There is increasing recognition and acknowledgement of the scale of the climate crisis we are facing. We tend to discuss this crisis on a grand scale, in global or national terms. True, the scale and significance of the change is enormous, affecting whole populations and ecosystems. Yet, even so, it is experienced in local places and on a very human scale. While the climate emergency is a global crisis, it needs to be tackled at multiple levels. It requires coordination internationally and nationally, with funding, governance and partnerships directed in the right places.
But the changes that we need to see in our daily lives must be locally radical, and replicated many times over. Local action is, therefore, an essential component of climate action and local government an essential agent in its leadership.
The UK has taken great strides in reducing domestic emissions. But the hard miles on the road to net zero are still in front of us. To deliver change at the pace and scale required, councils have a crucial role to play, as they have influence over significant sources of emissions, established local networks, detailed knowledge of their communities, and democratic accountability.
More than 300 councils in the UK have declared climate emergencies, but the pace and scale of changes required can seem daunting, particularly for councils operating alone. Many local authorities have shown vision, ambition and innovation in delivering climate action. These achievements have illustrated that councils are essential for leading on decarbonisation.
As the cost of living crisis begins to bite and energy prices continue to rise, the political consensus around net-zero begins to look more fragile. Big, showpiece events like the COP 27 summit in Egypt are important for building and maintaining consensus. Quite rightly, they draw a great deal of attention. But, again, the support of local communities will be essential. Action to decarbonise the economy will be built around their needs and aspirations, providing opportunities and frameworks for collective change.
Public participation and engagement are not just ‘nice to have’ as a supplement to decisions around climate action, they are necessary for its success. So, local government finds itself asking not only what practical steps they need to take to advance the net-zero agenda but also how they continue to build democratic consent around it.
This series of case studies shows how local governments around the world are leveraging community consent to bring about real changes in behaviour. Many of these case studies are about UK local authorities, and all of them demonstrate tangible action that councils can take now to support climate action. They cover everything from new ways of financing adaptation and action to finding ways to make people’s lives better and greener.
Both reaching and sustaining net zero will be impossible without good governance practices. From brave leadership and holistic decision-making, to strong cross sector collaboration and meaningful public engagement, transformational change cannot happen without effective governance that looks beyond net zero and prioritises equity and a just transition. Despite the challenges associated with local climate governance, councils across the world are developing innovative strategies to facilitate effective and inclusive climate action.
In 2019 Oxford City Council became the first local authority in the UK to establish a citizens assembly to help address the issue of climate change, and consider the measures that should be taken in Oxford. Made up of a randomly selected group of Oxford’s citizens, the assembly met regularly over a two-week period to discuss issues, consult independent experts, help consider new carbon targets and additional measures to reduce emissions.
The Assembly broadly supported strong climate action with a majority of members feeling that the city should aim to achieve net zero sooner than 2050 and that Oxford should be a leader in tackling the climate crisis. However, around 1 in 4 to 1 in 3 participants rejected the most ambitious visions of a future Oxford and were concerned by the burden of responsibility being placed on individuals. IPSOS Mori summarised the Assembly’s findings in a final report.
Among other things, the Assembly’s findings led the City Council to set a Climate Emergency Budget that commits over £1 million additional operational funding and £18 million of capital investment to address the climate emergency.
Lisbon adopted participatory budgeting at a municipal scale in 2008, making it the first European capital to do so. This decision allowed citizens to use parts of the Council’s annual budget for community projects. In 2020 this process was made more sustainable by focusing the participatory budget exclusively on proposals for a more sustainable, resilient and environmentally-friendly city.
The Lisbon Green participatory budget mobilises a hybrid model of citizen engagement which includes web-based platforms for voting and proposal submission, alongside in-person discussion and debate. The total budget for the Green PB process is EUR 5 million. You can read more about the process here.
