Think local for real action on climate change

While Britain was the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for a legally binding net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050, many are questioning whether it is too little, too late. Throughout 2019, from metropolitan boroughs to town councils, local authorities of all shapes and sizes up and down the country decided to take matters into their own hands and declare climate emergencies.

But what’s behind these bottom-up, regional initiatives? Is declaring a climate emergency supported by action, or is it nothing more than a symbolic gesture?

Take Ilkley Town Council in West Yorkshire, for example, which has pledged to make its town carbon neutral by 2030. It’s revising its policy criteria to account for carbon reduction in all decision-making processes. While recognising that it cannot expect its citizens to act on their own, the council also declared that local councils should not wait for national governments to change their policies. Amongst other initiatives, the council is looking at measures to ensure that its renowned Ilkley Moor peat bogs thrive, as they are natural resources for carbon capture and storage.

While Ilkley parish supports a population of just 25,000, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), which includes Bristol, Bath and South Gloucestershire serves a population of over one million citizens. WECA has approved multimillion-pound investments in various low-carbon initiatives, including integrated ticketing for public transport, energy efficiency measures for homes and businesses, research into low-emission vehicles and developing pilot projects.

Aberdeen City Council can’t be accused of jumping on any climate bandwagon. It launched its hydrogen bus project in 2015, using electrolysis to generate ‘clean’ hydrogen on-site and now boasts the largest hydrogen bus fleet in Europe. The refuelling station also serves other vehicles including H2-powered refuse trucks and privately-owned cars.

To date, 265/408 (65%) of the UK’s district, county, unitary and metropolitan councils and eight combined authorities/city regions have declared climate emergencies. Many of them are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 and have published action plans.

Beyond the UK, the C40 organisation connects 94 of the world’s cities, representing over 700 million citizens, to take climate action. C40 is committed to delivering on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at a local level.

Although we face a global climate crisis, empowering local regions to take positive action is getting things done. Local authorities can respond to the immediate needs of their communities, spend money where it will have the greatest impact, develop hubs of expertise and lead behaviour change.

Empowering the individuals who are driving local net-zero initiatives for councils and municipalities is creating an urgent need for the dissemination of information. C40 maintains a knowledge hub, which includes forums, to share best practice between its members.

Increasingly, we are seeing clients operating in the cleantech sector recognise local authorities as a key target audience within their communication strategies. Managerial decision-makers and technical influencers have a need to understand the solutions on offer to decarbonise power, transport and heat.

Engaging effectively with local authorities requires a solid value proposition, a clear set of messages and ideally a case study that features a council or municipality which has demonstrable success with your solution.