Citizens support ambitious climate action

Five lessons for local leaders from the Climate Assembly

Cara Jenkinson

Cities Manager

Leeds City Hall

The UK Climate Assembly report released this week could help local authorities make progress with their climate commitments, writes Cara Jenkinson, cities manager at climate charity Ashden.

First published on Local Government Chronicle.

The much-anticipated report from the UK Climate Assembly carries some interesting insights for local authorities as they start to turn their climate emergency declarations into action. The assembly consisted of 108 people from all walks of life, selected to statistically represent the UK population. Advised by experts, the assembly met over six weekends to understand, discuss and prioritise actions the UK should take.

So what lessons are there for local leaders?

1. Local areas should be free to choose the solutions that work for them

The assembly recognised across all areas of climate action that one size does not fit all. Whether it’s heating and home retrofit solutions, standards for new build homes or strategies for localising food production, communities should make their own choices. Cutting road transport emissions will look different in cities and countryside, with assembly members recognising that rural areas are likely to be adversely affected by policies that increase the cost of driving.

2. Wider benefits of climate action are important

Co-benefits emerged as a key theme as the assembly evaluated different policy options. Tackling climate change can improve health, reduce pollution, and provide job opportunities. Positive action such as ‘localisation’ where post offices, shops and healthcare facilities are put back into local communities were more popular than policies that restricted individual choice, effectively forcing people to own a car. Assembly members valued the community and well-being benefits of local food production over smarter, more efficient farming along current lines which could risk biodiversity through intensification.

3. Education, education, education

Assembly members felt that the top priority principle that should underpin climate action was informing and educating everyone – this was essential to get buy in for the action needed. For local leaders, this means promoting carbon literacy across all council departments and public services as well as working with schools and colleges to promote climate teaching. Some councils such as Greenwich RBC are working with a local university to train department managers. In Greater Manchester, the fire service used training materials from the Carbon Literacy project to train officers across their stations.

4. Citizens’ assemblies work

Policymakers, whether local or national, need to understand what policies will be acceptable to the public and citizens assemblies provide unique insights. Several councils including Oxford City Council and Camden LBC, have run local citizens’ assemblies, using the same process to select members that are representative of the population. Citizens’ assemblies are a powerful method to generate ideas and evaluate trade-offs, and their strength lies in their role in helping participants to get to grips with the issues. An assembly will never replace public consultation but can help generate policy that is more likely to be accepted.

5. But national government must lead

One of the strongest views of the UK Climate Assembly was that there must be strong and clear leadership from government that can bring a cross-party consensus. Echoing calls from many local policy makers, the assembly members wanted certainty and long-term planning which would allow for a phased transition.

The national Climate Assembly has demonstrated that once informed of the issues, citizens support ambitious action on climate change. Local leaders should feel confident that if they engage with their communities and take action that solves climate change and wider social issues at the same time, they will bring their citizens with them.

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