Climate Emergency Action Planning Tool for local government

Action planning approach and workshop ideas for local government organisations

11 December 2020

Since launching our Climate Emergency Support Programme in late 2019, we’ve spoken to around 60 local authorities and hundreds of parish and town councils at different stages of their climate emergency journey. For many council officers tasked with the job of pulling together a Climate Emergency Strategy, getting buy-in from senior officers and politicians across a range of portfolios is one of the biggest challenges.

In our experience, a great way to do this is to spend a few hours getting representatives from every part of the council to input into an Action Planning workshop. This is particularly effective when combined with an introductory session on climate science and the need for urgent action, and is a way of ‘crowd-sourcing’ ideas for action from influential players across the authority.

Rachel Coxcoon, CSE’s Climate Emergency Support Director, explains further: “Early in 2020 it became clear from conversations that I was having with lead officers (and in some cases, politicians) at different local authorities that they were struggling to get buy-in across the wider authority. Despite having in many cases unanimous support for a Climate Emergency Declaration, I was being asked to review draft action plans that didn’t seem to demonstrate a holistic approach to what a council could be doing, but seemed rather to be a dusted-off set of actions that the council had always done. As a result, the radical, far-reaching and unprecedented change that is inherent in many climate emergency declarations is lost when it’s translated into typical local authority structures.

“Thinking about this led to the development of the ‘onion diagram’ showing the levers of influence that a local authority has, rather than simply thinking about delivery through local government functions and departments. When associated with a set of ‘change targets’ that we need to achieve as a society, we can approach action planning in a way that makes us think “for every thing that we need to change, how can we bring every single lever of influence we have to bear on that issue?”

CSE has been running Action Days, bringing together groups of parish and town councils from the same county, as well as working directly with individual local authorities to promote the idea of considering all their levers of influence, and comprehensively assessing how these can be brought to bear on all of the different changes we need to make as a society. To do this, we’ve been using a spreadsheet version of this Action Planning approach, which you can download from here.

How does it work in practice?

While it’s possible for any individual to work through every tab on the spreadsheet, we believe that engaging a larger group will yield better results – and the spreadsheet contains ideas for how you might do this by running your own workshop.

The approach means that each change target is considered from a range of different angles. Take, for example, the first of our 'Change Targets': ‘Hugely reduced energy demand from buildings, including heritage assets’.

It’s common for local authorities to concentrate on their own buildings when considering this change target, and so think initially only of their 'direct control' lever or influence. They quickly develop an obvious list of actions such as insulating their office and housing stock and might also move on to thinking about what they 'Procure and Commission', committing to buying 100% renewable energy, replacing all lighting with LEDs etc.

But rarely do they move on to considering the other softer powers available to them that could help to make this change target a reality not just within their own estate but further afield. Their ‘Place Shaping’ powers allow them to set local planning policy to demand better of developers, and to consider how they can support residents with better guidance on retrofitting listed buildings via the work of the conservation team.

When asked to consider their ‘Engagement’ lever of influence, councils quickly realise that one of their biggest assets is their trusted brand; councils can do a lot to raise awareness of and interest in domestic retrofit among householders in their area just by fronting a campaign. Under 'Convening', councils might consider how they can support the development of local supply chains for retrofit – who needs to be brought together to discuss this and build partnerships, how might the council support such a partnership locally? And finally, how might councils showcase great work in this area? Which residents have already retrofitted their homes, and could their council help them help others by running a Green Open Homes event? 

By taking the time to think about how it is possible to attack the same change target from many different angles, using soft and less tangible powers alongside direct control, councils should be able to build a more comprehensive action plan. Having politicians involved in this process helps officers build a mandate for more holistic approaches and agreement to look at ways of working that the may not have benn previously thought of.


The spreadsheet tool, which also contains guidance on how to run a workshop session, can be downloaded here.

We welcome any feedback on how people have used it, and how it could be improved upon.

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