West Sussex County Council: Climate Change Strategy

In recognition of the climate emergency, West Sussex County Council launched its Climate Change Strategy during 2020. This underpins their corporate plan, making climate change a fundamental consideration of all actions going forward and elevating progress on a wide variety of supporting projects.

The challenge

As a council we have already worked for many years to act upon climate change; reducing our carbon footprint and committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, playing a leading role in renewable energy programmes, and working to preserve our native biodiversity. The impacts of climate change and the actions needed to address it are however diverse, impacting across all services delivered by West Sussex County Council and requiring a strategic approach that recognises the scale of this challenge.

The solution

West Sussex County Council adopted its Climate Change Strategy in July 2020, which in turn then underpinned our new five year corporate plan “Our Council Plan”. This strategy sets out our intent to act upon five key aspects between now and 2030: reducing our emissions, adapting and building resilience to climate change, growing our local green economy, using our resources sustainably and transforming the way we work.

An extensive delivery plan has since been launched to progress action within these focus areas, including: beginning development of an adaptation pathway for our operations, commencement of a carbon literacy programme, launch of our ‘Climate Conversation’ project to engage with the wider county, planning effective utilisation of our natural capital, and progressing procurement of a county wide electric vehicle charging network.

The importance this focus holds within our organisation is empathised by the fact that our Deputy Leader, Deborah Urquhart, holds the role of Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change and £10m has recently been budgeted specifically for action on climate change. Furthermore, a Climate Change Assessment tool has already been launched to provide our members with an informed view of the climate impact key spend decisions they make will have.

The impact

The value gained from forming our climate change strategy and positioning it so fundamentally to our operations cannot be understated. We are in the early stages of the strategy, yet we are already beginning to see its value through recognition across the organisation of the responsibility we all have to deliver action on climate change. This is subsequently drawing a wider array of engagement and expertise into delivering action. We're pleased to say that this progress is in part represented through already having achieved bronze status with The Carbon Literacy Project.

Our carbon emissions also continue to fall, having reduced 56% since our initial 2010/11 baseline, with a 13 per cent reduction seen under the Climate Change Strategy. There will have been some COVID-19 influence to this reduction and we do expect a small post-pandemic rise in demand, however we are projecting further rapid reductions as projects under the strategy begin to take effect in the run up to 2030.

As this progress under accelerates, we expect our capability to influence change in the wider county to also grow.

Lessons learned

A key lesson learned at this stage has been the value of ‘climate conversations’, both internally as an organisation and externally; helping those who are not familiar with climate change to understand the role they can play and subsequently improving how we utilise the wide array of expertise available to support action needed.

Take natural capital for example; it is an area we are progressing our understanding of rapidly, both as a means of climate resilience and as a potential tool for sequestration. The pace of our improved understanding in this area is largely the result of effective engagement across different services and with local partners, all of whom hold a valuable perspective that combine to give a fuller picture of the way forward.

Also, key has been ensuring we make use of the numerous external resources available to us all. Local authorities collectively have a wide range of experience in this field that we can all learn from to support each other, with the Joint Climate Change Board recently formed between authorities within West Sussex a prime example in how we can all help each other to progress. Similarly, there are numerous resources available from groups such as Local Partnerships, the LGA and ADEPT that we were able to utilise to strength our approach under the Climate Change Strategy. For example, we have been able to use the GHG tool made available by the LGA to support our action on carbon reductions.

Relevant resources