This webinar, organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series, showcases the work councils are doing to help deliver on the UK's net zero ambitions.
The COP26 summit brought parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. One of these key goals is to keep the temperature of the planet under control – limiting its increase to 1.5 degrees. The science dictates that by the second half of the century, we should be producing less carbon than we take out of the atmosphere and this is what it means to be net zero.
In the run up to this international event, the LGA have been running it’s Pass the Planet campaign to share and spotlight councils’ best practice for addressing climate change and raise the profile of local government in this area. Over the past four months, all regions of England and Wales have been spotlighted, highlighting some fantastic approaches to a variety of challenges across the countries. In the legacy of COP26, the LGA will continue to demonstrate the importance of local leadership to deliver on the UK’s net zero ambitions and share the leading work of councils.
The LGA Webinar, showcasing local climate action on the COP26 goals, was organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series. This overview provides a summary of each speaker’s presentation.
The event was chaired by Sharon Kemp, Chief Executive of Rotherham Council. Councillor Kemp was joined by:
- Councillor Stephen Cowan, Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
- Councillor Rachel Coxcoon, Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Forward Planning at Cotswold District Council
- Andrew Pau, Strategy and Commissioning Manager - Waste & Environment at Warwickshire County Council
- Louise Morgan, Interim Associate Education Support Advisor on behalf of Carmarthenshire County Council
The webinar chair Sharon Kemp began the session by emphasising the instrumental role of local government in reaching both the local and national net-zero ambitions, explaining the LGA’s Pass the Planet campaign, and giving a brief overview of the four Unite Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) goals. These goals were mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration.
Councillor Stephen Cowan, Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham was introduced as the first guest speaker to present on climate action for mitigation.
Councillor Cowan set the local scene of Hammersmith and Fulham with their being lots of activity including new stations, buildings, and developments due to its location both in London and the United Kingdom. However, this can create some real challenges for climate action. To start addressing this, the council began looking at the damage to the environment of modern day life and infrastructure, and how they could go about mitigating these impacts.
Councillor Cowan cited the quote "Culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker, 1970s management consultant). In effect, a council can add and develop any strategy they want to, but the culture and values of an organisation are a much more important factor in enacting change both individually and council wide.
So how do we set about changing culture? In terms of changing the strategy and culture in Hammersmith and Fulham, the focus was on three areas:
- Eliminating emissions from housing, energy, transport, and the things we use.
- Protect people and nature by adapting to climate change and improving ecology.
- Enabling this action by bringing people with us, engaging, and influencing.
When the borough declared a net zero target of 2030, despite being in West London, the council could see they had a lot of influence but very little direct control in mitigating climate change.
The council has been mainstreaming climate considerations across their priorities and changing culture through:
Industrial Strategy: A joint industrial strategy with Imperial College London to innovate and include science, engineering and technology which will make a critical difference in climate action. For example, one innovation is an algae-based mesh which can be put on buildings and does the work of 147km of rainforest in terms of producing O2 and consuming CO2. Hammersmith and Fulham Council have been talking with developers like this to scale up the projects.
Climate Education: The council also signed up with the United Nations (UN) to teach a UN climate change qualification in all local schools, developing the scientists of tomorrow and to prepare future generations for climate change impacts.
There remained the internal organisations cultural problem – how do we embed climate considerations as something everybody thinks about and acts on?
Hammersmith and Fulham changed the key decisions for the cabinet so they now must include climate implications, and while a good step forward, a last-minute check is not enough to get climate decision making embedded throughout the policy making process. A climate implications toolkit was created, and to further embed climate in decision making, a climate change unit was set up to be cross cutting and reduce silo working. This ensures:
- report authors use the toolkit to self-evaluate proposals
- implications are discussed with the climate unit
- proposals are revised or continue to cabinet for decision.
The ‘climate implications toolkit’ is a qualitative self-assessment tool to help all council officers assess and improve the alignment of their projects, procurements, commissioning, and services with Hammersmith and Fulham's climate and ecology strategy. It also supports report authors to draft the climate implications section on decision and procurement strategy reports.
- contains 29 multiple-choice questions
- is aligned with our Climate and Ecology Strategy
- has colour-coded answers which show alignment with net zero
- encourages more climate-aligned approaches.
The council wanted people to begin creating a conversation and dialogue with politicians and residents. Through the toolkit and climate action group, there is one conversation which different people can feed into.
Councillor Cowan explained the council’s reasoning behind this approach as it upskills departments to apply climate principles, ensures teams with in-depth knowledge of the proposals consider the implications first, and applies across the range of possible projects ensuring it is manageable enough to gain buy-in.
Next, Councillor Rachel Coxcoon, Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Forward Planning at Cotswold District Council, was introduced to talk about the council’s co-production of a net zero carbon toolkit in adapting to climate change.
When the council declared a climate emergency after the May 2021 elections, there was a big focus on planning and the need to retrofit, ensuring households are prepared for a future with more extreme weather. Adapting can be difficult for a district council given their limited resources and direct control. Much like Hammersmith and Fulham, influence would need to be used to engage and communicate with residents, bringing them along with the councils plans.
Turning to housing and development, officers grasped the need to embed climate change adaptation into plans very quickly, with the lead housing officers utilising funding from the LGA housing advisors programme to develop a toolkit on better building standards. This was in collaboration with Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire District Councils who jointly employ officers with Cotswold.
Four consultants were contacted who looked in depth at existing literature, and created a net zero construction and retrofit toolkit. The toolkit is user friendly and starts by explaining its purpose and how it can be used in an accessible and visual way.
A challenge for the local area was that planners didn’t have the expertise to challenge big developers. Having produced this toolkit, it has enabled the council’s staff and development management officers to be skilled up and increase in confidence to question developers on why they may not be considering net zero in their applications.
The toolkit itself is split into five sections:
- New housing – What can be done so that new housing forms part of the solutions to climate change, instead of adding to the problem?
- Retrofit – Putting our existing homes on track towards Net Zero is a challenge but it can be done. This section explains how.
- Products – achieving net zero on new and existing homes also relies on good quality products.
- How to specify – Delivering homes that will perform well in reality (and not just on paper) relies on a quality assured construction or retrofit process.
- Checklist – for new build design and construction.
Councillor Coxcoon explained that for those who don’t know the basics, it is a really good way of getting everyone up to speed and also mentions background concepts such as embodied carbon which relates to the lifetime carbon of a building.
The toolkit then goes into this detail for different built forms e.g. terrace, semi-detached and detached housing, and also crucially gives you arguments for cost, capital increase and viability. Use of this resource allows you to start these net zero conversations with developers much earlier on and so there are now fewer costs to changes during the planning process.
Councillor Coxtoon explained that the most crucial takeaway message from this project is that the ambition from the beginning was to have this as a shared resource, so other councils do not need to go through this process again. The whole thing has been developed under a creative commons licence so any, or all, of it can be adapted for local use.
The Chair then introduced Andrew Pau, Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Waste & Environment at Warwickshire County Council to talk about mobilising finance in the community.
Warwickshire ran a public consultation exercise in 2018 which informed the local plan agreed in early 2019. From the results of this consultation, the council was encouraged to see how high up the agenda climate change was for residents of Warwickshire. The issue already has both political and officer priority, but the priority the public had placed on climate change led to a £4 million budget allocation to climate change. In mid-2020, £1 million of this was allocated to a community grant and investment scheme called green shoots, which aimed to mobilise local action by local people across the whole county.
The community investment grant
The challenge here was to open the scheme up to the whole of Warwickshire while also aiming to reduce the climate impact through mitigation and adaptation. A key part of the criteria was ensuring that those who won the grants, complied with the council’s governance. Andrew explained the council wanted to see that these schemes were deliverable and would have a tangible outcome. The team were keen to ensure that residents went out and developed their initial ideas, built support in their communities, and then came back with an offer and demonstrated value for money. Ensuring value for money meant the council was less keen to fund consultancy or staffing costs as the aim was to establish deliverable projects fully led by the community. Warwickshire were also keen not to lead the community and so didn’t initially put out any of their own suggestions for projects to see which ideas naturally came forward. Later in the process, the council released some guidelines to promote people with good ideas who were uncertain to also come forward and apply for the grant money.
The main aims were to:
- accelerate climate change action
- secure community involvement
- upskilling, capacity building, connect local networks
- trial and showcase innovative and efficient action.
In May of 2020 the scheme had received 110 Applications with £1.3 million being applied for. With a tough evaluation process and clear evaluation criteria applied evenly across the 110 applications received, 69 applications were successful and £625,000 being funded as part of round 1. Round 2 is to be launched next year.
The maximum value for each project was £25,000 and Andrew mentioned a few of the example projects funded to show the variety of proposals put forward to the council:
Kenilworth Repair Cafe: A low value scheme which received £800 and had high levels of community support. The repair café has a monthly drop-in repair facility and is a community meet point, reducing landfill waste (particularly electrical items). The café did not need to be set up as it was already running, but the funding was used to encourage growth, with it now and running even better than before.
NEAT News: Andrew earlier mentioned the council was keen to build and encourage networking. The Napton Environmental Action Team (NEAT) was an existing scheme which informed residents about key issues relating to climate change, biodiversity and habitat loss, and wanted to move forward and inspire behavioural change towards more sustainable living, helping people to adapt constructively to a changing world.
Warwickshire Living Walls: Andrew explained that many councils have a tree planting strategy and often talk about planting trees, but living walls is a different innovative approach that the council was keen to explore and to see how this would work in Warwickshire, testing the boundaries of what is possible. With 100 linear metres of green walls at hospital and public access sites in Warwick, Leamington and Stratford upon Avon, the project aims to enhance biodiversity and absorb low air quality emissions.
Myton hospice: This project installed two electric vehicle (EV) charging points and LED lighting. This proposal was particularly interesting as the EV charging would also be open to the public. Funding the LED lighting could inspire others in the area to take a similar approach which could be replicated without necessarily using funding from the council going forward.
Andrew concluded his presentation by explaining the four main lessons learnt:
- commitment from the public, members and officers has been vital, all three points of view are important.
- resources will follow the priority established by the three groups above.
- resources needed to set up and run the scheme – evaluation is important and cannot be underestimated. Learn from schemes like this and others which are run nationally as you do need a team with a diverse range of officers to review a diverse range of bids.
- great projects being funded, and objectives being met – success!
The webinar’s final speaker Louise Morgan, Interim Associate Education Support Advisor at Carmarthenshire County Council spoke to attendees about collaboration with schools and the European Commission.
Louise began by highlighting that young people are concerned about climate change and, with COP26 currently underway and ‘Global Climate Strikes’ inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, a platform for our young people to respond is needed. But how does the council support this? Not all young people want to be involved in action of this nature and as a local authority we have a duty to ensure our young people feel empowered to respond to global issues.
As part of their work to address climate change and achieve the Wellbeing of Future Generations’ Goals, Carmarthenshire Local Authority has extended pathways for communication across schools, communities, and local authority departments. In 2019 Carmarthenshire County Council, together with Dolen Cymru Lesotho, received funding from the European Commission to develop a global citizenship education programme. The Walk the Global Walk schools’ programme was a three-year international project which focussed on mobilising young people in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The programme was led by Oxfam Italia and Tuscany Region and connected local government, school communities and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) from 11 European nations, promoting collaboration to address three of the SDGs, namely:
- SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- SDG 13: Climate Action
- SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
The project offered:
- teacher training on the Walk the Global Walk project and a bilingual teachers’ resource pack and support for teachers in implementing the programme in schools
- training for students ambassadors, ‘Global Goalkeepers’, in leadership and active citizenship and support for the Global Goalkeepers to help raise awareness with their peers and local community
- support for school and community based actions
- participation in the ‘Global Walk’, a high-profile climate action event to showcase and celebrate achievements
- networking events bringing together Global Goalkeepers and their teachers, councillors, relevant council officers NGOs and volunteers
- a model UN Climate Change conference and Q&A session with councillors
- school visits and small grants to help support SDG community actions
- support to link with Wales’ twin country, Lesotho, through the Connecting Classrooms Programme and carry out climate action projects with schools in a country already at the sharp end of climate change.
The impact of the project:
- Over 2,000 pupils have been taught using the Climate Action Resource Pack.
- Over 100 people participated in a networking and action planning event in January 2020. This event highlighted the Local Authority’s Net Zero Carbon plan.
- The networking event included council officers from Transport, Waste Minimisation and Biodiversity who were able to offer practical suggestions for taking action in school communities.
- Feedback on the event was exceedingly positive with 100 per cent of participants declaring they were highly or very satisfied, 92 per cent of Global Goalkeepers felt highly or very inspired to take action as individuals and 95 per cent to take action in their schools and communities.
- An online Walk the Global Walk Summer School event was held on 24th June 2020, which included presentations, and a Q&A session with Council staff and Councillors. This work culminated in the creation of the Carmarthenshire Global Goalkeepers’ Climate Action Manifesto with its eight recommendations. This landmark document, has been endorsed by the local authority, was written by a representative group of Global Goalkeepers, supported by local authority officers and NGOs, all of whom were present at this event.
- The Walk The Global Walk schools’ programme offered a blueprint for global citizenship education and supported preparations for the introduction of the new curriculum.
Lessons learnt as a local authority:
- Schools are very busy places. We have learnt to work closely to make explicit the links with other priorities they may have, establish a clear timeline and allow space and time to complete activities.
- The views of young people are relevant and challenging and we have a duty to provide suitable avenues of communication for them.
- The learning goes both ways. The young ambassadors, local authority officers and Councillors have a clear and purposeful dialogue as a result of this project.