There’s a climate emergency – what can councils do next?


Author: Megan Blyth, local and community empowerment project officer at the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE)

Tackling the climate crisis is a daunting task, especially for councils that may not have access to large budgets, resources or staff. But we know more and more local councils have declared climate emergencies and are thinking about plans for positive change in their local area. But what support is available to ensure these plans benefit local communities and the planet? 

Knowing where to start is tricky. There’s a lot of information out there that can be hard to digest if you’re not already clued up on things like renewable energy, carbon footprinting and climate action. The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) has a dedicated community team that assists local councils in several ways to make taking that first step achievable. 

Understanding your local carbon footprint

A logical start is to understand where your community’s emissions are coming from. The Impact: Community Carbon Calculator shows where emissions are coming from, split into helpful categories like heating, transport, food and diet, and waste. The tool allows you to compare your area to others and against the national average. You’ll be able to see where you can focus your efforts to produce meaningful results. 

Tatham Parish Council used Impact and discovered home heating emissions were very high in their area, so the council began to engage with their community through surveys, a new ‘Carbon Committee’ and a retrofit (energy saving home improvement) programme. This activity supported the local community in understanding why using less energy at home is important and gave them practical steps to take action. 

Creating a targeted action plan

CSE’s Climate Action days support local (parish and town) councils in developing their community action plans. The Climate Action days explore how to build an understanding of climate change in your area and what climate action looks like in practice. So far CSE has supported over 500 councillors and clerks through our Climate Action Days.

"The day was excellent!" said Gill, a recent attendee. "I was sceptical about the whole thing but…the [climate action] message has become easier to understand; it’s personal and effective and relevant to parish councils, as we can, and should, act as ambassadors."

The collaborative days boost motivation to tackle climate change and enable participants to connect with other councils tackling climate change. Through networking groups, participants continue to share resources, knowledge and projects post-event. This is particularly beneficial for local parish councils to work together and coordinate approaches.

The power of community energy

Moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy is an important part of climate action. Together with partners on the Next Generation project, CSE has overseen 15 community-led projects and business models that help communities generate income, meet local needs and be less reliant on fossil fuels. 

Traditional community energy models – like owning a wind turbine – are less viable due to policy changes. So we’re working with the community energy sector to explore other opportunities from electric car charging or time-of-use tariffs and more. Bold ideas are required to see the energy transition necessary to meet UK net zero targets by 2050. And, as each local area is different with unique needs, communities can develop projects perfectly suited to them. Read these stories for inspiration on what you can do in your local area.

Meaningful community engagement for local renewables 

We need more and a wider mix of renewable energy projects across the country. But to make this happen, there must be buy-in from communities.

CSE’s Future Energy Landscapes (FEL) puts communities at the heart of energy planning. While local surveys often demonstrate strong support for renewable energy projects, CSE found that, in practice, the same projects can often be rejected. This disjoint is a result of communities not feeling involved and consulted on developments. Often, planning and climate targets are set by the Local Authority, which doesn’t feel local enough for towns and parishes and the people that live there. 

There needs to be more collaboration and opportunity for communities and parish and town councils to carefully consider what a low-carbon transition might look like in their area. CSE’s free methodology promotes a joined-up approach where voices aren’t excluded and local government, Local Planning Authorities, neighbourhood planning groups, and parish and town councils are working towards shared and agreed goals. We’re offering free workshops if you’re interested in having conversations about renewable energy in your area.

Sign up to CSE’s newsletter to keep updated with latest news. Want help with your local climate action planning? Contact our communities team for more information.  

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