Circular economy initiatives have the capacity to bring significant environmental, economic and social benefits and are a vital part in supporting a just transition to net zero. In recognition of this cities and regions across the world are developing circular economy programmes.
One example of this is Peterborough’s Circular Commitment which brings together local partners to meet the city’s commitment to becoming a circular city by 2050. The city tracks progress against the circular city ambitions and is developing a three-pillared measurement framework composed of i) a Circular Economy Maturity Model that can offer a qualitative circularity tracker for businesses and the city, ii) a selection of Key Performance Indicators, and iii) a tracking of material flows in the city.
Beginning in 2015 through the UK Future City Demonstrators grant, the programme has managed to avoid over GBP 2,141 in new purchases and landfill fees, and diversion of over 220kg of resources from landfill. Over 70 local organisations have signed up to the Circular Peterborough commitment and over 315 users have registered on the Share Peterborough platform since mid-2017.
The city has also held a series of workshops to capture learning from the programme and is partnering with UCL and Cranfield University to further develop their indicator set, develop scenario plans for the city and support training opportunities for students.
As the offshore wind sector grows across, coastal towns across the UK have an opportunity to benefit. An example of this is Great Yarmouth where Scottish Power’s East Anglia One Wind Farm has created 3,500 jobs in construction and 100 long-term skilled jobs in operation and maintenance. Another operations and maintenance contract with Vattenfall will create 150 jobs for 25 years and hundreds more in the supply chain.
Great Yarmouth has some of the highest proportion of deprived neighbourhoods in the country. To help ensure that local people are able to benefit from the investments in offshore wind the East of England Offshore Wind Centre opened in the town in 2018. Made possible by a £1.1 million grant from the New Anglia Skills Deal Programme, provided by Norfolk County Council, Suffolk local authorities and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the centre supports local people to reskill and gain employment in the offshore wind industry.
Examples like this one highlight potential benefits for local people in terms of access to training and new jobs in the green economy. These opportunities will likely form part of the mix in building consensus for interventions, if they can be given long term frameworks of institutional and financial support.
There remains a significant gap in global funding for mitigation and adaptation projects. This is particularly acute in countries of the Global South whose people are the most vulnerable to the climate crisis. While large-scale change is unlikely without significant effort by the international community to address this gap (particularly by those in the Global North), local authorities across the planet are developing innovative finance strategies to fund local projects.
West Berkshire set up its Community Municipal Investment offer in 2020, which raised its first £1m with 23% of investment coming from local people. The money raised through the bonds has been invested in rooftop solar at council-owned sites around West Berkshire. This initiative was the first to allow investors to donate their investment returns back to the council to help finance other hard to find projects. 16% of West Berkshire Council investors chose to donate their first interest payments towards funding a wildflower verge restoration project carried out in conjunction with the local wildlife trust.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s Financing Society project has helped three UK local authorities and three NHS bodies to conduct feasibility studies on using investment-based crowdfunding to finance specific infrastructure projects in their area. The CMI in West Berkshire was a product of this project, facilitated by the crowd funding platform Abundance and the University of Leeds.
The war in Ukraine, combined with a growing climate crisis has thrown the importance of energy sovereignty into the spotlight. Successful local energy initiatives have the potential to tackle fuel poverty, support local economies, develop resilience and tackle climate change. However, these projects can often be complex, technical, costly and legally challenging.
Plymouth Energy Community is working with Plymouth City Council to develop a community-owned solar farm on the site of an old landfill. Covering 17.8 hectares the Chelson Meadow Community Solar project is set to power 3,800 homes, save 3,330 tonnes of carbon per year, create 9 full time jobs, generate £3.5 million for local projects over the next 30 years and improve local biodiversity by 25%.
The project is expected to cost between £7-£8 million with financial support provided by the PEC, PCC and the Rural Community Energy Fund. Community shares will also be used to generate funding and help people to get involved with the project.
