Opinion: Change our constitution to save planet

Maya da Souza and Farhana Yamin ask what it would take to embed the safety of the planet into the co

Maya da Souza and Farhana Yamin ask what it would take to embed the safety of the planet into the constitution. - Credit: Archant

A lot of water under the bridge, as it were, since this time last year.

From a solitary Greta sitting outside her school to worldwide school strikes; from the launch of Extinction Rebellion (XR) to Australian farmers campaigning for action. Change often happens fast once the tide begins to turn.

As lawyers and community activists, we are going to write about two aspects of this change - one about people and one about rewriting the rules.

Both are rooted in Camden declaring a Climate Emergency last year, following an initial motion tabled in May 2019, a Citizen's Assembly process in June and July with full council unanimously adopting ways to take forward urgent action on October 7. We're pleased that Dartmouth Park Talks attended by Cllr Georgia Gould, Cllr Sian Berry, Cllr Roberto Sanz, a cross-party panel, helped things gather momentum on all fronts.

One idea that was put forward was a Camden Think & Do centre - a space where people could offer up ideas and knowledge and come together to co-create a different future. The sense of isolation and feeling too small or too late to make a difference to help safeguard the future of our children and grandchildren, is a terrible thing. By Camden Council converting the disused Flapjacks Café into a Think & Do action hub, working with residents to do so, Camden has pioneered an exciting grassroots approach. We'd encourage you to pop by and put forward your own ideas for action. We're hoping Camden's Think & Do pop-up will prove a success and be taken to other parts of the borough and cities invigorating our high streets as well as our communities.

But it's important to take things forward on more fronts than one. The other front on which discussion has begun is refining the council's constitution. As the kids keep reminding us there is no Planet B. We've written before about new forms of participation like Citizens Assemblies that operate on the basis of highly informed discussion. This is a new way of making decisions, experimental, but nevertheless an experience Camden Council are pioneering and others can improve on for the future.

However, just like a Bill of Rights was added to the US constitution the question is now what must be added to supplement the rules of governance? How can Camden's constitution be supplemented to take on board the need to protect our planetary home?

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What does it take to embed the safety of our planet into our constitution? Camden XR put forward some ideas worthy of further discussion. The first is a principle to guide decision making, essentially a duty on the part of the council, as well as a duty on all decision- makers to play their part in halting climate change. The second idea was a duty to have a long-term strategy in place and one on which the council reports annually. This could be combined with an independent commission, learning from the Leeds Climate Commission, to scrutinise action.

The third idea was about tools to ensure change, like building climate objectives into the appraisals of senior officials. This is another possibility to think through.

The 'Think & Do' pop-up is open from 10am-8pm from Thursdays to Saturday at 315 Kentish Town High Street. For the programme of events please see: camden.gov.uk/pop-up-think-do-community-space-for-climate-and-eco-action#jsdj

The next school strike is on November 19.

- Lawyers and community activists Farhana Yamin and Maya de Souza run Dartmouth Park Talks