We know that UK councils are crucial to creating the low-emission future we need. According to the Climate Change Committee, local authorities have influence over a third of emissions in their area and 83% of councils have declared a climate emergency, showing willingness for action. However,  we know that it’s hard for outside observers to understand what councils are doing to reduce emissions across all the areas they can influence, what the most effective actions are and if a council is embedding tackling the climate crisis across its governance structures. 

We are producing the Scorecards because we truly believe in the power of local government and local communities to shape, prepare and create low-emission futures. We need to tackle the global climate emergency together. Our Scorecards will demonstrate and celebrate where councils are doing so by acting local, and using their powers and influence to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their whole area and even beyond. This is the key reason behind producing the Council Climate Action Scorecards. It will be a UK wide database containing the best practice in councils’ climate action – accessible for councillors, officers and campaigners to understand which local authorities are taking effective action to reduce emissions. The Action Scorecards follow our holistic assessment of the strength of UK councils’ climate action plans and strategies, the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, published in January 2022.

We have seen the power of the data we produced as part of creating the Plan Scorecards. We’ve heard from councillors, officers and campaigners that they have utilised the Plan Scorecards to push for greater climate action and more effective policies. For example, Luke McCarthy, Senior Green Skills Specialist at Surrey County Council, used the Scorecards as a research tool to make contact with councils that had strong green skills objectives in their plans – you can read more on that here. We also know that organisations such as the Green Finance Institute, The Commitment, Lancaster University and others have utilised the Scorecards to improve their work. We want the Action Scorecards to have an even greater impact than the Plan Scorecards.

We know that no council, yet, is doing enough to reduce emissions or embed tackling the climate emergency across everything they do. For example, three years after the majority of councils declared climate emergencies, only a handful of councils have named the climate emergency as a strategic objective within their Corporate Plans or in their Local Plan. We also know that there are a number of councils who are striving to do everything they can, within their powers and resources to reduce emissions across their whole area.

We know that councils will need greater financial support and policy frameworks from the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Irish executive. However, as demonstrated by the Blueprint Coalition’s recently released Blueprint Progress Tracker, the UK government is jeopardising local climate action with inadequate support. And this has been jeopardised further by the Autumn budget which can only be described as a new round of austerity for local government. We hope to use the results for the Action Scorecards to demonstrate where local authorities are trying to reduce emissions, but are being stopped by government institutions, such as the Planning Inspectorate, or because of a lack of long-term, secure funding from central governments. We submitted the Plan Scorecards data to the Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into Local Authorities and Net-Zero and we hope to engage with national politicians and government departments once the results of the Action Scorecards are released. We will also make sure that other local government advocates, such as members of the Blueprint Coalition, UK100, Sustainable Scotland Network and others are aware and able to utilise the results to push for greater support from national governments.

But, as difficult as it will be, this is not the time for councils to de-prioritise tackling the climate and biodiversity emergencies or to stop pushing the UK and devolved administrations for further support. To do so would leave communities more vulnerable, heaping the fallout of the climate crisis on the shoulders of future generations and signalling to national governments that tackling the climate emergency was just a phase, a brief window when councils cared about the climate emergency.

Instead councils must continue to think global, by tackling the climate emergency, but act local, by creating the low-emission communities we need to thrive. The Council Climate Action Scorecards will demonstrate which councils are striving to do this as well as some of the most effective actions councils can take. We will be using this methodology to start marking councils in the new year, with the results being published in Autumn 2023. Then, we’ll be able to see the real state of climate action from UK councils.