Post-Covid Councils: Sustainable Futures

Introduction

 

Local government has been at the epicentre of the Covid-19 crisis that has unfolded across the world over the past ten months. From providing millions of meals, supporting individuals and communities to ensuring access to care for vulnerable people, councils have quickly made almost unimaginable things happen everyday, everywhere. However, Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief not only the importance of building place-based resilience but also inequalities in that persist across the whole country.

Covid-19 has highlighted and exacerbated systemic inequalities, and there is a looming danger that the potential for a good recovery will be just as unevenly distributed. Linked to this issue of a sustainable and good recovery is the possibility that the pandemic has highlighted a route to a more environmentally sustainable and fairer future, a future that holistically tackles climate change, transport, local food, circular economy and inequalities of all types.

The desire for some kind of “reset” or “build back better” was top of the agenda at the start of the pandemic. Now, after 10 months, the calls to rethink how we shape policy and delivery of public services butt up against urgent calls on government at all levels to deal with the immediate problems of high unemployment and financial difficulty. There appears to be an unavoidable recession to come, so whilst facing the austerity agenda and cuts to local government funding, how are public services going to deliver the green agenda? This is a once in a generation opportunity to make the wish for change that has swept across communities an integral part of the recovery process, but it won’t be easy.

December 12th marks five years since the signing of the Paris Agreement and, as we look towards 2021, this anniversary provides a chance to recognise the vital importance of weaving environmental, social and economic sustainability into the pandemic recovery at a local and national scale. COP26 is on the horizon and the recovery is a pivotal moment for governments, organisations and individuals to urgently catalyse much needed systemic change.

In light of this, the climate crisis has been acknowledged by national governments, the UK Government recently announcing its ambition to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. While this goal is positive progress, it’s important to remember that addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis is about cutting carbon and about developing a more resilient and fair society. This is particularly important given the fact that significant climate change is inevitable regardless of emissions targets, a fact that needs to be acknowledged and prepared for at a local and national level. As the work of LGiU highlights, local government plays a vital role in this change – delivering with speed and working on the sustainable recovery that has been recognised by councils across the world.

Over the last six months the LGIU’s Sustainable Futures theme, as part of our Post-Covid Councils project, has highlighted the practical and pressing opportunities open to local government and its partners in building a cleaner, greener, more sustainable and ultimately fairer future for all. From pieces on air pollution and urban planning to the economy and adaptation, we have brought you original, timely and insightful content from across the world. This work will continue into 2021 as governments everywhere turn their attention to the building blocks of recovery.

The importance of ‘local’ over the course of this pandemic puts councils at the heart of change and there have been a number of recent articles looking at the benefits of tackling climate change through small-scale solutions. From interviews with Council Leaders and blogs from staff working on the front line of sustainable recovery to conversations with partner organisations, this year we have shared first-hand insights. Now, as we stand on the brink of a new year we would love to hear from you about your plans for 2021 and how LGIU can continue support you to develop a more sustainable future for the communities you serve. To get in touch please email us at [email protected]

Content

Post-Covid Councils: building a sustainable future

Kim Fellows, LGIU’s commissioning editor in Scotland, introduces pillar two of our Post-Covid Councils framework, looking at how we build a sustainable future for all. Read the blog here.

Less conversation, more action: ‘Net Zero Decarbonisation’ and ‘Green Recovery Inquiry’ reports

The last few weeks saw the release of two important reports from the UK and Scottish Governments concerning the decarbonisation agenda and post Covid-19 green recovery respectively; the UK wide ‘Net Zero Decarbonisation Report’ and the Scotland-focussed ‘Green Recovery Inquiry’. This briefing highlights the key themes and policy recommendations for local government. Read this briefing here.

Delivering recovery through the Sustainable Development Goals – case studies from across Scotland

As institutions across the world look for ways to “build back better” this briefing examines a Scottish Government review that brings together evidence, actions and stories on (pre-Covid) progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In summarising this report, case studies from local authorities across Scotland are used, and we explore how the localisation of these goals might provide a blueprint for enduring change. Read this briefing here.

Ecological public health: vital to reshape policy for good

The pandemic has reminded us all that the basic functioning of the economy, and the building blocks of a fair society, depend on the good health of all of our population. In this briefing, the interrelationship between health and the environment is discussed, alongside how local government can support a recovery that has positive future implications for public health. Read this briefing here.

So you've declared a climate emergency. What next?

The briefing focuses on case studies of two councils in Victoria, Australia, to better understand how local governments are, and can, respond to and leading change in response to global warming. The results are applicable across Australia – and indeed globally – for anyone interested in building a local government response to mitigating climate change impacts on local communities. Read this briefing here.

Make love not war… please, give the planet a chance

In advance of the upcoming anniversary of the Paris Agreement, LGIU’s Kim Fellows writes personally on the prospects of climate conflict, inequality, and whether we might still be hopeful for a green recovery. Read this blog here.

