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Why climate change is a local issue too

The National Association of Local Councils’ (NALC) projects officer, Claire Goldfinch writes on the role communities can play in protecting the environment.

The effects of climate change were evident within every community in 2020 – most notably in the extreme weather conditions.

In February, Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis hit the UK which resulted in mass flooding in West Yorkshire. In July, Heathrow Airport saw temperatures of 37.8 degrees Celcius. While in August rampant wildfires ran through Surrey, causing mass damage. Finally, the 3 October was the wettest day on record which saw an average on 31.7mm of rain across the UK.

As evidenced by these events, climate change has affected each community drastically. It will only get worse in years to come.

It is down to every community to understand the tasks that they can implement to tackle climate change.

And, as localised community action is part of the solution to climate change, local (parish and town) councils, being the most local of local government and nearest to their communities, are crucial to changing the hearts, minds and actions of individuals.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC), the membership body for 10,000 local councils in England,
is taking action to help local councils in their endeavour to rebuild communities after the coronavirus pandemic and
create sustainable communities.

NALC is supporting its members by providing solutions to climate change through its website guidance, and by
providing good practice examples. For instance, we have highlighted the excellent work local councils are doing round climate change by publishing over 100 occurrences in our Climate Change case studies document.

One featured council is Frome Parish Council, Somerset, which declared a climate emergency in 2018 and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

It introduced a solar funding project which helps residents install solar panels at a discounted rate. So far, 15 homes
have used the Solar Streets programme, and more are in progress.

The council is also introducing sustainability measures such as pledging to stop using single-use plastics in the town hall.

The council has made a clear impact within the community and has made it easy for others to do the same.

Penrith Town Council, Cumbria, is a member in its local climate change group, Plastic Clever Penrith. The group provides initiatives and advice to residents and businesses on how small changes can reduce plastic waste.

This initiative helps stop unnecessary waste and improve the local environment. The Plastic Clever Vision, set up by
this group is to have every consumer business in Penrith sign up to a voluntary plastic-clever scheme which includes
replacing plastic bags, cups, stirrers, straws, and packaging with biodegradable alternatives.

Fownhope Parish Council, Hereford, declared a climate emergency in 2019 and, has since been working to create a
document that sets out what this means for the council, local businesses and the community. It has considered how to set up community groups to run ‘make-do and mend’ or ‘repair’ cafes to reduce waste.

It is implementing a collective green energy purchase; a communal composting area, a communal green waste skip to reduce individual journeys of the 12 miles round trip to the nearest refuse centre; and recycling stations for both visitors and residents.

Additionally, Fownhope hopes that the development of a parish-wide electronic carbon calculator and reporting toolkit would enable the community to gain an understanding of where their carbon emissions need addressing, allowing them to reduce emissions collectively.

NALC has also been encouraging councils to join the Woodland Trust’s Tree Charter to take action in their communities. The Woodland Trust states that to reach the government target of net-zero carbon by 2050, we would
need to increase the tree cover in the UK from 13% to at least 19%.

The Tree Charter group encourages local councils to plant the right trees in the right place and increase woodland cover.

For Tree Charter Day 2019, 16 local councils planted over 8,500 trees in their communities. We believe that across our local councils, we can rebuild our communities, and rebuild them in a more climate-friendly way. We want to spread the message that climate change is a real threat to even our smallest communities and that local councils are taking the lead in pursuing sustainable communities.

This article first appeared in the December Air Quality News magazine, click here to read. 

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