What does it look like in practice to develop a climate emergency action plan for a local authority? Who should be consulted, how should it look, and what are things to consider during the development stage? Below are recommendations for how to approach developing a plan.
The action plan includes an introduction, vision statement which explains the background to the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’, the local & national context of the plan and the objectives (including target dates for the Councils own emissions and for the whole area). It may include a statement from the mayor or leader of the council showing their committment to the plan.
Plans are led by a senior lead officer and there is a cabinet member/committee responsible for the plan. It is critical that the plans have strong leadership that can carry them from development through to deployment. The lead officer and councillor should be made responsible for regular public progress reports towards the council’s targets.
Engagement within/across the council
An effective climate action plan will engage across the whole council to ensure that there is buy in from all departments, for example the heads of finance and procurement are key players in planning and delivering the Plan. This will support those who are working to deliver it and may result in more creative and effective plans.
- Plans are developed in collaboration with a representative cross section of the community. Plans must reflect the constituency and be designed to support community members. There are a wide range of ways in which to engage citizens such as citizen assemblies, citizen juries, online platforms, climate commissions or citizen task forces. It is important that the citizens consulted represent the diversity, disability, ages, incomes, and geography of the constituency. Whatever process is used, it should be clear how people can get involved and the results of consultation shared publicly. The action plan should reference how the community was consulted and how their feedback was integrated into the plan. It should clearly set out how the community will be involved in implementing and updating the Plan.
- Ashden have a toolkit on community engagement for local authorities
- Birmingham has a Route to Zero task force of people from a wide range of backgrounds, parties, and ages who are developing recommendations for Birmingham’s climate action plan.
- Devon will have a youth parliament that will help develop their climate action plan.
- Collaborative partnerships are established and commitments secured from different sectors. It is important to have active engagement with the different sectors in the community as the local authority will need to form and maintain active partnerships to develop and deliver a strong Action Plan. This should include: businesses (large and SME), anchor institutions, voluntary sector, educational sector including universities and colleges, health sector, and faith organisations. Place based Climate Commissions provide a model for active partnerships. In the development phase of the plan, the local authority should find out how these institutions are tackling reducing their own emission, for instance through initiatives like Greener NHS, to ensure the e council Action Plan forms part of a holistic strategy.
Structure & Delivery
Action plans come in a wide range of structures from appendices to council meeting minutes to glossy plans designed for publication. There is no ‘right’ way that a plan should be structured. However, there are some key approaches that will help to increase transparency, readability and accessibility.
- The local authority has a climate emergency section of their website that is clearly signposted from their homepage. Residents need to be able to find out what their local authority is doing to address the climate & ecological emergency so they can get involved and hold the council to account. The authority should make it easy for anyone to find the Plan, supporting documents and link to the minutes of the meeting it was approved at.
- The website should clearly outline what actions are being taken by the local authority in response to the climate emergency and encourage community participation, for example by showcasing initiatives from within the community to demonstrate how everyone can get involved. Publishing a timeline which is regularly updated is helpful to demonstrate progress.
- The website can also provide resources for residents on how to help reduce their carbon and ecological footprint in their everyday lives.
The plan is presented in an accessible way. Avoid jargon if possible and, if jargon is used, ensure it is defined. Include a glossary. It needs to be accessible for a range of disabilities
Plans should be structured in a way that makes them easy to read and navigate. Plans should include: a table of contents, an executive summary, clear outlines of objectives, timelines for action, and a table summary of actions.
LINK TO Existing Plans & Strategies
The plan should include links to existing council plans and strategies. The Plan should be firmly integrated with the local authority’s existing plans and strategies, for example, the Corporate Plan, Biodiversity Plan, Air Quality Plan, Local Plan, Transport/Movement Strategy, Local Industrial Strategy etc.
- Arrangements for regular updates to the plan. The Plan should lay out how it will be updated on a regular basis to show progress towards targets as well as to reflect changes in things such as national government support, resources, funding, technology or scientific knowledge.
As much as a local authority would like to be able to ‘fix’ everything, there are financial, legislative, practical, cultural and technological challenges to reaching net zero carbon as soon as possible and to ensuring climate resiliency for the community. The limitations of the Plan should be acknowledged, as well as how some of those limitations can be overcome.
Present a realistic view of what the local authority can and cannot do. The plan should be ambitious but it is important to recognise those places where ambition may hit current realities [See London Borough of Islington as an example]. If relevant and possible, the plan should indicate how those limitations will be overcome including where others need to act. Reference existing resources and capabilities, as well as responsibilities depending on local authority tier. This section of the plan needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure that the council is taking advantage of Government initiative s available at the time, e.g. Green Homes Grant.
Identify where the UK Government needs to be lobbied, and commit the authority to doing so. Many councils included a commitment to lobby Government, in their Climate Emergency declarations. There are many areas where local authorities can help influence policy to support climate action. These could include lobbying for legislation, changes in policy and funding and participating in public information campaigns. The Plan should indicate the actions the Authority will take to lobby the Government, whether directly as part of a special interest group (SIG) or in partnership with other organisations. For example local government organisations have formed a coalition with NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Ashden to draw up a ‘Blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at local level’.
Acknowledge the challenge
- Acknowledge that climate change is a ‘grand challenge.’ The inherent complexities of the climate crisis and the need to simultaneously tackle the ecological emergency mean there are no single or simple solutions. The climate and ecological crisis is already exacerbating inequities and inequalities. Actions must support people equitably to ensure that no-one is left behind. For example, it is critical that the Plan lays out how people in carbon intensive industries, whose livelihoods are at risk, can be supported into low carbon sectors. The Plan needs to recognise the multifaceted nature of this ‘grand challenge.’
Components of a strong action plan
This next section outlines major components of a strong action plan. They are divided into themes
Measuring and Setting Emissions Targets
Reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) or Carbon Equivalents (DCE) Emissions form a critical component of climate emergency action plans. Reductions in emissions include climate mitigation or taking active steps to slow the impacts of the climate crisis. Plans should:
- Include a Baseline Emission Inventory for Greenhouse Gas Emissions. It is standard practice to measure emissions reductions using a baseline of 1990.
- Include quantified current GHG or CE emissions for the area. There are many data sets and tools available that local authorities can access when assessing their emissions. Some examples are BEIS and SCATTER data and the Tyndall Carbon Budget Tool.
- Include a breakdown of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. This should be quantified for emissions under local authority control and emissions for the entire authority area. This is to clearly indicate which emissions the council is and is not responsible for. The Local Government Association has a free tool to calculate Scope 1,2 and basic Scope 3 emissions
- Clearly state science-based GHG or CE emissions reductions targets. At the very minimum, these targets should be in line with the Paris Agreement. A majority of local authorities that have declared a climate emergency have set a target to reduce their own emissions to zero by 2030, and have also set ambitions for their area that are well before the UK Government Target of 2050.
Be careful with terms. Defining terms such as net zero and carbon neutrality is not straightforward. Carbon neutral, climate neutral, net zero, zero emissions and decarbonisation have all been used interchangeably. Researchers at The University of Manchester and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research have set out a consistent and operational approach for policymakers to help avoid falling into the ‘net zero’ jargon trap.
Highlight actions on key areas for emissions reductions. The plan should identify key areas as well as identify sectoral partners for actions, especially for those outside of local authority control. Critical emissions reductions areas include: energy, transport, heat, the built environment, consumption and waste, dietary choices, biodiversity/nature and land use. This is a minimum: local authorities may wish to identify even more areas that they would like to address. Even if a local authority (such as a town or parish council) does not have control over assets in these areas, there are still many actions that can be done to support emissions reductions on a smaller scale. For an expanded section on areas for emissions reductions and ideas of specific actions that could be taken
- Focus on emissions reductions and not simply carbon offsetting. The plan should seek to meet emissions targets through reducing emissions and not rely mainly on large scale offsetting or future use of unproven technological solutions. Using carbon removal activities are valid, however, when seeking to remove existing emissions as part of a mitigation strategy: they also often have co-benefits, for example planting trees supports increased biodiversity as well as carbon sequestration. So while offsetting will form a key part of climate action plans, it should not be used as an excuse to continue high emission behaviours.
- Include a recognition of projected population and regional economic activity and the impact on emissions. Plans should clearly plan for changes in emissions as the area experiences projected population and economic growth/shrinkage.
Consider using CDP Cities platform for environmental data comparison, managing, and transparency
The UK could be seeing an average of 4+°C warming, leading to many more extreme weather events. Sea level rise means many parts of the UK will need to make significant changes to continue living in coastal regions. Plans should therefore include:
- The implications of local climate change for the area. Local authorities know their areas and their needs best. Plans should consider how the local authorities will adapt and improve their resilience to local, national & international climate impacts both now and in the future. Climate impacts to consider include: extreme local weather; sea level rise; impact on critical infrastructure, supply chains, local natural environment, residents (e.g. health, housing, education, employment); impacts on service delivery, the local economy, epidemics; effects of heat islands; and the impact of climate migration, as some areas of the UK, and the rest of the world, may become less or even uninhabitable.
- Acknowledgement of planetary boundaries. Plans can be structured around planetary boundaries (the doughnut model) to help identify areas that action should be focused on.
- How to address the ecological emergency. Many local authorities have also declared an ‘ecological’, ‘biodiversity’, ‘environmental’ or ‘nature’ emergency.
Just, Resilient, and Healthy Communities
Climate impacts do not and will not affect all the community equally. It is critical that plans are designed to increase social equity, address environmental injustice, and support those most vulnerable in the community
2.2 Just resilient and healthy communities
Climate impacts do not and will not affect all the community equally. It is critical that plans are designed to increase social equity, address environmental injustice, and support those most vulnerable in the community.
2.2.1. Social Inclusion
- Include a recognition of and present an active plan to address social and environmental justice issues. The plan should clearly identify who climate impacts will harm most and include an equalities impact assessment. For example, older people are at most risk of extremes of heat and cold; while people living in deprived areas have less access to green space, are more likely to experience the urban heat island effect, and tenants are less able than owner-occupiers to modify their homes to adapt to climate change.
- Include the consequences of no action. Areas that should be addressed throughout the document include: energy and fuel poverty; public health; food insecurity; improving job skills, clean air, flood risk and recovery; educational risks and social risks, quality of public space and assets.
- Addresses accessibility and connectivity to key services. Access to key services should be addressed in the action plan. This should include, at a minimum: affordability of transport, transport connectivity, and accessibility to key services.
- Propose how to focus resources to support vulnerable communities. The plan should suggest additional action for supporting the communities that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, ensuring that they are equitably supported.
2.2.2. Diversity and Inclusion
- Present a plan to ensure under-represented groups in the environmental sector will be included. There should be a plan to ensure that currently underrepresented groups (e.g. BAME, women, those with disabilities, working class whites, etc.) are actively supported in being a part of the changing landscape.
- Recognise the intergenerational inequity of climate change impacts. The plan should seek to include youth at all stages to help ensure they have the tools to be resilient in a less climate stable future.
- Include faith communities as allies in climate response.
- Include the arts sector. As change makers, imagination capturers, and communicators, those in the art sector are critical allies in responding to the climate crisis.
2.2.3 Climate Resilience
The plan should:
- Include ways to help citizens prepare for changes in climate and extreme weather. Couple sentences For example: publishing a leaflet on how to prepare for emergencies; active engagement with homeowners to increase flood protection for their homes; increase volunteers in emergency response groups; host informational sessions on preparing for extreme weather, etc.
- Ensure that language used accurately portrays the urgency of the climate emergency. Language used in the plan and subsequent local authority messaging around the climate crisis should not be softened. It is important that local authorities are transparent and open about the risks to their communities.
- Outline how the local authority will actively support programs that bring people together. The local authority can increase community resilience by supporting programs that increase social cohesion, community engagement, and local self-sufficiency. Some ideas that address climate action as well as community resilience include: repair workshops; community bicycle repair workshops; community fridges; community gardens; local food hubs; tool sharing clubs; kitchens for people to cook food and take it home; energy advice cafes; bicycle giveaway schemes;
2.2.4 Public Health
Plans should include:
- Public health as a key component across the different action themes. Public health will be impacted as changes in climate occur. Local authorities should consider impacts ranging from disruptions in supply chains to preparing citizens for heat waves and understanding long term health impacts should food insecurity increase. The plan should also make links with the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment identifying how climate actions can deliver public health objectives such as reducing childhood obesity or respiratory disease.
- What a green recovery looks like post Covid-19.
- Plans to develop a strategy for addressing epidemics and pandemics as part of wider climate actions. The current Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ways in which ecological collapse can impact human populations and economies. There is a need to begin planning for further epidemics and pandemics and how that can be combined with climate action.
2.2.5. Education, Skills and Training
- Include education and schools as a key component across the different action themes in the plan. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. They are also those who will be most impacted by the climate crisis. There should be plans to actively engage with and include youth across the action plan. The plan should include helping schools themselves to reduce their own carbon emissions.
- Identify the skills and capacity needed to transform the local economy at the scale and pace needed.The plan should include how and when this will be met. Education providers and careers services also need to be upskilled in identifying future employment trends and opportunities.
- Demonstrate that the local authority has a plan to upskill its employees to meet climate challenges. The local authority should lead the way in ensuring its workforce is climate resilient and focused on climate action. One approach is to have a climate champion in every department responsible for ensuring that the climate emergency is factored into every decision. There are free carbon literacy training materials that are available for local authorities.
2.3. Local Authority Commitment
A climate emergency declaration is not legally-binding and thus lies on the political will of each local authority to declare it and enact an action plan accordingly. For a local authority to become sustainable they need to commit to an organisational culture change in which climate emergency and climate mitigation and adaptation measures are treated with priority. This requires extensive political will and leadership which is vital for the materialisation of legal and non-legally binding commitments. The absence of a legal obligation in turn can affect the presence and/or quality of action plans.
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