In this episode, one of our NGDP graduates, Katie Goodger, finds out what is taking place on the ground to address climate change, and how communities can be involved in this vital issue.
Episode 8: Climate action – part two
In this second part of our look at climate action we explore the projects taking place around the country to address the climate emergency, as well as the efforts being made to engage the public and find ways to collectively tackle it.
Katie hears from Cllr Martyn Alvey of Cornwall Council, who have won an award for their leadership in responding to the climate emergency; Peter Bryant of Shared Future, who explores the importance of citizen engagement; and Nick Gardner of the National Lottery Community Fund, who talks about the work they do supporting environmental projects across the country.
- Cornwall Council
- Shared Future CIC
- The National Lottery Community Fund – climate action hub
- LGA – climate change hub
- LGA – a local path to net zero
- Subscribe to LGA climate change bulletin
Hello and welcome to this episode of the Forget What You Think You Know podcast. I’m Katie Goodger, a graduate trainee at the Local Government Association.
Last year I attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, where organisations, governments and businesses came together to try to reach an agreement to tackle the climate emergency.
In the previous episode of this podcast, I talked to a number of experts about the outcome of the summit and what action is needed, as well as the importance of hearing diverse voices in climate discussions.
Now I want to find out more about what is actually taking place on the ground to address climate change, and how communities can be involved in this vital issue.
First off, I spoke to Councillor Martyn Alvey, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Climate Change at Cornwall Council. Cornwall recently won an award for their work in responding to the climate emergency, and we discussed how councils can take a lead.
Hi Martyn, and thank you for speaking with me today. Cornwall Council won the Municipal Journal Award for its leadership in responding to the climate emergency. That must have been a really proud achievement. Could you tell us about some of the projects the council has been working on?
Cllr Martyn Alvey
Yes. Certainly, and I think first of all, I've got to acknowledge the fact that the success in winning the award came about as a result of a lot of hard work by my predecessor on the Cabinet and the staff within the council.
It brought together, as well our our clear plan and strategy as to how we as a council are going to work towards achieving net zero - and also working towards getting Cornwall as a duchy to that ambitious target of net zero by 2030 - it recognised many of the projects and initiatives that we in Cornwall have either initiated since the declaration of our climate emergency back in January 2019, or already had in plan but we were able to then to turbocharge in bringing them to reality.
So examples are things like our Forest for Cornwall project and our ambition to actually see an 8000 hectare increase in canopy cover across the whole of Cornwall between now and 2030, representing a massive tree planting exercise. But not just Cornwall Council planting trees - this initiative is going to be promoting the opportunities for all walks of life in Cornwall to become involved in tree planting, whether they be landed estates, planning developments, parish and town councils, schools or other community groups.
Another response is recognition that as a duchy, we have incredible natural resources for the generation of renewable energy. So we already have a very, very large array of both wind and solar generation going on within the duchy, but we want to increase that massively.
Cornwall is the first area in the country to be able to properly explore the opportunities for geothermal energy. We've got projects now across the county whereby drilling technology, originally coming from the oil industry, is being used to bore holes over five kilometres down into Cornwall to access the granite geology, which generates immense heat, and we are proving that we can generate geothermal energy from here in Cornwall, which will eventually not just power Cornwall, but be exportable to other parts of the country.
We’ve, as a Council, actually installed our own massive wind turbine at a village called Ventonteague. This turbine though is different to all of the others in Cornwall in that it's what's called a smart turbine. So as well as generating electricity, it has a massive battery storage attached to it which enables that electricity to then be released when it's needed, not just when the wind is blowing.
We're working with a company called Bannermans to look at how we can not just make the livestock on our county farms greener, but also improve the way that we power vehicles. So Bannermans are working on a project whereby they are covering the slurry pits on some of our county farms or dairy farms. From that they are then generating biomethane, which can then be sold. And is being purchased by Cormac, which is our in-house management company that looks after our roads and our environmental state, to power its vehicles. So a true circular economy there, reducing the carbon impact of the dairy industry, but also ensuring the carbon neutral powering of our vehicles.
And do you think that councils are in a good position to take forward climate action and work towards achieving net zero?
Cllr Martyn Alvey
I think we are, and it has been acknowledged by the government, who came down to Cornwall back in June for the G7, and the focus of G7 was around the climate emergency.
The government has openly said that they would like to see Cornwall as the first net zero region of the UK, and we are working towards our ambition. So we are enthused by it. Having said that, in order to achieve that we have many asks of government. We know that our ambition to hit net zero not just as a Council, but Cornwall as a whole by 2030 is a challenging target. And we know that we will not achieve it on our own and we know that there has to be primary legislation and government support in order for us to do that.
What do you think councils can do to be the most effective when it comes to tackling climate change?
Cllr Martyn Alvey
Several things. First of all, you have got to have a good baseline from where you're starting. Unless you know where you've been, you don't know where you're going. We work very closely with the University of Exeter, which has a campus down here in Penryn with some of the leading climate scientists in the world. So we were able very early in this process after declaring climate movement to get a very strong baseline on where we are.
We've, from that, built a very detailed plan - both for Cornwall and as a council - of what we need to do to remain on trajectory to hit that net zero target.
Yes, we are fortunate to have the University of Exeter on our doorstep and strong working relationships with them. But climate change is studied across the university sector in this country and those universities are all willing to work with local authorities. The Council may even be able to provide some financial support for their work with the university. But more often than not, the university itself is grateful for the opportunity to actually carry out these exercises for real rather than theoretically.
As a result of the decision to declare the climate emergency, one of the things that we found was going to be fundamental, was having a robust way in which we could measure every decision that, as a council, we made against the impact in terms of our carbon footprint and our climate emergency. As a result of that we adapted something known as doughnut economics and a decision whee. If you look now at any decision or paper that comes out from Cornwall Council, there is a decision wheel with the carbon impact that decision will have, and that will be a fundamental part of the decision-making process. In populating that wheel, the staff member that is carrying out the assessment will be going through a very complex set of questions, objective data input, behind the scenes, which will show if there’s a positive, negative or neutral impact on the carbon footprint of making that decision.
From that, the decision can then be made in the full knowledge of the impact, and of course the more green, the more positives that we see in terms of the carbon impact of the decision the better.
So, are there any limitations to what councils can do to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change?
Cllr Martyn Alvey
The limitations are partly that it does cost money in terms of officer time to drive these initiatives forward, and it does rely on public and political will to do so. You have to work with what you've got, and to a degree you have to accept the fact that for all the will in the world you're not going to get everyone out in their car in Cornwall, or you're not going to get everybody to change their lifestyle. So it's about encouraging people to make small steps.
It’s little things such as shopping locally. Where possible, maybe, instead of getting in the car to go a mile up the road, to try and walk or think of another form of active travel such as getting on your bicycle.
We encourage everyone to change their energy supplier to one that uses renewable energy, and I appreciate the moment the changing of energy suppliers is a bit of a moot subject, because of the of the problems that are currently ongoing, but when that settles down, try and ensure that you're using an energy supplier that uses net carbon neutral energy.
We encourage everybody to go on the internet and find one of the many tools that are out there to measure their own carbon footprint.
So there's an awful lot there that we can encourage people to be doing as individuals, but we have also got to be leading by example. And that's a challenge in itself, because some of the decisions that we make as a Council we are criticised for, particularly by the most passionate end of the environment lobby.
Some of our decisions are made on economic grounds rather than pure carbon footprint grounds. I’ll give you an example: Cornwall's got an airport at Newquay, which has a public service order with government to enable the subsidy of a linking flight between Newquay and Gatwick airport. That causes a considerable amount of upset from the climate lobby, but at the same time, the economic development lobby sees it as vital to bring good jobs and good business to Cornwall - a region of the country that that is known for its low GDP.
Our aim is to compensate for those bad elements, by going above and beyond in terms of our other activities to reduce our carbon footprint.
We recognize that there's 20 per cent of the population who are already totally engaged with carbon reduction. But there's also 20 per cent at the other end who, for whatever reason - it might be that they deny that there is an impact of climate change happening or it might be that they just don't wish to change their lifestyle - we appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into trying to persuade that 20% at the bottom, is probably better spent bringing that 60 per cent in the middle along the journey and we feel that we're having a lot of success in that.
So it is clear that Cornwall Council has taken seriously the threat posed by climate change, and have demonstrated the actions councils can take.
