Better guide to influencing a council or local authority

News has it that coronavirus is creating a wake. A wave of motion which now suggests economic recoveries from the crippling pandemic will be strongly in favour of combating climate change and environmental threats.

So how does this make you feel? Relief possibly? If you feel strongly that the environment should be protected, then surely this is a sign for celebration! But it would be wrong to think that our governments can fix everything without its people’s participation.

To achieve a sustainable society, people cannot let themselves lapse into inertia. Now that the tide is turning, it’s the best time to push for change. So consider this: -

  • Services delivered by local councils represent 5% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Councils tax businesses, manage household waste and transport policy - their influence goes well beyond the emissions of the services they provide.
  • And every individual has the power to influence their council and help them implement changes. A key way to do this being to motion for a climate emergency!

A good starting point for any citizen concerned about an issue locally is to first look up their representative and write to them. Better Century provides guidance on the best person to write to for a range of issues - you can check this out on our website here.

What is a ‘Declaration of Climate Emergency’?

A climate emergency is a statement of action by a body in authority. If a council or government declares this (and the UK government has) - it becomes a catalyst to combat climate change informed by a clear action plan.

So what is holding up widespread declarations?

Although over 400 councils have made a declaration of climate emergency, most are scratching their heads about how this is to be implemented. Making a declaration is publicly a very positive thing to do, but this often doesn’t come with ready-made policies to back it up. This means councils make a commitment to form a group to consider policy implementation, but drag their feet in turning this into real-world actions.

Political party make-ups of councils and the knowledge of councillors has also determined whether a climate (and ecological) emergency motion has been passed. These same factors determine whether a declaration results in real action.

How do we get a climate emergency passed?

A group of councillors usually puts forward a motion – a short document which outlines what the council will agree to. The motion is presented by a single councillor, with there being opportunity for residents within the council to also speak or to attend a meeting.

Motions usually set the direction of council policy. Such are most easily passed if they do not contain complicated and confusing clauses causing the motion request to be re-written and re-presented. Full council meetings occur less than once a month, so opportunities to present motions need to be used wisely!

Declaring a climate emergency usually results in council agreement to be carbon neutral by 2030, with groups formed to consider how this can be achieved. Councillors will want to demonstrate their commitment to tackling the climate and ecological crises - which often means these actions are easily passed.

How do we achieve actionable climate policy?

When motions are set before a council, i.e. to change transport policy or divest pensions, there are technical and complex issues to consider. These factors can be off-putting for the majority of councillors, as implications are not properly understood.

In cases where really forward-looking policy is discussed, be prepared for arguments. These will likely be between traditionalists wishing to maintain the status quo and pioneers happy to accept higher risks for change. Older generations and conservative politicians tend to fall into the first camp. Unfortunately this means really impactful policy is difficult to pass.

To break such deadlocks, significant education is required. Citizens’ assemblies or public meetings with professionals speaking have proven effective bringing people on board.

If you would like to help push for a motion, our community at Better Century offers advice from people who have real-world experience. We would encourage anyone to view topics and ask questions through the tag #local_authority.

How can groups support a climate emergency?

There are likely to be groups already pushing a climate emergency agenda locally. If you care about this cause, then there is little argument that you cannot join these groups! It really is as simple as turning up to a meeting! Where there isn’t one, you can try engaging with an environmental organisation to get one started… Is there any reason why you couldn’t?

Organised groups will understand what the council has control over and then consider who on the council may support change. Some hold public meetings helping to educate councillors and to engage the public, almost certainly resulting in more people joining!

Most important to a group is their make-up and agreed purpose. Having people understand the implications of decisions is critical to ensure councillors know what’s deliverable.

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This article is written by the @Internal_Team with special thanks to @Stuart If you’ve got ways to improve this article please hit reply to this topic and make some suggestions.