How to Get Councils to Implement a Climate Emergency Through Policy?

Thankyou all for such proactive suggestions. The council is planning a community working group which I will try to join, and there is an active group in our town that is also involved. Fingers crossed

I’m a little sceptical of councils declaring a climate emergency. My feeling is that this can be a good PR exercise for them but doesn’t necessarily affect policy. Our district council has declared a “climate emergency” (see . However, I don’t know what concrete effects this has had.

I would recommend getting involved with your parish or town council if you want to improve your local environment. I joined my local parish council about 6 months ago and they have been quite receptive to ideas like installing solar panels. Wildlife conservation / biodiversity ideas are also usually popular with everyone.

Parish councils sometimes have money to spend on infrastructure, especially those who are undergoing housing development as developers have to pay CIL.

Getting involved at the parish level is pretty easy. Personally I didn’t even have to stand for election. I simply asked to join and was “co-opted” on to the council.

I think if you tread carefully and treat others with respect, it is totally possible to influence policy at the local level.

Ok so as an update on this: A member of the public actually proposed that the Parish Council declare a “joint climate and wildlife emergency” at the last meeting :grinning:.

I think that there may be a couple of other councillors who would support this if we put it in the right way so I’m going to try to get something on the agenda.

For the “climate” bit I was going to propose something like the district council has done but I’m a little stumped about what actual actions we could put into the “wildlife” bit. So if anyone has any ideas I’d love to hear them.

Exciting times on the Parish Council :grin:

Free trees for planting in a government funded initiative

Just to update you on my progress with my local Parish Council. Last night the council voted unanimously to create a working group composed of counsellors and local residents to formulate the content of a “Climate and Ecological Emergency Declaration”. After this is done the group will continue to meet to generate ideas for ways in which the parish can improve the local ecology and reduce its carbon footprint. :grinning:

I was really expecting a battle to get this idea through the council but the level of support shown was genuinely encouraging. I’m so proud of the parish and the council :grinning::grinning::grinning:


Nice one Russ!

Linking these two topics:

Great news. Keep on keeping on. My town council has done the same and so has county council

These topics need linking;

I’ve just started working on some policy ideas with the local XR group. Here’s my thinking (could be helpful for others):

Step 1: Consider what a council actually has the power to make decisions about (example below for district council):

  • The way their estate is managed; buildings, green spaces and rental properties.
  • Building standards through planning permissions and guidance
  • Fleet of vehicles they use
  • Offices & staff management
  • Council funds pensions
  • Business rates
  • Waste disposal
  • Budget
  • Air quality standards
  • Low emissions zones
  • Parking
  • Local plan (although this is set to 2031 and is a huge piece of work to unravel again)

What areas do they have considerable influence:

  • Contractors – waste etc
  • Suppliers
  • Landscape scale planning
  • Standards of properties being used in their area
  • Relevant national policy (e.g. landfill tax)

Step 2: Consider where there are easy wins

Do you want them to implement all policies now or do we want involvement for the long run so we can do a bit of learning by doing?

What are the easiest things to achieve?

I would argue that actual policies to help them implement a climate emergency are probably the most effective as they provide good PR for the council and getting those popular wins in will help galvanise further involvement. If we go for too much too early we could damage relationships.

I provide all my thinking on policies and welcome a discussion about prioritisation.

Step 3: Long List Policy Ideas

Estate management

  • A full audit of environmental impact (carbon, water, ecosystems) to be conducted
  • Environment policy to be put in place for the estate that results in zero carbon scope 1 carbon emissions and a net gain in biodiversity by 2030

Buildings on their estate (in order of priority):

  • All moved to be powered by 100% renewable electricity for the next budget
  • All energy efficiency measures with a payback period of 8 years to be researched and implemented within the next two years of budgets
  • Solar panels to be installed on all buildings that can provide an 11-year return on investment
  • Any heating units that need replacing across the estate to be replaced with renewable alternatives (e.g. air source or ground source heat pumps), and for all buildings on the estate to be powered by electric sourced heating by 2030.

Note – it’s important to get the life time value out of existing units (there is a considerable carbon cost to manufacturing and disposal)

Green space on the estate (includes; road verges, walking routes, parks, green spaces in front of buildings)

  • Create wildflower road verges and implement low level cutting regime – potentially in partnership with a charity (see Dorset’s plans here – there are numerous other examples across the country)
  • Review management practices of green estate in partnership with a local conversation charity, and implement a nature recovery network across the area which leaves connected parts of the estate for nature, with low level management practices.