International lessons from Melbourne’s 20-Minute Neighbourhoods

As the pandemic reduces travel and commuting and people look to their local areas to fulfil needs, the traditional structures of urban areas are called into question. Using case studies, this briefing examines the idea of the 20-minute neighbourhood. Read this briefing here.

Going even lower? What next for Low and Ultra Low Emission Zones and tackling air pollution in cities?

LEZs are aimed at improving air quality, protecting public health and supporting wider climate change ambitions. Work on introducing more LEZs in Scotland have resumed after Covid-19 delays, but they are not expected until 2022, and there are also delays to English Clean Air Zones (CAZs) planned for 2020 – some being postponed indefinitely. Read this briefing here.

Homes fit for our future: getting on with climate-friendly housing

Achieving carbon neutrality in the UK within the next twenty to thirty years requires innovation throughout the housing system. This paper examines innovation impacts in embodied, operational and land-based emissions, and explores routes to make yesterday’s innovations tomorrow’s ‘business as usual’. Read this briefing here.

Maximising local socio-economic benefits of low-carbon development through shared learning

This briefing should be of interest to local authorities who want to undertake or encourage low-carbon development without having to rely entirely on corporate (or other private sector) development and the negative local externalities that often accompany it. Read this briefing here.

A future worth retiring for? The case for divesting local government pensions

In this Swift Read we examine briefly the environmental, social and financial cases for local government divestment from fossil fuels, before looking at steps that councillors and officers can take to support a green shift in pension fund portfolios. Read this briefing here.

Renewing Ireland through meeting the challenge of climate change

Dr. Seán Ó’Riordáin discusses how the Irish government plans to face up to the challenges of climate change and Covid-19. This briefing addresses the economic response (highlighting Ireland’s Green New Deal), meeting the relevant costs of the programme and the implications for local government as key players in implementing it. Read this briefing here.

Sustainable Futures: Community wealth building

Now, in the recovery phase, there is an opportunity to implement alternative approaches to local economic development that prioritise the needs and wants of local people and communities over that of external shareholder profit. This briefing will be of interest to local authorities who want to take action to address the external leakage of locally generated wealth and in doing so help address socio-economic inequalities in their localities. Read this briefing here.

Doughnut Economics: a lifebelt for the planet?

This briefing examines the concept of ‘Doughnut Economics’ as an increasingly popular model around which to structure change at a local level. For local government, this model offers a guide to policy making that re-centres value by setting out the social and ecological parameters for decision-making while fostering collaboration and inter-departmental working. Read this briefing here.

The Future of Nature and Business: a blueprint for change

The World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Nature and Business’ report highlights the materiality of nature loss for businesses and details what transitions are needed to move towards a nature-positive economy. In this briefing, we explore the blueprint set out by these transitions and examine the lessons and opportunities for local government. Read this briefing here.

Community wealth building in North Ayrshire

Earlier this year, North Ayrshire Council launched its Community Wealth Building Strategy, becoming the first Council in Scotland to adopt this bold and radical economic approach. Councillor Joe Cullinane, Leader of North Ayrshire Council, tells us how it works and how he hopes it can make a real difference to communities. Read this blog here.

Moving towards a sustainable economic recovery for Scotland

This briefing outlines the key recommendations recently made by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery to Scottish Government. These recommendations are detailed in a recent report outlining the steps needed to safeguard a fair and sustainable economic recovery from Covid-19. Read this briefing here.

A ‘child’s rights’ approach: how one question can help councils plan fairer and healthier futures

Choosing policies that are coherent with child health and environmental sustainability, rather than accelerated ecological decline, is necessary for a sustainable and fair future. Embedding children’s rights in policy-making starts with one question: how do our policies affect young people’s life-chances now and in the future? Read this briefing.

The Granite City becomes the Green City

When Aberdeen City Council was named Local Authority of the Year at the MJ Achievement Awards 2020, judges noted “a pioneering capital programme and significant investments in the social and cultural future of its communities”. In this blog Co-leaders Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing share their work, emphasising sustainability initiatives. Read this blog here.

In Conversation: Bushfires and Natural Hazards, What’s Your Plan B (and C, D, E)?

In this second in our ‘LGiU In Conversation’ series, Tara Callinan from SGS Economics and Planning interviews Dr John Bates, Research Director at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC (CRC), to better understand how local governments in Australia can access and benefit from the work of the CRC to support their community’s disaster preparedness. Read or listen to the interview here.

Everyone’s business – Climate Week in Scotland

While the world’s attention remains focused on the pandemic, this year’s Climate Week comes as a timely reminder that Covid-19 is not the only crisis the planet faces. LGIU’s Alice Creasy writes on how climate change is already affecting the UK, and the role of local authorities in working to incorporate climate strategies into recovery. Read this blog here.