England & Wales, Global, Ireland, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development

Did you miss our post-COP26 event? Catch up here

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Our recent webinar was held virtually in partnership with the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place at the University of Liverpool – find a link to their latest COP26 briefing at the bottom of this page. Chaired by Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGIU, this event brought together experts from across the UK and Ireland to consider the key outcomes from COP26 with a specific focus on what they mean for local authorities – including how they can be practically achieved and delivered.

See LGIU’s COP 26 and local government workstream which rounds up all our recent climate change work. 

Speakers:

  • Chris Murray (Director, Core Cities UK)
  • Anna Marie Delaney (Chief Executive, Offaly County Council)
  • Mark Atherton (Director of Environment, Greater Manchester Combined Authority).

Watch the recording of the event below, or keep reading for a written summary of key discussions.

 

Key moments from COP26

The event began with panellists highlighting their key moments of COP.

Chris Murray reflected on the leadership and the innovative dialogue displayed by local authorities at COP, noting the significance of a key finance event organised by Core Cities. He did, however, express frustration at the lack of acknowledgement, during COP, of the role of local places confronting the challenges of climate.

Anna Marie Delaney highlighted the importance of coal phase-out within the COP discussions, the $8.5 billion partnership to fund South Africa’s transition to net zero. She reflected on the challenges she, as a leader in an area undergoing socio-economic transition due to the shut down of peat mining and fossil fuel-based electricity generation, has to confront on an ongoing basis as the Midlands Just Transition process in Ireland is advanced.

Mark Atherton spoke about some of the achievements that have been lost in the media reporting including successes in investing in innovation, the Break Through Agenda which all of the major emitters signed up to, the launch of a COP26 product efficiency call to action and the participation of local authorities in the Race to Zero.

What exactly do we need local government to be doing to unlock progress?

The Panellists went on to discuss what actions are required to enable knowledge transfer and progress on net zero at a local level. Anna Marie Delaney highlighted the importance of finance, the key position local authorities hold in communities, the role of community leadership and the urgency of addressing policy silos, principally at national level.

Chris Murray highlighted the role of demonstrator projects, working with the private sector and the need to set aside the notion that competition is the best driver of progress. There is a need to focus on collaborating with stakeholders from across a wide range of sectors. In doing so he highlighted three key challenges to collaboration

  1. In order to solve the climate crisis, we must tackle the social care crisis.
  2. The issue of centralisation – particularly in the UK – and the revenue streams available at the local level to tackle net zero.
  3. Lack of strategic funding – national funding that local authorities are forced to compete for.

Mark Atherton emphasised the opportunities available to local places by working directly with the investment market, in developing ‘informed clients’ who are willing to invest in local places and creating the right narrative around behaviour change.

Anna Marie Delaney noted that in many local communities there are a lot of fears and anxiety around the climate crisis. Local governments must play a key role in combating those fears, encouraging communities to take advantage of the many opportunities, economic and social, that climate transition can bring to the local areas most affected by climate enforced transition.  Dealing with uncertainty and supporting climate action should be delivered through the lens of opportunity. Leading by example is a key part of that approach, alongside communicating the co-benefits of climate change.

Is there a crisis of trust in institutions?

Mark Atherton discussed the opportunity for local authorities to work with a range of community partners but also highlighted the weakening communication link in the UK between local government and communities.

Anna Marie Delaney noted the contrast in that regard with the relationships between local authorities in Ireland and their diverse communities. She spoke about the evolving and fluctuating nature of trust with communities and the important role which local authorities play in pulling different stakeholders together to deliver messages locally.

Chris Murray highlighted the role of social pressure in facilitating behaviour change, of articulating the co-benefits of the net zero pathway and the importance of adaptation.

How do we sell behaviour change to individuals? How do we engage other big players in both the public and private sector?

Mark Atherton highlighted the role for local government working with larger public and private organisations and of holding them to account. Also, the importance of trying to get people to buy and value things that are less carbon-intensive.

Anna Marie Delaney emphasised the importance of building resilience, of ensuring affordability and of persisting through adversity. The voice of local government and of local communities must be vital in advancing the net zero agenda.

How do we put conditionality on new developments to ensure low energy usage?

Mark Atherton emphasised the importance of local area energy plans, of building a street-by-street understanding of current energy systems and future requirements.

Is our use of data sufficiently strong in this area?

Chris Murray discussed how much more local authorities could be doing to join the dots between datasets and how they inform policy-making. The importance of learning from the pandemic- what worked well and what did not.

How is this transition different in rural communities?

Chris Murray highlights the links between urban and rural areas and Anna Marie Delaney spoke about the opportunities available in rural areas such as remote working opportunities, future employment opportunities, working with universities, health and wellbeing, green tourism and of piloting decarbonisation zones in towns.

What is the one thing you want to achieve over the next year

All speakers emphasised the importance of collaboration but Anna Marie finished up with a critical message: “…enough of talking and making plans, let’s get on with it!”

Related content: The Heseltine Institute’s latest policy brief, ‘Climate Finance and Urban Futures at COP26‘, is from Heseltine Institute Research Associate Dr Sawyer Phinney, who attended the conference in Glasgow. In this briefing, they highlight the challenge of attracting private investment and identify a series of policy tools that could be adopted to increase spending. 

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