Local government is forefront in striving towards Scotland’s 2045 net zero targets. However, the exact route for local government to do so remains less than clear.
Following in the path of numerous Highland Council Climate initiatives, in this blog, we take a look at Highland Councils Climate Change Committee to examine what exactly climate leadership looks like in local government.
In September 2022, members of the Highland Council agreed to the terms of reference and the formal creation of a new Climate Change Committee. The important role of this Committee is to exemplify the significance of council leadership in tackling climate change.
The critical role councils can play in achieving Scotland’s 2045 net zero targets is well-established. With the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 placing a legal duty on Councils to support national efforts to tackle climate change, twenty-eight Scottish councils have declared or recognised the climate emergency.
Audit Scotland’s recent briefing paper delineates the need for councils to manage their own activities, estates and assets, and to demonstrate leadership in tackling climate change in their communities.
In a similar vein, the Scottish Government’s report on Public Sector Leadership on the climate emergency offers guidance for Councils on leadership, such as clear accountability across senior leadership on climate action, ratifying climate action in strategic and financial plans, KPIs and staff engagement.
Climate leadership at Highland Council
Leading climate action in the Highland Council broadly takes two approaches:
- An inward focus on climate action within the Council.
- An outward focus on Climate action in collaboration with the community.
Focused on climate action within the Council, the Climate Action Committee is a fourteen-strong cross-party committee with the main function being to provide scrutiny on the following workstreams:
- Built estate, energy/asset management;
- Social housing;
- Fleet and staff travel;
- Waste and the circular economy;
- Procurement and community wealth building;
- Planning, land use and environment;
- Capital programme;
- Net zero funding strategy.
The Committee’s Chair, Cllr Karl Rosie, encapsulates the critical role of this Committee as ensuring “that climate change is placed at the very heart of everything we do.” In doing so, the Highland Council outlines its role as providing advice and guidance, identifying and supporting climate progress across the Council and providing “an appropriate level of critical challenge”.
Whilst the exact remit of the Committee remains to be confirmed, meeting climate activists on the 22nd of September, the Committee’s chair and vice chair set out funding for active travel infrastructure; additional posts to the Council’s Climate team; and, increased Electric Vehicle charging points in the Highlands.
The Climate Action Committee complements the Highland Council’s existing climate change strategies, demonstrating that climate change leadership cannot solely look inward. For example, to achieve the Highland Council’s target of a carbon neutral Inverness and low carbon Highland by 2025, the Council is pursuing a collaborative approach with the public, private and voluntary organisations.
By encouraging sign-ups to be carbon CLEVER (Carbon emission reduction, Lead by example, Engagement with others, Value for money, Economic benefits, Raising awareness and promoting behaviour change), the Council embodies the Scottish Government’s emphasis on Public sector leadership on the global climate emergency.
Similarly, the Highland Council has also adopted a leadership approach in collaborating with the local community on Climate Action. The Highland Adapts initiative brings organisations from across the region together to develop a unique approach to adapting to climate change. With a governance approach based on shared power with clear channels of communication and accountability, the Highland Adapts bring communities, businesses and the public sector together to facilitate transformational action towards a prosperous, climate-ready Highland.
Overall, the Climate Action Council marks an important step forwards in the Council’s leadership on climate action. Whilst Audit Scotland is right to remain cautious on the long-term role of local government in climate action – given that many Councils have new, and untested, political leaderships – the November meeting of the Climate Action Committee offers an interesting insight into how local governments can embody real change.