A fifth of UK local councils still have not published plans to tackle climate change, despite most having declared a climate emergency more than two years ago.

For the first time, all UK councils’ written Climate Action Plans have been assessed and scored, creating the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, published today by Climate Emergency UK who have led this citizen data science project. Eighty four of the UK’s 409 local authorities have no published plan, while others have plans of very varying quality and ambition.

The average score for Scottish and English councils was 46% dropping to 31% for Wales and 25% for Northern Ireland. Within that, there is a wide variety of scores across all council types. In England, the highest scoring County Council was only 63% compared to 19 District Councils that scored between 63% and 92%.

All UK councils Climate Action Plans that were published online before 20 September 2021 (and written after 2015) were assessed by a team of over 120 volunteers, trained and overseen by Climate Emergency UK. The 28 questions they asked included: whether the climate actions are costed; do the actions have a clear goal; are local residents being engaged with climate action; does the Plan include strategies to decarbonise waste, planning, homes and other services that the council is responsible for; does it go beyond cutting the council’s own emissions and plan to work with others to cut the whole area’s emissions, and does the Plan cover areas such as re-skilling the workforce, climate education, governance and funding for climate action.

Annie Pickering, Campaigns and Policy Officer at CE UK, said: “A good Action Plan has the basics covered. This means that the actions are specific and measurable and assigned to teams or departments. It should also be clear how the plan will be monitored as it is implemented.”

High scoring councils cut across the political divide, such as Somerset West and Taunton Council (Liberal Democrat), Manchester City Council (Labour) and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (Conservative). Four out of the top 5 District Councils are coalition or minority-run councils: East Devon (Democratic Alliance and Independent Progressive Coalition), Staffordshire Moorlands (Conservative minority), Stroud (a cooperative alliance of the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties) and Waverley (Farnham Residents and Liberal Democrats Coalition).

CE UK has only assessed Action Plans this time, not the actions councils are actually taking to reduce emissions and improve biodiversity.

“Councils may be doing good things which aren’t reflected in their Action Plan. That is why next year we will be assessing all councils on what they are actually doing,” said Miss Pickering.

“Local authorities can help to deliver 30% of the cuts in carbon emissions needed to get to net zero, according to the 6th UK Carbon Budget published a year ago, so it is vital that councils do as much as they can”.

Only 86 councils have an area-wide net-zero target of 2030 or earlier, and 33% of councils had not set a net-zero target of 2050 or earlier, according to the Council Climate Plan Scorecards.

Miss Pickering added “This year’s Scorecards are just the start of the process. It has been an important exercise to understand what makes a good council Climate Action Plan and we hope that it will help councils learn from each other and up their game. A good plan will help a local authority deliver effective actions, while having it easily available on the council website will enable local residents to know what their council has committed to and so hold the council to account.

“While we understand that councils need much more support and funding from the national Government, and have been stretched by responding to the pandemic, the fact that some councils have developed well thought out, costed and ambitious plans, shows that it is possible.

Last year the National Audit Office criticised the Government for only providing councils with piecemeal funding and powers to deal with the climate emergency. Imagine what council climate action could happen if councils were given adequate funding and powers.”

The Scorecard websitehttps://councilclimatescorecards.uk – enables you to filter the Scores by various factors to see which council scored best. Filters include current political control of a council, how urban or rural the council is, whether a council is district, unitary, borough, county etc., and by each question. This will help councils to learn from each other about specific climate action they could take.

Background information

Bristol City was the first Council to declare a Climate Emergency in November 2019 during the wave of the Climate School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests.

Climate Emergency UK is a not-for-profit cooperative which has been working with councils and residents since 2019 to share best practice about what councils can do to tackle the climate and ecological emergency and to encourage effective action. 

The Council Climate Plan Scorecards are the first assessment of all the Climate Action Plans produced by first and second tier local authorities in the UK. Climate Action Plans set out what a local authority plans to do to reduce climate emissions and reverse biodiversity loss in line with its climate emergency declaration. The questions asked of councils were based on the Climate Action Plan Checklist, developed by CE UK with help from Friends of the Earth, the Centre for Alternative Technology, Ashden, the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and with feedback from councillors and council staff.

Every council was sent details of their scores and invited to comment and correct any inaccuracies.

In some counties, district councils have signed up to a joint County Council Climate Action Plan, whilst also having their own Plan. In this case, both plans are marked, districts are scored either on the County Plan or on their own, depending on which is relevant to each question. This may go some way to explaining why some district councils do better on the Scorecards.

Link to scorecard websites https://councilclimatescorecards.uk/

You can share/donate to our Crowdfunder to be able mark actual climate action next year here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/council-climate-scorecards