Creating the right climate for change

11 December 2019

With the climate emergency now ranked among the most crucial issues faced by councils, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) has created an expert advisory panel to assess projects and share knowledge throughout the sector. Nigel Riglar explains

Prior to the General Election, climate change was the only subject that came close to rivalling Brexit in terms of grabbing national attention.

More than half the UK’s councils have declared climate emergencies and the impact is already being felt. In November, Oxfordshire CC followed Buckinghamshire in withdrawing its support for the Ox-Cam Expressway on climate change grounds.

Inevitably, the responsibility and leadership needed to meet the net zero carbon emissions by 2050 target will fall on local authorities, and most emphatically on place directors. The drive to revise the target to 2030 will only increase the pressure.

ADEPT decided to support members by launching our 50 for 30 best practice climate change case studies – 50 case studies for rapid transition to net zero or adaptation by 2030 – at our June conference, but we quickly realised it was a crowded market. As a result, we have created the ADEPT Climate Change Advisory Panel.

We have brought together people from the Environment Agency, Friends of the Earth (FoE), LEDNet, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change and the Rapid Transition Network. All are part of existing best practice networks, giving the panel expertise and experience, a firm basis for evaluating case studies and a huge reach for knowledge sharing.

The panel will draw from organisations shaping place at a local level to enable local authorities to find existing projects and assess them not just on suitability, but also on scalability.

Finding technical solutions to problems is not an issue. We know how to retrofit an airsource heat pump, or plant a tree. But as place directors, what we need to work out for our communities is how do you replace gas central heating in five thousand homes in a year? How do you plant one million trees over 10 years? What does that mean for the supply chain and workforce skills?

The issue isn’t imagining solutions, it’s imagining how you deliver and replicate them at scale.

The last 10 years have hit local authorities hard. Before 2010, the environment was riding high on both local and national policy agendas, but since then, we have lost capacity, expertise and resources. The problem is not one the public sector can tackle independently, not only because of limited resources, but because it involves us all.

A local authority is typically directly responsible for 1-3% of emissions in its area through its estate and vehicles. It can influence a further 35-40% through planning, regulation and procurement, but the final 60% comes from Government policy, the market and individual consumer decisions. As place directors we can address the 1%, influence the 40% by thinking more creatively about how we shape policy and deliver our wider functions – but changing the 60% will take hard lobbying.

It can be done. Across local councils, people who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when environmental issues were the focus of big campaigns, are now in senior leadership positions. There are sustainability officers who have since become chief executives. Climate emergency declarations have legitimised their values and now, particularly with the UK taking on the presidency of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) climate change summit next year, we are now pushing against an open door.

The Cabinet Office will be setting up a 230-strong team to work on preparations, making this is a critical time to influence and lobby Government, but we need to be sure of our asks. That means understanding groups like Extinction Rebellion, FoE and UK100. We won’t always agree and inevitably, we will have to manage expectations, but we do need to understand where partners are trying to get to and why.

Through the Panel, ADEPT will begin to develop and test its thinking.

The councils that have declared climate emergencies will publish their action plans over the next six months. From this we will be able to see how far and how fast we can go and what more is needed in way of support.

ADEPT members work across communities and infrastructure, with the biggest Government departments, corporate partners and fellow professional associations. It is one of our core strengths. It is also how we can bring people together to lobby for long term place-based funding, to protect our environment, our people and to positively shape our places.

Nigel Riglar is first vice president of ADEPT and director for environment and community services at South Gloucestershire Council

Camden’s Citizens’ Assembly

In July, Camden LBC created a Citizens’ Assembly to understand what its residents were thinking about the climate crisis. Working with partners, including local green groups and environmental building and energy experts, the council brought together over 50 independently selected residents to develop Camden’s approach to tackling the climate emergency.

The Camden Citizens’ Assembly met on two hot summer evenings for sessions at Swiss Cottage Library and one Saturday session at the Greenwood Centre.

The first session was opened by local MP, Sir Keir Starmer and council leader, Georgia Gould. The group were asked to respond to the question: ‘How can the council and the people of Camden help limit the impact of climate change while protecting and enhancing our natural environment?’

The Assembly heard expert evidence and facts supported by University College London. They discussed and debated options for tackling the climate crisis both through mitigation and adaptation. They also learned how climate change was already impacting on the borough. They were then asked to think about how their proposed actions could fit into three groupings: home, neighbourhood and council.

From more than 600 ideas, the Assembly agreed 17 actions they wanted taken forward. In the home, actions included making low carbon dietary choices, fitting solar panels on homes, making all new homes carbon zero and creating a CO2 reduction campaign to get the message across.

Across Camden’s neighbourhoods, people wanted to see more trees and allotments, a pilot community energy heating scheme, more segregated cycle lanes, the promotion of car free zones and days, more done to enable and incentivise electric transport and for developers to fund energy efficient retrofitting of old buildings.

Recommendations included creating a Climate Emergency Scrutiny Panel made up of experts and residents, making all council properties fossil free, planting more trees and retaining public spaces, mobilising community groups and improving the council’s own operations, communications and engagement on climate change.

The 17 actions were presented to the council in October and will help set the direction of a new Climate Action Plan for Camden, to be published in 2020.

Hull City Council CLIMATE CHANGE STRATEGY

Hull City Council declared a climate emergency in March this year, setting a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. The council is currently working on a new climate change strategy and action plan for the city, which includes the production and consumption of carbon. The strategy focuses on a number of key action areas that fit into work the local authority is already involved in.

Most pressing at the moment is flood management and adaptation within the city. The council is working with the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water to make Hull more flood resilient by creating large aqua greens – large swathes on the edge of the city – to keep the water out. In addition, soil from the aqua greens is being used to raise the height of sports pitches to prevent flooding and keep sports activities in play.

The Living with Water project with Yorkshire Water is not only looking at the impact of flooding on the city, but also of potential droughts. The focus is on improving the community’s understanding of water and changing their relationship with it through a range of activities. These have included an urban ‘Tough Mudder’ event – which saw people tackle a series of inflatable obstacles around the city.

The council also has partnerships with Heywoods, Hull and East Yorkshire Woods and the Northern Forest. In this tree-planting season, the local authority will plant 14,000 trees, which is the most planting across the whole Northern Forest area. This feeds into work around carbon sequestration, and understanding what type of planting should be done and where. The council is also looking at different habitats and grassland areas of the Humber estuary, to see how carbon can be captured in those areas.

Alongside these and many other initiatives, Hull City Council is also working on its own carbon footprint. Between 2005/06 and 2018/19, it has reduced its carbon emissions by 46.7%. It has an extensive programme of energy efficiency work ranging from a district heating system and the installation of LED lighting in council buildings, to a pool of electric cars and public transport passes for staff.

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