One thing Martyn talked about was what individuals can do to in their daily lives to help tackle climate change. But how do we get people to engage directly with the issues, to help shape the decisions made by councils and politicians? I talked to Peter Bryant of Shared Future to find out.
I'm one of the Directors of Shared Future. We're a not for profit that's been around since 2009. And our reason for existing is because we believe that citizens have a right to be involved in the decision-making process that affect their communities and their neighbourhoods. And we think that that involvement needs to not just be restricted to a ticking a box once every four or five years, when you vote for your politicians, but instead realises and harnesses the power and capacity of citizens to drive forward things that work in their own communities. So we specialise in what we called democratic innovations like deliberative democracy, citizens juries, assemblies, participatory budgeting and other approaches.
So it sounds like you work a lot with individual citizens and their councils. Can I ask why you chose to partner with them?
Well local government is absolutely crucial, isn't it, in terms of safeguarding and improving our quality of life, and coordinating and mobilising local resources that allow that to happen. But I think for us it's about working with local authorities to stimulate citizens and communities to be able to take action themselves.
Great and can you share any examples of projects you're working on with councils at the moment?
At the moment we're doing a lot of work around climate change and in particular examples of deliberative processes on climate change.
So tomorrow evening we start a climate change citizens jury with the borough of Barrow in Furness in Cumbria. We'll be working with twenty citizens that have been randomly selected from across the borough to try and answer the question what should happen in the Furness area to address climate change.
We're running a similar process for Southwark Council, which is going to be starting in a couple of weeks time. Both of them lasting for about 30 hours. In Southwark we will be working with 25 citizens there that have been randomly chosen using the same process, to try to answer the question what needs to change in Southwark to tackle the emergency of climate change fairly and effectively for people and for nature.
We are also doing something over the last couple of months in conjunction with Glasgow City Council called Democracy Pioneers, which is experimenting with legislative theatre, and as a way of trying to amplify young people's voices on the issue of climate change.
And you mentioned using citizens juries. Could you just explain a little bit more about how they work, why you chose to use them, and who can get involved with them?
Sure. So citizens juries and citizens assemblies - juries are smaller versions of assemblies - are both examples of deliberative processes. Deliberation can happen in lots and lots of different ways.
The way that we usually work with local authorities to design juries and assemblies is that, if I can give the example of Barrow: 4000 letters were sent out to a randomly chosen addresses from the Royal Mail database. Households got those letters inviting them to take part in 10 evening sessions, a total of around about 30 hours, to try to answer the key question about what needs to happen to address the emergency of climate change.
Then a group of 20, 30, 40, 100 - however big the processes is - are chosen, usually through an independent organisation called The Sortition Foundation, to try to reflect the makeup of the local population, so what you end up with a is a mini version of Barrow and a mini version of Southwark, or wherever.
Once people have expressed an interest in taking part, we select - the computer selects - them so that we have a mini version of the local population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, disability, geography, indices of multiple deprivation - so how advantaged or disadvantaged their particular area is – as well as attitudes to climate change. So the idea is that when you joined the Zoom call or when you walk into the room, you'll see a mini version of your wider community right there.
And then we spend lots of time supporting them to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions with each other, and then we bring out bring out a series of outside experts - we call them commentators - to offer their opinions and ideas and facts to the to the jury, who then question them and cross examine them, until towards the end of the process where we support the citizens themselves to write a series of recommendations and try, if possible, to build some consensus. Then they prioritize those recommendations.
And then that report is then presented back to key local decision makers and stakeholders, including local authorities, to try to push for action. So it gives leaders more of a mandate to be able to take action on climate change.
It sounds like you’ve got experience working with other methods of deliberative democracy. Can you explain what this is and whether you think it works for climate action initiatives and perhaps any other ideas or innovative techniques?
Deliberative democracy I think, for us, is about recognising the expertise that citizens themselves hold. And a deliberative process is different to one that you might see in a focus group, for example, in that it’s over a longer period of time.
So we have to understand with climate change it's an enormously complex issue, so we can't just ask people to tell us their opinions on what needs to happen to climate change in the next 30 minutes. It just doesn't allow that kind of informed conversation and people to consider the trade-offs that are going to be necessary.
So deliberation is about really listening to each other in a diverse group, hearing each other’s ideas, each other’s opinions, sometimes pushing each other, sometimes arguing, sometimes trying to understand really where people are coming from on a particular issue. And then seeing if it's possible to draw some consensus and then to draw some conclusions at the end of that.
So it recognises that not one side has all the answers, but that if we come together and use our collective wisdom, we might be able to solve - or might be able to think of ways of trying to address - this seemingly intractable problem.
In terms of climate change, we're looking at absolutely enormous changes to society, so we can't afford to not have these really well-informed conversations with citizens, to help shape what our response is going to be to climate change.
And I think for those that are worried how this fits in with representative democracy, I think if anything it strengthens representative democracy. It gives those needing to make those difficult decisions more information about how to make better decisions, and I think it also goes some way to try to address some of the vested interests that might exist, and some of the power imbalances, especially in terms of bringing people whose voices aren't always heard in these kind of conversations.
And do you think that local government and councils are in a good position to take climate action forward and engage those different groups of people in their own communities?
Yes, I really do. I mean, I think we've seen the enormous challenge of COP26 in Glasgow of trying to achieve collective action at a global level. It’s virtually impossible.
So I think that shines a light on how important it is that all other levels of society or engaged in this process of trying to figure out what action needs to be taken to address the climate emergency. And I think the National Audit Office said that half of the cuts that need to be made to emissions in the UK, decisions about those cuts need to be made at a local level, so local authorities are absolutely central to that.
And I think there's three other reasons why local authorities are well placed.
The first is control. Although local authorities don't have a huge amount of power, they do have some control over transport, planning, waste management, economic regeneration, over land use planning.
Second, is an issue of trust. So the LGA’s own research has shown that 40 per cent of citizens feel they trust councils most to be able to address the issue of climate change compared to national government, which I think was 28 per cent.
But I also think there's a third issue and that is that local authorities are rooted in their own communities. They understand their own communities, so they are really well placed to be able to address climate change and make sure that citizens are at the centre of that, and that leadership role is absolutely essential.
So be it about making budgetary decisions or policy decisions, but also in terms of convening and bringing all these different stakeholders together and forming partnerships, as well as using the language of ambition, I guess. And we've seen a really good example of that in terms of framing everything as an emergency in the climate emergency, and local authorities have been at the centre of that.
If there are individuals who may have received an invitation to join, what would you say to encourage them to participate, and the benefits that they would see as well?
I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a participant from a jury in Blackburn. I was asking him why he came along and he said, well my wife said to me - when we got the letter, we were reading the letter together - and she said: “you're always moaning about this stuff. Why don't you go ahead and have your voice heard”. And he said: “Yes, so what I did is I got off my arse, and I came to this, I came to the jury, and I have no regrets whatsoever”
So I would urge people to recognise that it doesn't matter if you don't have much experience or understanding, and maybe feel as though your voice isn't as important as others, when in fact it really, really is. And that we're only going to be able to solve these enormous issues by having these kind of conversations, that allow people to use their expertise to maybe come up with novel ideas, or to push politicians for the actions that are required on these really, really difficult topics.
I think if these processes are designed well, they’re fun as well, and people should feel comfortable taking part.
I understand completely those that would think, oh God what's this, it's just another tick box exercise. Why on earth would I get involved it that. But it has led to real change in a lot of places.
In Oxford it led to, I think it was £13 million of additional funding being identified to match with some of the recommendations. That's for a big local authority, but we've been working as well with smaller local authorities and town councils. So we ran one recently for Kendal Town Council. Although they don't have much money or resources they were still able to use their convening and leadership role. And they've recently announced that they've commissioned an audit of all buildings across the town to see what the solar potential is.
So although it might feel that these things might not make a difference, they will for sure, and a lot of officers and politicians have reported that once they've had the recommendations that have come through the process, that they feel emboldened to have more conversations with others about pushing the climate change agenda forward with much more vigour.
It was great to know the efforts being made to involve people in climate discussions, and to get their opinions and ideas heard before decisions are made. But I was also curious what support is out there for those local community groups and organisations who are taking direct action themselves on climate change. I spoke to Nick Gardner from the National Lottery Community Fund, to find out about the diverse projects they have supported across the country.
Hi, my name is Nick Gardner. I'm Head of Climate Action at the National Lottery Community Fund. And here at the Community Fund, we've been increasingly looking at the way that we respond to the climate emergency, we have a three-part environment strategy, which helps us to explore our own impacts as an organisation, the first is very directly looking at that, looking at ourselves as an organisation and how we can reduce our carbon emissions. The second looks at how we can leverage our position across the whole of the sector. We fund upwards of 12,000 community groups every year. So how can we make sure that our touch points with those are encouraging the sector to be more ambitious on the climate issue and making sure that people are aware of the impact of their operations. And the third is a very specific pot of funding – the Climate Action Fund, which is £100 million commitment to supporting communities who are taking climate action locally, all across the UK.
Increasingly, climate is a very big theme in terms of what communities are telling us is important to them. So, over the last five years, since 2016, we've actually funded almost £400 million pounds into environmental projects. So that would include things like transport, energy, food, waste and consumption, natural environment projects, those kinds of things. And it's absolutely becoming a very, very core strand of what we're seeing that matters to communities on the ground.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you are supporting?
We have a huge range of innovative projects within our portfolio. The Climate Action Fund, which was launched in 2019, really targeted communities who wanted to take the lead on tackling climate change within their local areas. And very often, the partnerships that were put together, had a council as a key player, or even potentially the lead in their applications.
One of our first round funded projects, which is Zero Carbon Cumbria. The county is aiming for zero carbon by 2030, which is a leading county-wide initiative to try and try and achieve that it's very ambitious. But in order to achieve that the local community groups, and very much supported by the coordinating groups on the ground, have worked very closely with the seven local authorities in Cumbria. So that's the county council but also the six district councils or borough councils across the area.
Another big part of it is really helping to engage the local population. For example, young people, as we're very aware are very keen activists on the issue. So there was a delegation of young people which was able to present the outcomes of its own Youth Climate Summit, to the county council lead – the cabinet member for environment, as well as Cumbria Action for Sustainability, their CEO, at a particular meeting, and they were able to get across their points really clearly, really succinctly, and be able to be seen to be having a part to play.
Thanks to National Lottery players, big amounts of funding can go into supporting really impactful climate projects at a local level, many of which have a key partnership with their local authority on the ground.
Because we have such a wide range of projects working in very urban areas, such as an inner-city programme in London which is looking at how communities can generate their own power through solar panels on their housing stock, and making sure that the communities are very involved with that whole process. That project is called Repowering, and it's looking to train local people up to become part of that new economy. So, understanding how they can install solar panels, and work with their local housing providers. And it's a sister project to a great project called Energy Garden, which is working with the transport network, and making sure that community-owned energy is built into the transport assets, such as the stations. So that's a very urban example.
And on the other end of the scale, you know, we have very rural communities who are also taking action locally. So for example, there's a small town called Bude in Cornwall, which on the front edge of, of climate change, they are really seeing, every year, the sea pushing in towards their communities, as sea level rises, and various houses have been lost locally, it's a big issue and people have been able to show through that project, how they how that climate issue is really impacting on their lives. And what they're doing is a series of research projects to understand the impact on the local transport system, the impact on the local economy, and in particular tourism, and how to engage different parts of the community with playing their part in tackling the climate emergency and adapting to it. So, making their community more resilient.
And in Wales, we have a fantastic project being led by the Wildlife Trusts in Wales. And one of the things that they're doing is making sure that young people can raise their voice. They’ve deliberately taken on this issue of eco anxiety, which is becoming a really big thing locally, and making sure that young people feel that they can do something active, generate their own projects, to take action on the local nature, and making sure that it's being conserved.
In North Wales, we have a project, which is tackling climate change by working with groups of communities, and demonstrating to those communities different measures that they can take. For example, they have taken electric vehicles out into the community, so that they can effectively try before they buy. And it means people can not feel pressurised into it but really see the benefits of slight adaptations to their lifestyles, because all of us are going to have to make adaptations to our lifestyles over the coming years and decades.
How important do you think councils are in addressing the climate emergency, and what role and support can local community groups provide?
Councils are already doing a huge range of things related to the tackling the climate emergency. As I understand it, over three quarters of councils now have declared a climate emergency and are actively working towards taking approaches, putting together projects, to decrease the carbon emissions of certainly their own emissions and increasingly looking at the impacts that they can support on the ground.
We've just done some National Lottery research recently, which showed us that over 85 per cent of people felt that local government or local councils are responsible for taking measures to tackle climate change. And in the same survey, whilst we've been clearly able to see over the last few years that people are more and more aware of the climate issue. We've been able to show that over half of people - and that was pretty consistent across all parts of the country - 54 per cent on average, felt that climate change was going to be a major issue, and they were concerned about it on their local area.
Local authorities clearly have a very big role to play in tackling the climate emergency. Community groups have a particularly strong entrance as a sort of trusted intermediary, if you like at a local level, and local authorities too. So I think that the interplay between local authorities and the local communities when they they're actively working together, actively supporting each other, is really interesting and important.
Where those community groups can come in as well, is to help to raise the level of awareness amongst people locally, and to respond to the local context. And a real understanding of that local context is something that the local authorities absolutely have. So, taking the local context, finding out what projects are most appropriate to put in place, and then bringing the local population along with them, is an absolutely sweet spot for local authorities to play.
The range and the scale of projects that people have put forward are really exciting. So, just really thinking creatively about the topic, but also projects which are helping to train local leaders in some of the key issues through carbon literacy programmes, through citizens’ juries, through citizens’ assemblies. So, there's a really wide range of approaches that communities are taking across the UK on this topic.
And as we look forward, I think the role of communities is that they will have an increasing role to play in both raising awareness, but also making sure that people can turn their concern into action, because that's one of the real blockers that we're seeing at the moment. The vast majority of the population are concerned about climate change in one way, shape, or form, recognise that it's an issue. But it is a distant issue sometimes. And it can feel difficult to know what to do about it, not least because it's a global issue of concern. So, one of the things that community groups can do and local authorities can support them with is really helping to develop that narrative of empowerment, and making sure that through taking climate action, people can see that they are able to visibly and tangibly play some part in tackling climate change locally.
Now, obviously national and international action is clearly vital in tackling climate change. What was your opinion about the outcome of COP26 last year and what positives can you take from it?
COP26 was obviously a really key moment. Having that big United Nations Conference here on our doorsteps in Glasgow was such a key moment in raising awareness of what we can all do to tackle climate change – and do that in our own backyards. I think one really interesting thing that came out of it was - I actually visited Glasgow on and saw people on the ground - there was a real strength of feeling both very supportive of the fact that we now have woken up to this issue and are taking action across from national government scale right down to individuals in their local communities. And, critically, the key role that local authorities can play, because local authorities really have such a key role to play with the local planning structure, transport, infrastructure, housing, even education. The actual outcome of COP26 to many was a little bit disappointing. But I think it's given a lot of us who work in the sector added impetus to make sure that we are all doing our bit on the ground, and not just leaving it up to the national and international politics behind it all, which is very, very difficult to get right. What's much easier to get right is the small steps that really can make a difference and get people started on their journey, and local authorities up and down the country are showing us how we can do that.
So, for example, Middlesbrough Council has a really ambitious green strategy and are funded project climate action Middlesbrough, which is led by the Middlesbrough Environment Forum, actually attend the green strategy meetings held by the council and make sure that they're inputting and feeding back the local priorities from what they're hearing on the ground. And that the green strategy is then formed around that and that the council's efforts can be tailored to what they're hearing from people on the ground. So, it's very much about getting that grassroots level concern up into real action being taken by the local authorities.
So, it really is a great opportunity this and COP 26 has been a big eye opener for a lot of us. I think we've gained added momentum to the wider movement. And our role now as a funder is to make sure that we can use that National Lottery funding to get that out into local areas in the best way possible.
From the conversations I have had, it was nice to hear that there is such enthusiasm on a local level to tackle the climate emergency, and there is genuine effort being made to support community action and engage with as many people as possible. This is clearly essential to help the UK meet its target of achieving net zero by 2050.
We are at a tipping point, and without action now are facing an uncertain future. But if governments, businesses and individuals can work together – and we have the right resources to match the gravity of the problem – then there is still time to turn things around.
Until next time, I’m Katie Goodger and I hope this has helped you to forget what you think you know about climate action.