Local authorities are well aware of climate risk and the need to implement adaptation measures to keep their residents safe. At the launch of their new UK-wide adaptation learning network, Ashden brought local authorities together to share information, learn from each other and listen to a selection of speakers. With 160 attendees, it showed the importance of the subject to local authority climate officers.
As Simon Brammer, Head of Ashden’s Cities team explained at the beginning of the online event, “The UK government’s own climate risk assessment concluded that early adaptation investments are really effective, delivering value for money.
“When you talk to people about their vision of a resilient town or city, they say the same thing – they want clean air and green and blue spaces that increase physical and mental well-being. They want warm and affordable-to-heat homes and also buildings that stay cool in our ever-increasing hotter summers or have reduced flood risk. They want new opportunities and new skills, better education and fairly paid jobs.
“They also want cities on a human scale where we can prosper, enjoy ourselves, and engage with our communities and neighbours. And by responding to these desires, we engage people’s values and demonstrate that climate adaptation can deliver positive results for everyone and help councils deliver a raft of non-climate objectives across multiple departments simultaneously.”
Speakers from the Local Government Association, Hampshire County Council, Thames 21 and Enfield Council in North London, and the Grantham Institute set the scene, making the case for and showcasing the power of locally tailored adaptation measures.
Andrew Richmond, Policy Advisor, Climate Change and Growth, for the Local Government Association (LGA), works on its local infrastructure and net zero board and started by laying out the evidence of public perception on climate. In 2023, the LGA commissioned a YouGov opinion poll, the results of which painted a clear picture: 8 out 10 people surveyed were concerned about climate and three quarters want net zero to be delivered by 2050. Half want to bring that date forward. Only 12 per cent thought climate change wouldn’t affect their area.
In terms of delivery, he was clear that while supportive national policies and funding are essential, “the complexity of adapting to our local places has to be delivered locally. It cannot be from Whitehall.”
Andrew emphasised that local variations in circumstances – from coastal flooding to urban heat islands or tackling wildfires – means taking account of contexts is key, and councils hold a critical role in planning as well as preparing people and places to the impacts of climate change. Planning authorities, housing authorities, emergency planners and community leaders all need to be involved. In fact, the YouGov poll showed that local government was trusted ahead of the blue light services and national government and its agencies, as well as ahead of charities and businesses.
The LGA also commissioned research conducted by Local Partnerships, who surveyed local authority officers. They also found a clear willingness within the sector to accelerate adaptation planning, with key opportunities to integrate benefits for public health and wellbeing. However, councils reported that barriers to adaptation action remain, with lack of national messaging behind policy ranking highest at 93%, followed by 73% citing lack of resources as impeding progress.
The commissioned research also asked what is necessary to increase awareness around adaptation in line with mitigation? Some of the recommendations included developing understanding among senior officials in local government; providing retrofit advice; clearer planning frameworks for adaptation; more research which quantifies the costs of not adapting to climate change; and creating a workforce with the capacity and skills to deliver climate mitigation and adaptation hand in hand.
For this to happen, Government must:
Watch Andrew Richmond’s presentation.
Hampshire County Council is the first, and so far only, council in the country to have set a resilience target alongside its carbon neutral target. As Danny Olsson, Climate Change Delivery Manager, explained Hampshire aims to make the county resilient to a 2 degree rise in global temperatures.
“In the South of England, we’re expecting warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers,” he said, as well as increased and more regular flooding.
Hampshire County Council started out by working with the Carbon Trust to develop simple decision making tools that enable employees across the council to consider basic climate and sustainability questions when designing and carrying out their services. This was a first step to mainstreaming climate, and ensuring the impact of everything the council does is consciously considered.
The council also declared 2022 the Year of Climate Resilience, which raised the profile of climate-related thinking within the council. In an effort to make staff aware of adaptation planning and where existing gapss are, they now have e-learning for managers across council departments on the practicalities of mitigation and adaptation measures – from IT to legal services, procurement and communications.
In Danny’s presentation he reveals a wide range of activities delivered by the Council, with co-benefits woven throughout.
Hampshire is also looking outwards, using targeted messaging campaigns to residents that coincide with peak weather events. These messages guide people on practical issues such as how to make their homes more resilient to flooding, heat or cold, and to think ahead – offering quick and cheap solutions and signposting to local organisations and advice centres.
“We’ve identified our role as a strategic role – facilitating and enabling those closer to the ground to deliver the right kind of projects and ensure that the co-benefits and adaptation benefits are felt and embedded into what is happening in the communities. The next phase is to develop a piece of work on co-production with hard to reach or under-served communities.”
