Local Authorities declare a climate emergency. Now what?

by Jan 30, 2020News

As we move into the 2020s, more than two thirds of Councils in the UK have now declared climate emergencies1. It is clear, from that famous photo of mayors on stairs2 at the signing of the Paris agreement in 2015, that if national governments and businesses continue to delay action on climate, local governments will take on the mantle.  Here I briefly share some inspiration and some of our thinking on how to address the Climate Emergency at a local level.

The leadership at the local level is inspiring.

Vancouver, for example, felt their Climate Emergency Response couldn’t just be hollow words, following their unanimous approval of a target aligned to 1.5deg in the IPCC scientific report.  Indeed, they already had in place 80% reduction targets for 2050, so with the declaration they moved onto more aggressive actions. Doug Smith, Sustainability Director for the City of Vancouver, talked3 through their revised framework with six big moves:

  1. Walkable, complete communities
  2. Safe and convenient active transportation and transit
  3. Pollution-free cars, trucks and buses
  4. Zero emissions space and water heating
  5. Lower carbon construction
  6. Restored forests and coasts

Nottingham, also a longtime leader in city climate action, galvanised councils with the Nottingham Declaration 20 years ago and at the beginning of 2020 themselves declared a climate emergency.  They have launched a charter for sustainable carbon neutrality and an action plan covering five areas: transport, the built environment, energy generation, waste and water, and consumption.

Yet countless other authorities, having declared a Climate Emergency, are now trying to figure out what to do next.  Indeed, whether or not your area has declared a climate emergency, there is still a need to put proper climate change plans in place to avoid potential legal action.  To this end ClientEarth4 the environmental law charity has written to over 100 English Local Authorities to remind them of their legal duties to set targets in line with the UK Climate Change Act. 

Systems approach leads to the most effective results.

At Resilience Brokers, we work with local and regional authorities and utilities to help them embrace a collaborative, systems approach — the idea that each individual sector (or action) connects to and impacts on a whole.  In this way ambitious climate action can help to positively transform people’s lives by creating healthier environments, more affordable living and new jobs and economic benefits.

A systems approach can help to unpack the challenging questions about the scale and priority of interventions, for example, whether to look at infrastructure systems, services or behavioural change, or a combination thereof, and where to intervene in existing processes, such as procurement, planning and investment and development. 

We have brought together world-leading experts to look at how authorities working in concert with business, academia, communities and other scales of government to achieve the speed and effectiveness of action needed. Framed through the SDGs5, we co-developed roadmap 20306 which sets out a range of practical actions and interventions through the necessary cross-sectoral, multi-actor collaboration that will help to achieve the transformations needed to tackle our climate emergency.

We distilled this to a few advice lines for those officials and members who are motivated to act.

  1. Systematise – take the time to build an integrated (systems thinking) mindset throughout the organisation, look at silo-busting opportunities to join, for example, housing and infrastructure objectives and actions.  Roadmap 2030 is explicit in the need to, and opportunities for, developing new smarter partnerships both internally and with businesses and other stakeholders.
  2. Meaningful Carbon targets – In order for carbon targets to be meaningful there should be a core objective, such as Net Zero emissions against which all other policies and decisions will be tested.
  3. Collaboration – Individual local authorities can’t achieve the great changes required on their own. Consider revisiting strategic links with neighbouring authorities, and at adjacent governance scales to tackle the challenges, and identify the opportunities together.
  4. Leverage – explore opportunities to attract new inward investment to support ambitious climate plans such as Climate bonds and green infrastructure finance. 
  5. Build on your great progress (or ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’), As we have seen, many local authorities may already have bold plans, and are progressing well in some of their actions. Use this progress and momentum to add in the greater ambition the ‘Climate Emergency’ calls for.
  6. Be part of the network – check that you are linked into the most appropriate peer networks (ICLEI7, The Covenant of Mayors8, and UK1009 are good examples) and professional networks in your region to learn and share good solutions. Such networks will share useful ideas and connections.

We all know that, one way or another, the world and our own parts of it will be transformed in a major way in the coming decades.  It is still, currently, in our gift to help shape that transformation, for the benefit of our communities. 

Resilience Brokers10 is a ‘networked organisation11’ working within a not-for profit structure.  We provide rapid, independent solutions to help local authorities and cities navigate the complexity and challenges of the climate emergency, and build a consensus for action.

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Get in touch with us now team@resiliencebrokers.org 

Stephen Passmore, CEO Resilience Brokers

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1 https://www.climateemergency.uk/blog/list-of-councils/

2 https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/12/09/coleman-mayors-mississippi-climate-talks

3 Presentation at Ecocity World Summit, Vancouver, October 2019 

4 https://www.clientearth.org/climate-lawyers-put-local-authorities-on-notice/

5 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

6 https://ecosequestrust.org/roadmap2030/

7 https://www.iclei.org/

8 https://www.covenantofmayors.eu/

9 https://www.uk100.org/

10 https://resiliencebrokers.org/


Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash