Local councils who have declared a Climate Emergency are generally good at ‘walking the talk’. Some have already achieved carbon neutrality for their own operations, and others are well on the way. They’re also pretty good at focusing on climate justice and ‘leaving nobody behind’. Larger UK councils have responsibility for social housing and are ensuring new builds are energy efficient and are prioritising efficiency upgrades for older social housing. For example, Leicester City Council is spending £8m on an insulation scheme for low-income homes.
But what about everyone else? How are local councils reaching mid- and high-income households and engaging them in Climate Emergency action? Maybe they have more carbon-intensive lifestyles than their low-income neighbours, and more capacity to reduce their own emissions if only it were the social norm to spend on climate beneficial behaviour rather than over-consumption. How can councils cut through information overload and grab the attention of everyone, particularly busy people?
Reading Council’s climate stripe initiatives
Collaboration across organisations might be one key to reaching beyond ‘the usual suspects’. Reading Council arranged to use Ed Hawkins’ (Reading University) climate stripes on a bus powered by bio-methane which is used on a variety of routes to give maximum exposure. Reading Football club has also jumped in by featuring the stripes on the sleeves of their new shirts.
Reading Council then used a football club photo shoot featuring the shirts and the bus to kick off their 4-week community engagement campaign Stay Onside with Climate Change during November 2022.
Reading Borough Council declared a Climate Emergency back in February 2019 but they are very conscious that “The Climate Emergency is everybody’s responsibility, and no one organisation can deliver a net-zero carbon Reading in isolation.”
Imagining a zero-carbon future
Net Zero Visions, an initiative of Climate Emergency Devon, builds on the idea that you can’t achieve a net-zero future until you can imagine it. They invite everyone to imagine what a net zero future will look like and submit their vision to be published on their website. They offer prizes for the best visions each month, with some being turned into public murals to help the public imagine a better future. There is now a mural in Tiverton, for example, and the above mural at the University of Plymouth.
Other ways to reach the broad public
Wrexham Council in Wales is currently conducting a climate action survey in which they hope a broad range of the community will participate, and they are offering free entry into a draw for some climate-positive prizes as an incentive. Alongside that they provide a link to a carbon footprint calculator and ask householders to use it to check (and reduce) their carbon emissions. Council’s aim is to:
“…work with people who live and work in Wrexham to increase the awareness and understanding of the changes we will all need to make to tackle the climate emergency.
“We’re hoping our survey can raise awareness of these issues, but it also allows us to learn a bit more about people in Wrexham, which will then help us to support them in making changes that can have a big impact.
The survey is well-designed and looks like it would be quite effective provided that it manages to grab the attention of people outside the climate bubble, but I suspect it might not reach most of the community. That would require some sort of mechanism for alerting all residents to the survey, such as inclusion with rates notices or other communications that everyone receives.
New climate-focused regulations
Back in January 2020, after declaring a Climate Emergency, Rennes Council in France banned outdoor heating at bars and cafes. Outdoor heating is enormously inefficient and they regarded the ban as an obvious way of cutting easily avoidable carbon emissions. I wonder if they also realised the controversy it generated would prove to be a very effective way of making sure all their residents were aware of their Climate Emergency declaration? It also signalled that they were serious about expecting everyone to make climate-focused changes.
Later Lyon Council also banned outdoor heating, and as of March this year a ban on outdoor heating has taken effect in all of France. This was one of the measures recommended by the French Citizens’ Assembly. It was originally due to start earlier but was pushed back in response to COVID measures.
Other councils too have introduced climate-focused bans, such as the bans on gas connections to new buildings that some local councils in the US have adopted. This would affect a narrower range of residents than the French ban on outdoor heating and so the incidental benefit of bringing notice to council’s focus on climate action might be weaker.
Local councils might prefer to avoid controversy but, in addition to the tangible climate benefits, a new regulation that has some sort of impact on a wide range of local residents is clearly useful for building awareness.
What to do next?
Make sure there is follow-up information clearly visible on the homepage of council’s website. Recent posts in the ‘good things CED councils are doing‘ series include examples of what some councils are doing to engage and empower the local community in Climate Emergency action – but the first challenge is catching everyone’s attention!
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