Watch Danny Olsson’s presentation.
Nature conservation charity Thames 21 and Enfield Council have been working together on nature-based solutions creating wetlands and reducing flooding impact in the outer London borough. Their impressive partnership, which spans over a decade, was recognised when they became the 2023 Ashden Award winner for the Local Nature Recoverers category.
Enfield has an unusual mix of urban and rural environments. The town of Edmonton is very densely populated but surrounding rural areas include a huge greenbelt area and unusually large watercourses for a London borough, draining into the River Lee and flooding the urban areas.
“The rivers had been treated very badly – they’d been heavily modified and not cared for and completely disconnected from the natural water cycle,” explained Thames 21’s Engagement Manager, Sam Bentley-Toon. “And because of the nature of the densely populated urban environment we also have a lot of pollution from the roads and misconnections [from housing extensions plumbing waste pipes into the waste water pipes] which go into the rivers.”
Jamie Kukadia, Senior Watercourses Engineer from Enfield Council explained the background and features of the transformative project – including restoration of rivers and the creation of 13 wetland projects around Enfield. More than 135,000 trees were planted in 80 hectares of new woodlands, mainly by volunteers, protecting 400 local properties from flooding and engaged with farmers to create rural Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS).
Now well over 1,000 people benefit from roadside rain gardens and nearby wetlands which not only store water from floods, but also remove pollutants absorbed by the range of wetland planting – providing health benefits to the community as well as valuable wildlife habitats.
“The project shows that cities and nature do not have to be at odds with each other. When there’s a big rainfall event, it’s now less likely to flood down in the local town of Edmonton, and the wildlife is thriving in the urban parks and around the borough,” said Sam.
Volunteering and community involvement is a key legacy of the project explains Jamie – engaging over 5500 people a year. “People are stepping up as tree planters, vegetation managers, river cleaners and citizen scientists,” says Jamie.
The activities provide physical and mental health benefits to the community, including school children who come on visits to go pond dipping and bird watching, and to volunteers involved in the project, many of whom are signposted from health services and charities for nature-prescribing sessions.
Watch the Thames21 presentation.
Candice Howarth is Head of Local Climate Action at the Grantham Research Institute but has also been closely involved with the Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) – a £3.5m five-year network aimed at translating policy on climate change into action on the ground with a range of local communities.
PCAN’s work revolved around a core group of Climate Commissions in Belfast, Edinburgh and Leeds, which brought together local authorities, universities and others in each location.
The project set up core City Commissions in Belfast, Edinburgh and Leeds through partnerships between local authorities and a university in each area. They then brought together different climate action stakeholders.
PCAN has observed that adaptation shares many of the same issues as mitigation and the drive towards net zero: limited fit-for-purpose information; weak governance; siloed approaches; lack of knowledge and skills; securing funding. Candice stressed that while the increasing prominence of adaptation is positive, it should not be seen as separate from mitigation.
A key focus for PCAN has been researching resilience to extreme heat, in response to the heatwaves of 2022 which led to over 3000 excess deaths. The heatwave in July 2022, when some places in the UK breached 40 degrees Celsius, was, as Candice points out, a one in 1000-year event.
PCAN, in conjunction with the London School of Economics and the British Red Cross, explored experiences of the 2022 heatwaves in the Humber region, London and Manchester. They interviewed ordinary residents, representatives from central Government, emergency services and utilities companies. The findings of this research are to be published in February 2024, but a resounding message came from all different groups: the UK is not prepared for 40-degree heat. In fact, even temperatures as low as 25 degrees Celsius are exposing people to dangerous conditions, given that our natural and built environment are not well adapted for heat.
On the back of its findings, PCAN’s main policy ask is for a National Heat Risk Strategy to be produced, setting out who owns the risk and responsibility for rapid response and preparedness. Enhanced protection for the vulnerable (the young, elderly, pregnant or people with health conditions) in times of extreme heat is essential. And we must think beyond the immediate response too – for instance, finding ways to avoid the uncontrolled proliferation of air conditioning which will only exacerbate climate change and is counterproductive in the long run.
Watch Candice Howarth’s presentation.
For local authority officers searching for more peer learning spaces around adaptation, Ashden recommends the University of Exeter’s Communities of Practice, with whom Ashden will collaborate closely. The Communities of Practice differs to Ashden’s network as it is open to a wider range of organisations, including academia, charities, businesses and the health sector and offers an alternative, non-local authority specific perspective. It is chaired by Peter Lefort.
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