We’re joining Race to Zero and this is what we’ve learned so far.

Eighteen months ago I’d never heard of Race to Zero. Now we’re about to join the global network of climate leaders collaborating our way to a fairer and greener net zero.

Catherine Mealing-Jones

Climate leadership is an action not an aspiration and there is reassurance in working alongside others to a common framework which is genuinely scaling up action in practice around the world. We know we have to innovate but humanity doesn’t have time to reinvent wheels. So learning from those moving fastest, leapfrogging mistakes, and sharing our experiences is the only model that makes sense. 

1. Carbon footprinting reveals dirty secrets

We commissioned research to understand emissions attributable to the National Park – our residents and businesses and visitors coming to enjoy our wonderful landscape. We looked at emissions embodied in what we consume not just the more obvious energy related carbon. This work exposes the big shifts that we will all have to make to tackle emissions reductions on the scale needed.

It revealed not just the emissions you would expect from a rural landscape with dispersed settlements and hard to retrofit homes. We had a dirty secret. Our food and drink footprint is higher than the UK average and residents take nearly fifty percent more flights than the UK average. 

That is because, even though we are amongst the poorest UK national parks per capita, we have huge wealth disparity. People with money have high carbon lifestyles – there is an almost universal correlation. 

Now we know that we can tailor our climate action plan to cut tackle the biggest sources of emissions in a way that makes us a fairer as well as net zero National Park. It is possible for wealthier people to help path-clear for the rest of society by investing in the shifts needed. For example, community renewables being prime funded by the able to pay then the benefits being shared by the wider community regardless of wealth. Or richer people being early adopters of sustainable local veg box schemes which become more affordable for everyone once they operate at scale.

2. Pledging can put you in the spotlight and attract talent

We hit the UK and global headlines when we launched our new management plan and decided to prioritise our Welsh name – an old name for a new way to be – Bannau Brycheiniog National Park. The climate mission in our management plan was included in nearly all the coverage with even the harshest critics (mostly!) acknowledging it is right that we respond to the climate emergency.

Even now we continue to be in the spotlight with the New York Times featuring Bannau Brycheiniog National Park as one of the top ‘52 places to visit this year’ (number 18 in case you were wondering!) highlighting our commitment to a nature-rich low carbon future.

Making a clear public commitment has attracted some extraordinary talent to work with us – from poet Owen Sheers and actor Michael Sheen, to academics, to over-qualified job applicants to an up-swelling of community interest. 

 A new Bannau Brycheiniog Community Race to Zero network has formed itself reaching across the settlements in the National Park to catalyse community-led action in support of the mission.

3. Planning requires activating a human mycelium network

Planning might sound like a linear process. But in fact, we are learning that we need to be hyper-connected and part of a human web to understand who is already doing work in line with our climate mission across the public, private, third sectors and communities and individuals, and what the opportunities are to scale up.

Like the wood-wide-web we need ways to flow information and resources where they are needed. And like organic systems the action plan needs to be a living evolving beast. Having a crystal-clear mission is what keeps the process focused.

4. Proceeding is like a card game

You need to know your hand and how to play it. Each organisation has its own powers, responsibilities, resources and skills. We only get one chance at this moment in the climate emergency, and we all need to play our hand creatively to maximum effect towards achieving the mission of a liveable planet.

5. Publishing gives you access to your own climate coach

Bannau Brycheiniog reported to CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) in 2023. CDP is a global reporting platform that uses a questionnaire format to elicit information about carbon assessments, action plans and delivery. That all contributes to a global ‘stocktake’ of carbon emissions – humanity’s way of knowing if we’re on track.

We just had our first feedback session which was not just a process of marking our homework, but we had bespoke advice and guidance about how we can improve and learn from good practice by other organisations.

The genius of having one platform spanning many countries and types of organisations is that there is infrastructure to tap into a global hive mind and to spotlight and share emergent best practice.

Our feedback session signposted us to action plans that have addressed challenges we are grappling with and included online introductions to people willing to talk us through their learning. 

It is not just a one-off session, CDP have resources to support us and other reporting organisations as we develop our work ahead of the next reporting window. Brilliant.

6. Persuading involves listening, storytelling and being clear what you’re calling for

The transition to net zero simply won’t happen unless people think it is just and they are and feel listened to. We are all humans in this transition, and we engage with emotions and senses every bit as facts.

We used storytelling and creative processes in developing the mission-led National Park management plan. Writing postcards from the future invited participants to stop and imagine the future they want. 

One of the critical roles of the National Park is as truth-tellers. Imagining the future has to be done in the context of physics – what are the projected impacts of climate breakdown, how quickly can a peat bog or tree draw down carbon, what is the carbon and nature impact of an air source heat pump compared to biomass boiler? We can bring that evidence to conversations. We can also help to analyse the barriers to action and draw out the precise changes needed to overcome them – from policy to funding to different ways of organising and behaviour change.

We need to be ‘custodians of good conversations’ as Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority’s Chair, Cannon Aled Edwards tells us – and he’s right.

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