how to increase diversity in climate action to addressing the mental health burden of climate change and how to address feelings of climate despair. With over 30% of Londoners born outside the UK LCAW has also worked to engage its diaspora communities in order to bring the global experience of climate change into discussion and debate.

Every year new groups join LCAW bringing their unique energy and assets to climate action. Too often these groups feel isolated and unsure how – or whether – they can make their voice heard in public debates. A challenge for LCAW going forward is to provide more consistent support and platforms so everyone is able to engage.

LCAW aims to put London’s own climate house in order and involve more Londoners in climate action. LCAW has built strong partnerships with the GLA, London Councils, the City of London, London Universities and schools’ networks, and the Exhibition Road Festival. For the third year, London’s school children have the opportunity to follow a special climate curriculum in the run up to LCAW and will be engaging their MPs across the capital to call for more climate action.  There are also a large range of community events being held across London including in-person opportunities to engage in environmental projects and activities.

The Mayor of London has set a highly ambitious goal for reaching net-zero by 2030 which has been the focus of intense discussion at LCAW. At LCAW 2022 there will be a particular emphasis on reducing crippling energy bills through increasing energy efficiency in London’s aging housing stock against a backdrop of failing central government policy in this area.

London is one of the world’s richest cities with one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets. However, London does not yet have the powers and financing to deliver its climate goals, and Londoner’s have yet to be fully mobilised behind the rapid net zero transition.  LCAW has a key role to elevate & broaden the debate to help ensure London’s successful transition.

So where next for London Climate Action Week?

After four years of online and in-person events, LCAW is a globally visible and established event. The continuing uncertainty around post-Covid working patterns means the shape and format of LCAW will continue to evolve, but the current hybrid platform brings many new opportunities to engage globally.

There is strong appetite in LCAW’s audience for tackling the increasingly tough political, economic & structural issues blocking climate action. LCAW needs to evolve to provide more focused platforms for debate, including between the annual festival of events. Given London’s global networks, LCAW has particular potential to help tackle many of the contentious issues that remain between developed and developing countries.

The London Climate Cluster is clearly powerful but also immature. Building better architectures for collaboration and joint problem solving is critical to make the most of London’ potential.

The whole of Society’s climate action is now firmly back following Covid-19 and the challenge is to help shape and direct the enormous bottom-up energy toward promoting specific outcomes for political and personal change.

This will be particularly vital in London where LCAW needs to become far more visible to Londoners in order to stimulate the debates needed about London’s own climate transition.

In four turbulent years London Climate Action Week has gone from an idea to a movement; including inspiring similar festivals around the world. The 2022 week promises to be amazing but there is much more to do which is why the LCAW 2022 closing event will have an open discussion how where London Climate Action Week should go next.

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