Fleet of vehicles

  • Move all vehicles managed by the council to electric by 2030, meaning that any currently needing to be replaced to be replaced with electric

Offices, supplier & staff management

  • Move to paperless offices by 2025 (although I haven’t done the analysis here – I’m not convinced it’s more environmental friendly)
  • Implement working from home where possible to minimise transport
  • Begin to measure travel to work emissions and set a pathway and mechanism (scope 3) to reduce this to zero by 2030
  • Set new standards on tendering for work from council to influence suppliers (e.g. Environmental policy scrutiny, carbon emissions from services provided)

Council funds and pensions

Building standards through planning permissions and guidance

  • A percentage canopy cover in all new buildings is a great policy – High Wycombe have gone for 30% - it’s a smart policy… (although do acknowledge the trees policy as discussed in the meeting)
  • All new buildings to not have gas central heating (use geothermal or air source heat pumps), to have highest energy efficiency standards (potentially passivhaus) and to have solar panels
  • A 30% net gain in biodiversity must be achieved from any building constructed.

Business rates (so much which can be done here but also really controverial):

  • Lower business rates for zero emissions businesses (or potential carbon differentiated business rates?!)
  • Potential business rates for ecosystem services (flood & climate mitigation, biodiversity etc etc)

Waste disposal – one highlighted in XR document

  • Most forward looking policy is pay per weight policy (implemented in Ireland and Norwaynews article here good) but I’m not sure it’s something that could be implemented at this scale, but could be asked for a feasibility study to be conducted by the waste management company.
  • Waste company to be set new standards for delivery and encouragement of reduction in non-recyclable waste.

Air quality standards, Low Emissions Zones & Parking

  • Establishing zero emissions zones by a particular date has been done affectively by Oxford CC, with this probably being the most forward looking policy in the country, but more could be done in this space – e.g. Congestion Charge (very effective in London, would bring in money whilst reducing emissions), electric cars given free parking and access to bus lanes.
  • A good policy would be that an area of Banbury would be set as a zero emissions zone by 2025.

Local Plan

  • The central tenant needs to be about carbon and ecosystems which would mean mapping a nature recovery network and embedding it into the plan and finding ways to mitigate for all carbon emissions across the area.

Hi Russell- I agree with your comment about how declaring a Climate Emergency doesn’t necessarily get practical policy change going. Surrey recently declared and yet soon after approved 30 years of drilling for oil and gas at Horse Hill near Gatwick. In terms for declaring a Wildlife Emergency-it would be good to tie in with local RSPB group to do a bird survey and find out if there are any endangered or red list birds in the parish. The same can be done with bats and insects and trees. It would be fantastic to create an educational tool kit on biodiversity that is very localised --created in the parish for use in local schools for assemblies or for wildlife talks at the parish halls, tying in with expert speakers from the Wildlife Trust or Woodland Trust etc.

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Thanks for the ideas about surveying local wildlife @emilymott. Really useful.

Just an update on the progress with this at the Parish Council:

During the initial vote to set up the working party to decide on the wording of the emergency declaration, the support was unanimous. :heart_eyes:

However, the Chariman was away on holiday. At the next meeting he was back and it turns out that he is a climate change denier. :neutral_face:

This gave other like-minded councillors courage to turn against the idea of declaring an emergency. Why they couldn’t have been honest about their views in the first place I do not know :roll_eyes: . In an even more bizarre twist, one of the councillors who actually voluntarily joined the Climate and Ecological Emergency working party, revealed that they are a “climate sceptic” . :rofl::rofl::rofl:

TLDR We are now in a position that it might not get through.

I’m now proposing that we survey local residents to see what the feeling of the community is about this.

I’m hoping that the results of the survey will show strong support for declaring a climate emergency and that will strengthen our position enough to get it through the vote. It’s all a bit frustrating really.

Am linking my most recent negative experience to this topic:

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My local town council and county council have both declared a climate emergency. County wide, there will be re-wilding projects. Closer to home, a tree planting project got underway this weekend with 45 Trees planted, and another 100 planned in a few weeks

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The Highland Council in Scotland does not even have a Climate Change Committee… it was disbanded in 2012 but apparently they have a climate change coordinator now. If you look at the map on you will see that there is nothing north of Inverness.

Belfast City Council have declared a Climate Emergency…they did that on 20th September 2019. Not sure how they are engaging… I will enquire!

I attach the Climate Emergency Strategy that my local council is currently consulting on.

It might give ideas for others who are lobbying or working with their councils.

North-Somerset-climate-emergency-strategy-2019.pdf (201.8 KB)

Thanks Heather! Here’s the updated list of all councils who’ve declared a climate emergency in the UK: