Creating net-zero public engagement

By Sarah Allan | 13 January 2022

Avoiding the worst effects of climate change will be the biggest challenge of this century. The recent United Nations Summit (COP26) held in Glasgow highlighted how far we still have to go to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This will require bold and consistent leadership to deploy solutions that mitigate to a net-zero pathway and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Local authorities across the country have shown bold leadership by setting targets that are years ahead of national legislation, with councils having a strong influence over local emissions.

Research produced for the Climate Change Committee shows that one-third of all UK emissions are dependent on sectors influenced by local government policies or partnerships.

The public see local authority action as vital. Ipsos MORI polling commissioned by UK100 found that 40% of people believe their local council is best placed to tackle climate change in their local area, compared to 30% for the Government and 19% for the individual. Climate Assembly UK members also backed locally-determined strategies, to allow for solutions better-suited to local communities.

Many local authorities have started to move beyond traditional consultation methods to engage local people using a diverse range of techniques, such as Kendal Town Council’s citizens’ jury, which transformed the sort of projects it works on, climate assemblies run by authorities like Adur & Worthing councils and North Tyne Combined Authority, and crowdsourcing and community initiatives like those supported by Selby DC.

Enabling public participation in their climate decision-making enables local authorities to build a deeper understanding of local preferences, aspirations and needs. This supports the development of policy that is more likely to achieve public buy-in.

It also allows local authorities to reach beyond those they most often hear from. This builds trust and is a key step in achieving a fair transition to net zero.

The Government is also scheduled to provide detail on its flagship policy levelling up later this month. It is likely that at least some of the funding included in this announcement will also seek to contribute to achieving net-zero by 2050.

For local authorities, engaging the public in climate decision-making is not, however, without risks. For example, commissioning public engagement before there is clarity of focus and a plan for how it will feed into decision-making can limit its impact at best and frustrate communities at its worst. Local Climate Engagement (LCE) will help tackle these and other challenges, and support robust engagement plans with a focus on perspectives of power and inclusion.

LCE will enable local authorities or partnerships to plan, commission and deliver high quality public engagement in climate decision-making, in a way that benefits both local government and the local population. It will do this by providing you with a package of training, mentoring and hands-on support, developed on our extensive experience of working with local authorities at all levels.

Local authorities and partnerships in England can receive support to develop capability and confidence in planning, commissioning and overseeing public engagement in climate decision-making, or even work with us to deliver a high quality piece of local public engagement in climate decision-making, and start to embed the approaches and skills needed for future participation work.

Sarah Allan is director of capacity building and standards, Involve


  • You can find out more about both the project and how to apply here

LCE is delivered by a partnership of five organisations – Involve, UK100, DemSoc, Shared Future and Climate Outreach. Please note the deadline for submissions is 24 January 2022

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