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Cambridge Doughnut quizzes May 6 election candidates on ecological outcomes

The 2021 regional elections have seen doughnut economics introduced for the first time in Cambridge’s political calculations.

Doughnut Economics (46790138)
Doughnut Economics (46790138)

Cambridge Doughnut envisions a new way of rebuilding the Cambridge economy following the pandemic to better meet the challenges of the 21st century. The community group asked candidates what issues they would prioritise in the aim to create a fairer, more sustainable city for all.

Doughnut economics has been developed by Oxford economist Kate Raworth, who published a first paper on the topic in 2012. In her 2017 book Doughnut Economics, Prof Raworth laid out a a post-growth economic framework based on the priorities set out by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The doughnut’s social foundation (the centre of the doughnut) sets out the minimum standard of living for all covering basic rights like food, water and access to healthcare. The doughnut’s ecological ceiling (the outside edge) comprises the planetary boundaries within which we must live to preserve our world – a stable climate, fertile soils, healthy oceans, a protective ozone layer, ample freshwater and biodiversity. The live-able zone in the middle is the area we exist in.

The Cambridge group was set up in September 2020 to encourage the development of doughnut economics in the city, and now has more than 100 members.

“By asking candidates how they would help achieve the dual goals of social justice and environmental protection, we hope to educate them in the principles of doughnut economics and its potential to transform administrative planning,” says Cinthya Anand of Cambridge Doughnut.

Doughnut Economics has been developed by Oxford-based economist Kate Raworth. Picture: Roman Krznaric
Doughnut Economics has been developed by Oxford-based economist Kate Raworth. Picture: Roman Krznaric

Cambridge Doughnut wrote to candidates standing for election, with responses including from Cambridgeshire County Council candidates and neighbouring district council elections. A response was also from the Green Party Candidate for Cambridgeshire County Council in Abbey and a collective response from South Cambs Greens at the time of writing. The following questions were put to the candidates:

1. How will you ensure the new Local Plan alongside council initiatives improves the living standards of the less privileged and those for whom ‘affordable housing’ is not affordable?

2. How will you seek to ensure the city as a whole delivers what’s needed to address the climate and ecological emergency (climate emergency was declared by the city council and Parliament in 2019)?

3. Will you work for (and how?) passage of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill?

The responses, which are available in full here, provide firstly a public commitment on where they stand, and secondly, encourage decision-makers to adopt principles from doughnut economics in planning, following the path taken by other cities around the world, including Amsterdam and Brussels. Closer to home, Cornwall Council identified the doughnut model as a useful framework to assess the impact of policies.

The arguments were wide-ranging and thoughtful, often revealing an emphasis on housing, transport, and the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. Few ventured outside the parameters of their party agendas, though Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley, a medical training fellow at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and a Green Party candidate in Abbey Ward, said of our current plight: “The climate emergency is a health emergency. We are not even on track to limit global heating to 2 degrees.

An Extinction Rebellion protest at Bayer Cropscience in Cambridge. Picture: Kay Goodridge
An Extinction Rebellion protest at Bayer Cropscience in Cambridge. Picture: Kay Goodridge

“There is an unacceptable risk of both simultaneous crop failure – which could result in mass starvation – and sea level rise that would make many places in the world, including the Fenlands in Cambridgeshire, uninhabitable, this is already affecting communities in countries such as Bangladesh. We are currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction. This isn’t just about the loss of some animal species – ecological collapse will prevent achievement of any of our shared goals as a society of reduction of poverty, food security, access to safe water for everyone and protecting human health and wellbeing.”

David Stoughton, a member of Cambridge Doughnut, said: “While there is some good intent when it comes to narrowing the wealth divide or tackling climate change, urgent demands and party politics tend to override better motivations. Without an unambiguous statement of belief and intent it is impossible for voters to hold our representatives to account, and this is what we hope to achieve.”

Acknowledging the limited influence councillors have in changing national-level policies, fellow member and long-time resident Geraint Davies adds: “We are interested to hear the links candidates make between the big picture and the local Cambridge system. Are they referring to national political stances or do they have aspirations for local change? Are they making system-level connections between local issues? Are they connecting environmental protection with societal change? The responses indicate to some extent candidates’ alignment with the principles of doughnut economics. If you are interested in these principles and, like us, believe they are important in creating a fairer and more sustainable society, you can use the responses to steer your votes.”

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