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COVID-19: The view from Possible

By Patrik Ewe, Possible, 12th August 2020

At Possible, we focus on positive, practical and collective ways to tackle the climate crisis, inspiring widespread behaviour change and political action in the UK. Our work includes successfully campaigning for the world’s first televised climate election debate in 2019; the world-leading solar trains project, Riding Sunbeams; and Climate Perks, the scheme enabling businesses to offer their staff a minimum of two extra ‘journey days’ each year when they choose not to fly to their holiday destinations.

When coronavirus hit, like many other organisations working in the sector, we were determined not to let it stall the momentum for action on climate change that has been built in the last year. We were, however, eager to give the crisis of coronavirus the focus it needed when the pandemic first arose. We coordinated with hundreds of groups in the sector to make sure we had a shared understanding of how best to communicate climate change in the time of coronavirus and when to leave space for other stories.

At Possible, we had to accept that some of our campaigns would need to take a step back for a while or at least adapt to the context we found ourselves in. Like most of the country and the rest of the world, we also needed to change how we were working. We pride ourselves on great staff morale, and believe it’s a big part of why we’re so effective, even as a small team. We couldn’t let the virus change that. So we built new systems for talking to each other as a team and providing as much support as possible. For example, we have daily morning check-ins to see how everyone is doing and switched to a zero-notice policy for asking for leave.

We know there is no silver lining to coronavirus. In both the short and the long term, people are going to be dealing with the many challenges that COVID-19 is throwing at us, from the tragic loss of loved ones to profound economic concerns. This is likely to be at the forefront of people’s minds and will pattern their behaviour for a while to come. But we also recognise the pandemic represents an utterly unprecedented global ‘moment of change’, in which the regular patterns of hundreds of millions of people’s lives have been forcefully interrupted, not just as individuals but as part of local and global communities. Capturing this moment provides an opportunity to create a domino effect of climate-positive behaviours in communities across the UK. Polling shows that over two-thirds of Britons believe that climate change is as serious a crisis as COVID-19, and polling released in March showed a large proportion of the public want environmental sustainability to work in cohesion with recovery plans. There is still a huge appetite not to simply revert back to where we were at the end of 2019, but to go into 2021 with a renewed approach to life, one that’s ready to fight (and win) what’s really the defining battle of our lifetimes: climate change.

As a small organisation with so much in-house expertise on issues from policy to behaviour change, we have the ability to move fast when we need to. In the last few months, we’ve launched a number of new campaigns which have been born out of the pandemic and the new challenges it has brought with it. For example, we launched a rapid response campaign after the airline industry called on the government to give them additional bailouts, despite laying off staff and refusing to commit to effectively reducing their emissions. We’re calling for any airline bailouts to come with strings attached to protect workers and the climate. In the last few weeks we have shown, through our work with Leigh Day law firm, that it would be unlawful for the government to give bailouts to airlines with no strings attached. We’ve also been working with trade unions and the New Economics Foundation to work out how to protect workers and support them to transition to low-carbon industries.

COVID-19 has shown that immediate rapid response work is critical to a climate-safe future. Opportunities can appear and disappear within days or weeks. For organisations to deliver these rapid response campaigns effectively, they need the flexibility and resilience that core funding provides, or accessible and fast-responding funds. We at Possible have been able to be reactive and nimble to great effect. But this has only been possible thanks to multi-year core funding from supportive trusts and major donors.

We need funders to appreciate the intersectionality of climate action and how we can deal with issues such as health, racism, fuel poverty and corporate social responsibility alongside tackling climate change. We know climate change disproportionally affects the disadvantaged and vulnerable and so we need funders to move into this space to help stimulate the urgent action that the climate crisis demands. Funders that are concerned only with cutting carbon emissions or planting trees are well-intentioned, but could have a far bigger impact if the intersectionality of the climate crisis were considered.

For the climate movement to achieve its aims it must become a mass movement, and we need the public involved at individual, community and national levels. We know individuals are more likely to stick with actions if they feel part of a broader movement, and that actions starting with a small number of individuals can speedily build to unlock broader cultural and political change.

Over the next 12 months, we’d love to see more funders and funding for climate action, more responsive funds, and more funders seeking to involve the public in carbon cutting and climate action projects.


Patrik is Head of Development at Possible. He has spent 18 years in the not-for-profit sector, principally in fundraising at national and local charities tackling issues ranging from youth unemployment to climate change.

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