Posted by Kevin Frea on Monday, 18 May 2020

Notes from this meeting

Local government structures in the UK can cut across the many domains where climate action is needed. This web meetings, discussed how to co-ordinate action in 2-tier local authorities. Here are notes of some of the main points.

Measuring Your Carbon Emissions

Simon Pickering of Stroud District Council ran through the options for coming up with the crucial numbers. This is the essential first step on the path to planning to avoid, reduce, substitute or sequester greenhouse gases. His slides give a clear summary without further annotation, and indicate sources for assessing the various levels. They include:

  • The Council itself, from internal auditing
  • An entire district or city (using government figures from BEIS)
  • The Global Covenant of Mayors Reporting Framework, which extends to important additions like livestock and aviation. (see
  • Offshored emissions, as discussed in a report from WWF in March this year.

Each layer leads to larger figures, and points to things over which Councils may have little or no control. So the information is vital for planning, but also because: “the key thing is really is to be brutally honest with your population and say – look, as a district council, these are the emissions. We can probably only deal with a very small amount. How are you going to help us?”

Co-ordination – City Council & County Council

After that essential background, three contributors summarised their approaches to working across authority boundaries on common climate emergency goals.

Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council (Labour) reflected on working with Oxfordshire County Council (Conservative), and others. How to influence them in a crucial sector like transport planning, for example, developing some degree of consensus in spite of different political affiliations?

Key considerations for the City Council included going to the County with a coherent vision about what the transport system in Oxford would look like. That involved significant officer and councillor time, “and making sure that we as a district… listen to our communities so that we can carry that into the discussions with the County Council.

It is also vital to building relationships of trust. The approach here was “going into the private meetings that we set up with the County Council cabinet members for transport finance, in an open, honest, transparent way, being very clear about what we can bring to the table, but what we expect of others, and making sure those conversations are confidential, and that we’re able to really hammer out our differences”.

This was helpful not just for getting the zero emissions idea off the ground, but moving towards implementation.

That then led to the development of the project Connecting Oxford, which is about reducing the number of private vehicles, and significantly investing in public transport.

The city also had to stand ready to contribute financially. “We recognise that transport is a huge contributor to our public health and climate emergency problems. So we’ve been willing to stump up significant sums of money, which means the county council feel like they should actually also dedicate more money to the issues that we need to tackle.”

Cambridge also ran a citizen’s assembly on climate change, carefully set up so it was representative of the entire city.

“We had a whole session on transport which led to the members of our assembly drawn from a range of viewpoints and backgrounds, coming out with the view that we ought to go for what seemed the most radical transport vision.” (see the report from the Assembly here.)

All this discussion helped promote new measures in Oxford including a zero emission zone, with a goal of expanding to include the entire city, County Council action on bus emissions, and city policies on emissions from private hire and black cabs.

These fit in with the wider Connecting Oxford scheme, which is intended to reduce the number of private cars. That should, counter-intuitively, reduce the number of buses companies need to run, as cutting congestion means they can keep to timetable with a smaller fleet.

Needless to say, all this is now subject to reappraisal post-COVID lockdown, when Tom was looking to push the cycling agenda – previously an area where it was harder to forge agreement between the City and the County Council but now showing strong signs of positive change. Even so, it was important to ensure this and other changes now envisaged, such as pavements that allow social distancing, were consulted on widely.

Co-ordination, all levels – Francesca Iliffe, Adur and Worthing.

Francesca, Adur and Worthing’s Strategic Sustainability Manager, has convened a round table for LA officers working on climate emergency policies, and other interested parties. People from 14 local authorities from Sussex and Hampshire came together last August, and have now settled (until COVID) on meeting around every six weeks.

The value in this is networking and support in a context where different authorities have different approaches. “There is no coordinated approach set out by government. We all have different targets for areas, different targets for our councils, some don’t have targets at all, some, some do some develop their plans and some haven’t. And, and so it was about looking at the practice across the different local authorities and trying to find our way through to deliver the best possible plan for our areas and councils.”

Can be helpful for united lobbying (e.g. for a central government requirement on targets, so far unsuccessfully!); for hearing pitches from, for example, Anthesis (see the link to their Scatter tool above), and from the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

Also a plus: sharing approaches to fundraising, and making direct links between Districts and Boroughs and the County Councils, helping to co-ordinate large programmes of work such as a solar programme for the region to be announced shortly. Further work on transport is on the agenda.

And the group is a useful forum for grassroots campaign organisations such as the Southeast Climate Alliance to get access to all the local authorities. “So they were able to do a really fantastic piece of work on a database of the different sort of targets, zero carbon targets that all local authorities have, and their different approaches and where their plans are online.”

More outputs will follow, from the capacity building, stronger relationships and mutual learning that the group promotes, and other areas could do well to follow suit.

Co-ordination across one county – Ellie Rowlands, Devon Climate Emergency. (Slides available).

Devon has a county-wide collaboration of organisations who made a collective declaration on the climate emergency in May 2019. The group managing the effort, chaired by Devon County Council, include Chief execs and senior officers from 25 different organisations across Devon. That includes councils, emergency services, business organisation and education institutions. They set the agenda for a tactical group, chaired by Devon County Council Environment Group, which in turn oversees a net-zero task force, responsible for a Devon Carbon Plan and a climate impacts group, producing a Devon Adaptation Plan.

The Devon Climate declaration includes commitments to lobbying for national change, reducing s organisational emissions, working to implement the Devon carbon plan when it is launched, and preparing to adapt to a warmer world. It has been widely endorsed by local authorities, parish councils and community groups, often alongside their own declarations on the climate emergency.

The Devon carbon plan will outline a path to becoming carbon neutral. Inputs include a public call for evidence that produced 800 public submissions, a Youth Parliament event, and thematic hearings. A Citizens Assembly is also in planning, but COVID has induced a a shift to a 2-stage process. To get the Carbon Plan moving, a first set of proposals considered relatively uncontroversial will be produced this Summer. Then ideas that earlier submissions indicated were more challenging, such as expanding onshore wind, will be discussed by the Citizens Assembly, some time next year, and feed in to a full plan. That’s the best balance now achievable between getting a plan moving this year in response to the emergency, and ensuring that the final plan reflects opinion across the county.

In parallel, work on a Devon adaptation plan is using climate projections for the South West of England to consider responses to community risks and health and environmental impacts of warming – including contributions from the Environment Agency and Public Health England.


Cllr. Simon Pickering’s Slides