England & Wales, Global Climate action and sustainable development

Tackling the climate emergency amid the Covid crisis

Image by Maria Godfrida from Pixabay

The Covid 19 emergency will transition into climate action urgency.

Research carried out by Abundance Investment in collaboration with the University of Leeds and funded by Place Climate Action Network, shows that the vast majority of citizens look to their local authority to deliver action in response to the climate emergency.

The impact of the Covid 19 crisis has made the importance of taking a long-term view on the necessary investment in the sustainability and resilience of our economic and social infrastructure all too plain.

While the carbon clock may be slowed by the lockdown of our economy; it is still ticking. Recently, the IPCC reported that we have 8 years to get the world on track to limit climate change to 1.5ºC. Covid-19 has, at a minimum, set us back three months which alarmingly equates to three per cent of our time to fix the climate (the reductions in CO2 emissions during lock down will do little to slow the overall trend). Residents will be looking not just to national government but to councils to take the lead on rebooting their local economies. However, the research shows that it will be critical to ensure this reboot stimulates not just an economic recovery but also kickstarts an accelerated transition to a NetZero economy.

Over the course of 2019 local authorities took significant steps forward on climate change. Over 75 per cent of councils declared a climate emergency and established ambitious NetZero targets. In the last month many councils will have put on hold discretionary activities, such as climate, because of the lockdown and because personnel have been seconded to Covid-19 disaster relief and delivering against statutory responsibilities.

In the post viral world, there is no doubt that councils will see it as their responsibility to take the lead in helping restart their local economies. The private sector will need time to recover and build up capital to invest and as a result, local authorities will be the ones who can take the lead in getting money moving again in the local economy. The challenge for council leaders will be to ensure that once the lock down is relaxed, the first investment pounds they spend will put people to work to grow the green economy and take practical action on carbon reduction and climate resilience.

The PCAN research, which was carried out with a sample of 2000 adults from across the UK, supplemented by focus groups (offline and online respondents as the Corona crisis accelerated) was very clear. People see the climate emergency as a top priority for action locally and that urgency was not dimmed by the short term impact of the pandemic – only seven per cent of respondents did not want their councils to lead on the issue.

To meet the challenge of climate change requires change at the state, council, business and individual level. However, change especially at the individual level often comes with a personal cost. People will only make these changes if they feel optimistic about the future and critically if they see that other people are also taking action. A council’s role in fighting climate change is therefore not simply about installing measures such as solar panels and EV charging points. It is also about demonstrating leadership and doing this in a way which builds optimism and stimulates change across their community.

This is where the key challenge lies for councils, currently only a relatively small percentage (23 per cent) of residents know their council has declared a climate emergency or if it has a progressive environmental policy. The research showed that finding an engaging and direct way to communicate that action had a real impact on the individual attitudes and behaviours of citizens both in terms of their response to the climate emergency and also in their relationship to the council as a trusted institution. If a council does not communicate that it has retrofitted a building or installed solar panels, it is losing half the benefit of the action.

This is where the PCAN research shines a light on a solution (as the Leeds City Council Climate Citizen Jury requested and the PCAN research corroborated), people want to help their councils and regions decarbonise and invest to help the delivery of NetZero. For instance, 73 per cent of local savers and investors would be willing to invest their money to help their council deliver NetZero. This builds on the work carried out by University of Leeds Financing for Society Project in 2019, which in collaboration with leading councils developed the concept of a Community Municipal Bond as an efficient, low cost means of councils raising money from their residents as an alternative to PWLB.

West Berkshire and four other councils are pioneering this new approach and in 2020 intend to raise money via Community Municipal Climate Bonds from their residents and use this to kick start a sustainable and collective approach to their regions Covid 19 recovery.

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