CSE’s new Climate Emergency Support Programme for local authorities

27 September 2019

Our 40th year – 2019 – has seen an unprecedented level of commitment from local authorities and other public bodies to take urgent action to cut carbon emissions rapidly to virtually zero. This creates an equally unprecedented opportunity for positive change.

But that opportunity will only be realised if these commitments are translated quickly into meaningful and effective programmes of action that are swiftly put into practice. We want to help ensure that happens. Which is why CSE’s Board of Trustees has decided to invest from our charitable reserves to fund a new programme that will provide free strategic advice and practical support to local authorities.

The commitments take the form of climate emergency declarations, the first of which was adopted last November (2018) by our home city of Bristol; now more than 300 other ‘governments’ of all sizes and persuasions – from parish to local council to devolved nation to UK Parliament – have followed suit.

These often unanimously adopted declarations are the heartfelt responses of local, regional and national politicians to two irresistible forces. First, the overwhelming evidence of the need for radical change to avoid dangerous climate change and ecological breakdown. And second, the unparalleled public demands for political action coming from striking school children, Extinction Rebellion and the wider public (photo below), all made with a hugely effective combination of the superbly orchestrated, the engagingly creative and the disarmingly spontaneous.

But, as many local authorities are now finding, making the declaration is one thing; developing and delivering a meaningful and engaging programme that secures the changes and actions needed to achieve net zero emissions is quite another.

CSE’s new programme is offering strategic advice and practical support to enable local authorities and other public bodies to step up to this challenge.

The Climate Emergency Support Programme builds on CSE’s 40 years of experience working with local councils and developing effective and socially just responses to the threat of climate change. It draws on the skills, knowledge, resources, and decision-support tools from all parts of CSE and taps into expertise from key institutions and partners.

The programme’s primary focus will be on supporting dedicated local authorities to develop meaningful and actionable programmes which engage across their districts and accelerate change.

The new programme will be led by Rachel Coxcoon who has moved into this new dedicated post from her previous role as CSE’s Head of Local and Community Empowerment. Rachel combines extensive experience of working with local and community organisations on realising sustainable energy initiatives with insights about the powers, policies and processes available to local councils to shape their areas for a net zero future.

Rachel describes the intent behind CSE’s new programme: “We will be working with councils to revolutionise the way they tackle the climate emergency by redirecting their responses away from the idea of a single manager responsible for climate issues, and reliance on national-level leadership, to instead respond with practical local plans of action that are embedded throughout all council roles and decision-making. The programme will work with councils to create effective strategies to deliver their declared climate ambitions and to reap the ecological, economic and social benefits of doing so.”

The challenge of responding to climate emergency

As our Chief Executive, Simon Roberts OBE, highlighted in his blog for UK100 earlier this year: “Achieving carbon neutrality needs people and organisations to make huge changes in their own practices and choices and in how they seek to influence others.”

For local councils these changes in practice are even more deep-rooted and complex. Not only must they tackle the difficult issue of culture change across all departments and service areas, they need to lead others to do the same, garnering support from their electorate and the organisations and businesses in their area to create a ‘coalition of the willing and active’.

The support of critical friend

Local authorities planning their net zero journey could benefit from an independent ‘critical friend’ who has an excellent understanding of the multiple levers that they will need to use to secure change. They need strategic advice on what analysis to commission and what such technical support can and can’t help them achieve. They need help navigating the minefields of planning policy and heritage and conservation legislation. They will need well designed and facilitated workshops and forums to share and learn and engage wider stakeholders.

This kind of support will require more than an off-the-shelf solution or a carbon emission calculator tool which, with a few inputs, can map out an imagined future emissions reductions trajectory. This is why Rachel will be sitting across CSE’s main teams and will be able to draw on staff and expertise from across the organisation to support with skills and tools like district heat mapping, vulnerability measures, renewables, planning policy, energy efficiency, community engagement and overarching strategy as well as workshop design and facilitation skills. The programme is also enrolling key partner organisations to contribute expertise on transport, waste, and emissions measurement methodologies.

Through the programme, CSE will bring people from within and between local authorities together to facilitate ambitious thinking on how they deliver this and how they can bring residents and businesses along with them on the journey.

Work is underway engaging with the initial group of local authorities and there has been no shortage of demand for support. We will report progress and development as we move through this first phase. And, in line with our charitable mission to share our knowledge and practical experience to empower people and organisations to take action on sustainable energy, we will then look to scale up the programme to help any local authority create and deliver a strategic and meaningful climate emergency action plan.

You can contact our climate Emergency Programme team on climateemergency@cse.org.uk.

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