Kensa Heat Pumps, in Cornwall, won funding from the Department of Business, Energy Industrial Strategy under its Heat Pump Ready programme to develop flexible storage heat pump technology, which, if scaled up, could help the transition to low carbon buildings. The pumps can store heat in a thermal battery, separating demand from production They should also be cheaper to produce and install. Kensa is also developing mains style heat pump provision in places like Stithians in Cornwall, where previously most homes were warmed by oil or electric storage heaters. This Heat the Streets programme is supported by £6.2m of European Regional Development Funding.
Colchester Council’s wholly owned energy company, Amphora Energy Ltd, commissioned WJ UK to develop an open loop ground source heat pump as the primary heat source for the council’s Northern Gateway Heat Network. The project is supported by £3.5m from BEIS’s Heat Network Investment Project, one of nine councils to receive the funding. It includes 350 new homes and a 200,000 sq foot leisure park, which is due to open in 2023..
District heat networks draw on both renewable and fossil fuel energy sources to heat domestic and non-domestic buildings in a more efficient, sustainable and affordable way. Such networks are becoming more common across the world. As of March 2022 there were about 2,000 district heat networks in the UK (mostly in urban areas), as well as thousands more community heat systems for institutions including hospitals and universities. These networks make up just two per cent of total UK heat demand however, by 2030, according to the Committee on Climate Change, this could rise to 32%, with 42% possible by 2050.
Government support to build and test new approaches to renewable heating has been extremely useful, but key challenge for the future will be how to make these projects sustainable over the long term. Follow this link to read more about district heating networks in an LGIU members briefing.
Transport is a significant source of emissions in rural areas with employment, services and event a fast internet connection, concentrated in towns and cities. To tackle this challenge Stirling Council has developed Regional Digital Hubs which provide co-working spaces for business and individuals to work remotely in rural areas. These spaces have helped to re-generate local high streets are COVID and offer training opportunities to local people interested in upskilling or setting up their own business. These hubs have been funded through a £2 million package of City Deal investments from the Scottish Government.
The Hubs offer new possibilities for rural economies in the post-covid world. At a time where many local authorities are thinking about ideas like the 20-minute neighbourhood, these hubs offer an answer to the question of what this practice looks like in rural areas. To learn more about Stirling’s Regional Digital Hubs read our interview with Steve McDonald who has been leading this work at Stirling Council.
With over 360 km of cycle lanes Bogotá has one of the largest cycling networks in Latin America. Its pioneering cycling programmes which date back to 1974, have made it one of the world’s leading cycling capitals.
Despite its extensive cycling network, until recently the city was unable to implement bike-sharing schemes which would enable citizens to pick a bike up at a convenient location and drop it off elsewhere in the city. This is largely due to a lack of public financing options and a lack of public financing.
To overcome these barriers Bogotá is pioneering an innovative financing method which allows the city to work with a private operator who pays for the use of public land across the city. This approach means that the city saves money investing & maintaining its own bike share system and allows it to still maintain a degree of control over the network through setting minimum requirements and ensuring accessibility.
‘The weather’ is often cited as a key reason why people are reluctant to cycle in the UK but, with the right infrastructure, it is possible for people to embrace cycling all year round. One example of this is in the Northern Finnish city of Oulu where rates of cycling remain high even in the depths of winter – when the city is covered in a layer of snow for up to 5 months.
In Oulu 20% of all trips are made by bike, this figure falls to 12% in the winter. By comparison, in London only 2% of all trips are made by bike and in the Finish capital of Helsinki this figure is 9%. A key reason why levels of cycling remain high in Oulu throughout the year is the dedicated, well maintained cycling infrastructure. There are over 800km of segregated cycle paths across the city making cycling and walking more accessible, safe and pleasant. What’s more, the Council has made cycle path maintenance a priority even during the winter when they are cleared by a snow plough every morning.
Read this LGiU briefing to learn more about how local authorities can encourage more active, outdoor lifestyles.