Kathryn Haworth, head of highways at Gloucestershire County Council, shares her thoughts on the role of local authorities in tackling climate change and explains how the ADEPT / Amey Excellence in Place Leadership Programme is helping to drive action and innovation in this area.
The role of local authorities in meeting the government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050 cannot be underestimated. Since April 2019, 300 local authorities have declared climate emergencies, and many of those have set the ambitious target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.
To amplify the importance of local action in tackling the climate crisis, ADEPT and partners, including Friends of the Earth, Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, and Ashden published a document in December 2020, which calls for central government to provide more funding and support.
The ‘Blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level’ argues that the number one priority is setting up a joint local and central government taskforce on climate change.
The recent Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget (1) also acknowledges the role of councils saying: ‘The Sixth Carbon Budget can only be achieved if Government, regional agencies and local authorities work seamlessly together and warns that without coordination from government, the UK: “risks pursuing a fragmented strategy towards net-zero’
It is timely then, that the focus of ADEPT and Amey’s most recent Excellence in Place Leadership (EiPL) programme session focused on ‘Leadership in a Climate Emergency’, looking at how local authorities can translate this to a local level.
The Excellence in Place Leadership programme was launched in 2019 and was set up to bring together forward-thinking ‘thought leaders’ from across ADEPT to form a professional network, to drive innovation and create an environment for change across local places. The programme began in January and consisted of four sessions – the format and subjects varied and included keynote thought leaders, structured discussions and activities.
Our fourth and final EiPL session was on ‘Leadership in a Climate Emergency’. To kick off the day, I delivered a real-world case study, looking at the current climate change strategy in Gloucestershire. I wanted to set the scene and examine what the challenges are – many of which are shared by other local authority areas across the country – with the aim of providing Gloucestershire with a series of tangible recommendations.
Three expert contributors – Jon Furley, from the University of Gloucestershire, Ola Gustaffson from Gehl, and John Twitchen from Env23 – all spoke about their experiences o
working on climate change projects. We were joined by representatives from the Gloucestershire Youth Panel, who provided an insight into how they would like authorities to react to the climate emergency.
Following this, we split into two workshop groups, focusing on either transport or economy, holding detailed discussions. One interesting result of our debates was the contrast between how the climate change emergency and Covid-19 are being approached. Local authorities are – generally – applying a ‘business as usual’ approach to climate change, looking for solutions from within our existing frameworks and systems. This doesn’t factor in that our whole approach needs to change.
We need to apply our learning from dealing with Covid-19 to the climate change emergency, working at pace and with agility.
Our main outcome for the day was to create a think piece for local authorities. We discovered that many of the themes and challenges around the country on climate change were universal, and identified a number of recommendations for Gloucestershire, which can be applied to different locations.
Ultimately though, we had one overriding conclusion – there is no magic bullet to achieve our net-zero goals. This is a hugely complex issue and we need comprehensive and wide-ranging government commitment at all levels, along with communities, to sign up to this. Behavioural change is critical, which needs commitment from everyone. We also need to recognise that we are planning and designing for future generations. This is not only about our immediate needs, it is about how we plan for the future, sustainably.
The Excellence in Place Leadership programme has been a really valuable experience – I’ve developed my skills and grown my network of colleagues across the local authority spectrum, as well as got involved in emerging policy areas and how to translate that to local implementation. We hope that it will help to drive action and innovation in tackling the climate crisis.
The ADEPT Excellence in Place Leadership programme is sponsored by Amey, who pioneered this approach within the highways sector in 2018. ADEPT and Amey continue to collaborate and will deliver a second programme during 2021.
More information about ADEPT can be found on its website: www.adeptnet.org.uk
· More information about ADEPT’s work on climate change can be found here: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/projects/climate-change-hub
(1) Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget – https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/sixth-carbon-budget/