Posted by Climate Emergency UK on Monday, 22 June 2020

As Councils are directly responsible for a tiny fraction of carbon emissions, it’s vital for the success of getting to zero carbon that they work together with their local communities. 

This was the first in a series of four zoom meetings to examine how councils can engage with communities to strengthen climate action.

Stefan Webb, Place Director at FutureGov introduced their work on how councils can become platforms for community action. FutureGov are a small consultancy that work with public institutions to develop new ways of working, emphasising digital possibilities.

LAs need to think more broadly about the levers available to them. The current crisis helps bring into focus what’s possible. Examples FutureGov has been involved with include:

In Camden – Beacon, a software tool that triages emerging needs into a single view for the council and the voluntary sector

Buckinghamshire Council set up a service directory that is open source so other authorities may adopt. (This is a critical feature for new projects like this).

Working with clients to get their use of digital engagement and remote working stuff up to speed during lockdown.

What about approaches to the climate crisis?

New thinking about regenerative approaches – for instance, how can we apply circular economy thinking across all LA’s activities. Address economic injustice at the same time as delivering better, low carbon environments.

Principles of a regenerative approach include:

Be truly participatory – example: a citizen-led approach to health and well-being in Camden. The aim is to go beyond community consultation to shaping and co-creation. In this case the vehicle was a neighbourhood assembly. This kind of involvement likely to be essential for behaviour change needed to address climate emergency.

example: Waltham Forest’s “mini-Holland”, one of three multi-million pound central-government funded schemes designed to increase cycle use. Some details on that here.

Look at the whole picture

Avoid silos

example – the well-being goals from the Welsh Government, in conjunction with their Future Generations Act (and Commissioner for the Future).

example – Energiesprong and their approach deep retrofit for housing.

Share and build on each other’s work

examples: Wikihouse: open source design and assembly in architecture.

Trafford data lab has worked on local provision, but also produced a range of open resources, such as the Climate Emergency Open Data Companion – for data specific to your area.

Learn and adapt

21st century governance needs to respond to change.

examples (from Sweden)

Climate View – plots 79 transition targets for cities, using software that allows standardised comparisons.

Rachel Brain described Stroud’s response to the climate emergency. Stroud’s 2030 target is rooted in a longer history of environment policies.

She made an interesting analogy with organising an expedition, for which the Royal Geographical Society’s checklist includes making links to people where you are going, showing respect for them, learning from those you meet, and learning the local language. All good advice for councils contemplating how to reach zero carbon.

Stroud, like others, has a three-part approach, involving the council’s own activities, policies that the council can influence that can have wider effect, and making effective partnerships in the community.

Ask not, “what can we do, but what should we do?” And seek at every stage to get:





(by and in the community).

This is hard because communities are diverse, and the issues are very complicated – but at the same time you need to have a focussed discussion that is actually meaningful.

An import aspect of this is:

Asset-based community development.

Old-style example – shared investment beginning in partnership with Transition Stroud, who were already organising neighbourhood climate action groups. Council made a modest investment to help co-ordination and collaboration by setting up a forum. Useful, though also engagement with the already committed.

Cue the Asset Based Approach. Use what you know about your existing networks, rather than trying to create new ones.

COVID has been a big challenge in all this lately. Rethinking how to do these things online. Possibilities could include using Delphi methods for sampling opinion iteratively, which can be remote and anonymous.

Emma Jones from Ashden, outlined their work as organisers of awards for sustainable energy initiatives. They are interested particularly in co-benefits of climate action. Work so far includes a toolkit for LAs on co-benefits. Helping establish that climate action isn’t (just) about giving things up!

Examples: particular climate actions have multiple co-benefits. Insulating homes improves carbon emissions, health, equity, and resilience all at once.

Launching a new resource on community engagement in July. This will cover deliberative processes, work with communities to deliver climate action, overcoming objections to particyar changes by exploring co-benefits. It will cover 20 case studies.

Example – Nottingham, workplace car parking levy, used to fund electric buses and other public transport improvements (£10m so far).

Example – Waltham Forest (see above!). Much opposition in early stages, but more support now people can see the benefits of, e.g. street closures and filters.

Also note that Ashden are launching a new community engagement award this year.