The Women’s Institute is a uniquely trusted organisation and on the 17th October, I was fortunate to attend the WI Climate Conference 2023. Held in Westminster it attracted an impressive programme of speakers, opening with Theresa May, followed by Alok Sharma, and Ed Milliband. Panels included Chris Skidmore and representatives from the Grantham Institute, Green Alliance, CAST, WWF among many others.
Encouragingly, in contrast to recent government announcements, all speakers emphasised the economic and social benefits of accelerating our efforts toward net zero. We repeatedly heard the message that delaying our transition from fossil fuels leaves us exposed to further instability and price rises as well as international loss of credibility. That a speedy green transition is an opportunity not a threat and must be embraced.
Panel and breakout discussions covered topics addressing biodiversity, the role of women and climate change, and encouraging communities to take action. Fossil fuel dependence featured heavily. I was disappointed to hear that few people had heard of Climate Income but encouraged by the united passion for innovative thinking to move us away from fossil fuels and toward renewables.
The climate emergency ranks third in our population’s list of worries but for many reasons people find it hard to talk about. Engaging people by finding common ground, normalising climate action and remembering that Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream’ not ‘I have a nightmare’ for good reason. This fits well with the CCL approach, inspiring hope and nurturing a positive vision for a fairer cleaner future. Making the climate movement more welcoming and never underestimating the power of a conversation – one project trained 400 hairdressers in Australia to talk about climate change.
The highlight of the day for me was an unexpected coffee break conversation with Ed Milliband about Climate Income! Fortunately, our own Ed Atkinson had just returned from the Labour conference, having spoken with several shadow cabinet ministers, including Ed Milliband, about Climate Income. Suitably primed, Ed showed some familiarity with the topic, expressing tempered interest in the idea of giving money back to citizens and raising concerns about the impact on larger families. But I was glad to see him tuck my leaflet explaining the main arguments for Climate Income into his pocket as he walked away to deliver his speech. His opening idea? Will we be the last generation that didn’t get it? Or the first generation that did.
There were inspiring words from Ben Margolis (LargerUs) Luke Tryl (More in Common) and Lorraine Whitmarsh (Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations) on perceptions and behaviour, public opinion, the importance of finding common ground, talking about the benefits of a green transition, making the climate movement welcoming and knowing that the British public is generally very fair minded.
And the role of the WI? The strength of the WI is that we are a trusted organisation, trusted by the public and by politicians. We are known for our good intentions and can take our message out, engage with people and enlist participation in a way that not many other institutions can. As we were reminded, the oil industry may be Goliath, but we are an army of Davids.
As a founding member of the Climate Coalition, with 180,000 members, including 400 Climate Ambassadors, the WI is in Theresa May’s words a ‘formidable force for change’, in Alok Sharma’s ‘a uniquely powerful voice’ and in my friend Ed Milliband’s: ‘WI conference? I wouldn’t miss it!’.
Jane Renwick, CCL UK member, Marlborough.