“After Covid, it will be hard for any government to say radical climate action is not possible.”

July 10, 2020  |  By Hannah Jameson, Lambeth Council

In our Decades in Days series, we talk to the people leading change in local government. They tell us about their work, their place, and the effect of COVID-19 on both. We find out how they dealt with the incredible demands of a pandemic, and how this moment might be used to shift and shape public services for good. This week, we speak to Hannah Jameson, the Assistant Director Sustainable Growth and Climate Change Response at Lambeth Council.

The mindset shifts we’ve seen during the pandemic are going to be important for climate change too. People haven’t been able to consume things in the same way, many are shopping locally, realising they can work from home, and finding a growing appreciation for outdoor spaces.

After Covid, it will be hard for any government to say radical climate action is not possible. We’ve seen how quickly they can move and how quickly people can change.

There’s a limit to what any institution can do against climate change. As a council we plan to move to renewable energy, improve cycle infrastructure and public transport, but ultimately change comes down to people’s ability to adapt. The question is how can we help them feel they can do something? How do you make positive actions simple to do?

Community power is critical for the climate change response. This is particularly true for improving our resilience to climate change. Resilience will be as much about our social connections and access to information as it will about flood defences or cooling buildings. And the same neighbourhood-level support that was so brilliant under Covid is going to be essential in managing future climate shocks like floods and fire.

We are committed to holding a climate citizens assembly as soon as it’s safe to do so. Our response to this challenge needs a diversity of responses and a diverse set of policies, particularly from groups who haven’t been as heard as much.

The time frames that used to feel reasonable before Covid, now don’t. We’ve formed partnerships that would have taken 10 years, in a couple of months. It’s involved totally different ways of working. The trick will be how to sustain this.

We’ve all leant more on relationships. There is more of a tendency to just pick up the phone and see if an informal solution can be reached quickly.

The role of the local authority needs to change. What’s our place today in growing and supporting communities – or backing out of the way? How do we change our mindset from having a service delivery function into one with a leadership and facilitative role? These are core questions.

The TFL bailout is forcing us to move incredibly quickly to reform transport. Under the government’s terms we need to put forward our most ambitious plans to get people out of private vehicles and walking or cycling instead. We came up with our transport strategy last Autumn after a lot of slow, careful, creative thinking– now we’re having to move at pace and deliver what would have taken years; in months.

It is not inevitable that we will come out of this period in a more sustainable, climate-friendly position. There are opportunities to affect that shift, but it’s down to a lot of people to make that happen. Some elements will run against it – the desire for economic growth of any type to create jobs; the Brexit threat; new trading relationships. That could all lead to us being in a really disappointing climate position five years down the line.

We will need to think very differently about funding. Lambeth has been in a better position than many, but we face a very significant budget shortfall as a result of the Covid response and lost income, versus the amount central government has agreed to reimburse. For a lot of colleagues, it must feel very bleak to know you’re simply not able to provide the services you believe and know are needed.

The wealth of community is what makes so much possible in Lambeth. It’s a borough with a rich civic life and a huge amount of energy, where your decisions will be held to account. It’s full of amazing people and organisations. The challenge is having the capacity to make use of all the skills and insights around you.