Launch of the Leeds Doughnut

If you’re feeling climate anxiety, doughnut despair - while the emergency is real, Climate Action Leeds ’ launch of the Leeds Doughnut City Portrait at Open Innovations offered clear insights, practical next steps and a powerful dose of hope for how Leeds can become a thriving and safe place for everyone.

Presenting their first Leeds Doughnut City Portrait report at Open Innovations’ fantastic event space to over 70 in-person attendees, and many more digitally, Climate Action Leeds gave us a clear snapshot of where Leeds stands environmentally and socially, and kickstarted the planning stage for the journey to a socially just, zero-carbon and nature-friendly Leeds by the 2030s.

I doughnut think I’ve heard of this model before?

Climate Action Leeds’ report draws on the work of Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics. It’s a simple idea, but offers a radical new way to look at our global economic and environmental model.

Let’s start by thinking of a doughnut. So far, so good.

Now, imagine that the doughnut’s outer edge represents the planet’s resource and pollution limit which, once exceeded, means the planet stops functioning (not so appetising).

Next, picture the inner edge of the doughnut. This inner edge represents a base level beneath which human living conditions should never be allowed to fall (again, not a tasty prospect).

In between the outer and inner edges of the doughnut is the filling, representing a safe and just space for humanity, in which everyone can thrive and meet their local aspirations and global responsibilities, without damaging the environment (sounds jammy to me).

Climate Action Leeds have used this model to assess where Leeds stands in relation to the planet’s ecological ceiling and humanity’s social floor, clearly laying out what we’re doing too much of and where we’re letting people down.

Doughnut keep us waiting - tell us what happened on the day?

The event was opened by Peg Alexander, who presented the day throughout with skill, passion and a lot of humour, and set a hopeful tone before she handed over to Paul Chatterton, Professor of Urban Futures at the University of Leeds. Paul’s introduction of the Leeds Doughnut focussed on the fact that this day, report and project were only the start of the journey towards a zero-carbon Leeds that works for all its residents, and his outline of the challenge we face made it clear that there are many exciting opportunities ahead if we can grasp them.

Next to speak was Cllr. Neil Walshaw, the Chair of both the Climate Change Advisory Committee and the Development Plans Panel at Leeds City Council. He opened by forcefully pointing out that the economic theories of the ‘90s and ‘00s are simply not how the world really works, before moving on to talk about how the doughnut model of economics is coming into centrality in every decision that is made about the future of our cities. In his words, “its time is now”.

He continued by articulating that tackling the climate emergency means ensuring that there are the right jobs and skills in the city, that the education system is fit for purpose and that people feel they have a voice and that they are listening and being listened to. Neil rightly pointed out that all of these challenges have been compounded by austerity, with real-term cuts when measured against inflation to the Leeds city council budget of £238m since 2010. While the negatives can be overwhelming, he also spoke powerfully about moving beyond doom and gloom, stating that “the environmental movement encompasses everything we do in society ... this is a movement to save our civilisation”. Neil was clear that this is an opportunity to do things differently, with a chance of creating dignity of endeavour for everyone in Leeds.

The next session was Step Into The Doughnut and was led by Rob Shorter, the Communities & Art Lead for Doughnut Economics Action Lab. This practical workshop allowed people to (literally) step inside the doughnut model of thinking, using physical models and movement to allow attendees to clearly conceptualise the ideas behind the report’s approach, and to understand how the visual model connects to the underpinning data within the wider report. Open Innovations flexible and open event space made this interactive event fun and easy, before the space transitioned into a seated lecture lay-out for the next round of talks.

After a break for coffee and tea, the talks moved on to the topic of How Others Are Using The Doughnut. First up was Leonora Grcheva (the Cities & Regions Lead for DEAL), who walked the room through how others are using the doughnut model, with practical examples of what it can do. Leonora stressed that the model isn’t rigid or prescriptive - instead, it’s all about putting it into the local context. When planning and making decisions, four key questions should always be asked:

  • How can all the people in this place thrive?
  • How can this place be as generous as the wildlife next door?
  • How can this place respect the health of the whole planet?
  • How can this place respect the wellbeing of all people?

Leonora made clear that these ideas are now being picked up by local, regional and even national governments, putting these questions into practice in their administrations. Leonora also laid out the vast array of resources available from the Doughnut Economics Action Lab to support this work, and their work to link, connect, distribute and share ideas around the globe.

Continuing the theme of how the doughnut model can be put into practice, Leonora handed over to Dr Imandeep Kaur, the Co-Founder & Director of Civic Square, Birmingham. Imandeep opened by sharing her own introduction to doughnut economics, and the fact that the concept was met with cynicism, with the sort of change needed requiring funding, infrastructure, government support in the face of the legacy of austerity and many other challenges. Imandeep pointed out that a focus on government-down change would not be truly effective or empowering, and instead moved towards a focus on building infrastructure and systems to allow communities to transition through the climate crisis. Most importantly, Imandeep talked about the power of making, creating and playing to start the conversation and give everyone the agency to make a difference. The powerful takeaway from the projects she has worked on and outlined to us is that, in her words, “there is a place for everyone. Everyone can do something.”

After Imandeep, the co-authors of the Leeds Doughnut Portrait report, Prof Paul Chatterton, Catriona Rawsthorne, Anisha Solanki and Joel Millward-Hopkins talked through the report in detail, explaining exactly where Leeds is now in relation to its social and climate responsibilities.  You can find the summarised report here , the full report here and a video of the talk explaining it in full detail is here .

The morning ended with lunch, a fantastic vegan buffet provided by Scoff’s Feel Good Grub, before moving into the afternoon to hear about The Doughnut in Action.

The Doughnut In Action

Continuing the brilliant work of the speakers in the morning, who had outlined the many possibilities of the doughnut model of environmental economics, we moved on to ideas about how the doughnut can be put into action in Leeds. We heard from Shannon Coles, from Otley Doughnut & Otley 2030 who talked about how her organisations are relentlessly community-focused. The final speaker was Marvina Newton, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Leeds and Angel House centre for youth who spoke powerfully about youth allyship, decolonising the climate movement and the importance of intersectionality moving forward.

Following these powerful presentations, attendees broke out into groups in various areas of Open Innovations’ event space to look at different topics (such as food, work and others) and how the doughnut can be applied to come up with actions and change in order to move towards a sustainable, just future. There was a real buzz in the room, and each different cohort was full of energy and enthusiasm to put the ideas discussed into action. Each working group created huge paper records of their thinking, linking ideas about each topic into the doughnut model. These ideas will be collated and used in further Climate Action Leeds and Leeds Doughnut work.

Finally, the speakers came back together and shared their takeaways from the day, with the clear theme being that the doughnut model is powerful, radical, and should be shared with as many groups, organisations and individuals as it can. It was a powerful and hopeful conclusion to a fantastic day, that showcased both the level of challenge ahead in the fight to make Leeds a socially just and zero-carbon city by 2030, but also the amazing potential to make this goal a reality.

Finding the sweet spot

The doughnut model, and the entirety of the Leeds Doughnut Launch makes it easy to see the interconnections between social and environmental challenges, but the links have always been there - economics, social conditions and the climate emergency go hand in hand.

Industrialised economies have built their wealth and high standards of living from pollution-heavy, carbon-intensive industries ever since the Industrial Revolution, exploiting natural resources and less industrialised societies to create their economic development, while sharing few of the benefits.

As the climate crisis intensifies, the environmentally destructive impact of centuries of industrialisation is making itself felt in the places where the benefits of globalised capital have been least distributed. As Sonam Wangdi, the chair of the Least Developed Countries group, which represents more than a billion people globally, said at COP26 : “The progress is definitely not enough up to now. We are a long way from a 1.5C pathway. We need them to ramp up ambition. We have done our share, and we contributed least to the problem.”

The doughnut model, which considers how people in Leeds are living, and how those lives affect people in the rest of the world and the health of the planet, makes it clear that here in Leeds, we are “below a minimum social floor of a thriving life, and that we could better protect and support our local nature. Globally, life in Leeds is generally damaging the health of the whole planet and we are falling short of protecting people across the world.”

While seeing how far we have to go can be daunting, the intertwined problems of the climate crisis and social justice can’t be tackled until we know where we are and what needs to be done. The power of the Leeds Doughnut is that it is honest and challenging, and can provide the clear picture we require to allow us all to begin imagining ways to make the change that’s needed. Walking away from the day, attendees were left with a sense that though the path ahead is undoubtedly hard, the practicality and positivity that can be harnessed has the ability to effect real change in our city, and through the city, around the world.

Doughnut stop there - here’s more to chew on

Climate Action Leeds

Discover the Leeds Doughnut

Leeds Doughnut Summary

Leeds Doughnut Detailed Report

Watch the whole day and all the speakers