How local actions can tackle climate change

October 20, 2021  

Local action can play a major role in our response to climate change.

This is the case that New Local makes in our latest report ‘Communities vs Climate Change: the power of local action’, published in partnership with GroundworkGrosvenor and Eden Project Communities.

The advantages of local action

Other forms of climate action are well understood:

  • International coordination, like the upcoming COP summit, is important because it offers us the greatest leverage over curbing emissions at the global level.
  • National target setting, such as the government’s 2050 net-zero commitment, has a role in creating legal frameworks to drive change.
  • And individual actions and lifestyle changes are important because they can help us navigate the shifting conditions of the world around us.

However, for too long, local, community-based activity has been written out of our understanding of what responding to climate change looks like. This is, we believe, a mistake.

Local action has three key advantages:

  • it allows you to be responsive to the specific priorities of people on the ground, and ensure that policies ‘work’ in the context of specific places
  • local action has an inherent legitimacy, and allows people to be consulted and involved in policy making, design and delivery in ways that are simply impossible with more top-down approaches
  • local is the level at which we can adapt to the specific problems caused by climate change. While the nature of the crisis is global, its impacts – e.g. flooding, hotter houses, drought – are local. They need to be dealt with locally.

Harnessing these features of local action will be imperative if we are to put together a transformational climate change agenda.

The role of councils and communities

But how, in practice, can this be done? In the report we argue that the answer lies in the relationship between the local government and local communities.

In areas like housing, planning, transport and green space management councils have a range of powers that mean they can take ‘hard’ action against climate change. However, our analysis suggests that even if they leverage these to their maximum potential, councils will only be able to impact around a third of local carbon emissions.

Councils can impact around a third of local carbon emissions

If local government wants to move beyond this and really deliver a wide-ranging local climate change agenda, then they will have to reach out to the communities that they serve. This means working with community groups in a variety of ways.

In the most activist sense, it means proactively going out there and mobilising local people around climate change – engaging people in conversation and stimulating action.

It also means working with pre-existing community groups and initiatives to facilitate their work. By sharing knowledge and resources, convening forums, and facilitating networking between local changemakers.

By doing these things, local government can create a rich ecosystem of local climate projects and initiatives. Together, they can make a huge impact on local emissions and local ways of life.

Inspiring action at local level

There is of course more that could be done, particularly if councils were better funded, and if devolution granted them further powers.

However, as the case studies in this report demonstrate, there is already a huge amount of inspiring action that can take place at local levels if efforts are made to facilitate it.

Climate change is the defining policy challenge of our times. We can’t sit around and wait for it to be ‘fixed’ for us from on high. We must instead get to work – and start with the people around us and in the places that we live.

Read ‘Communities vs Climate Change: the power of local action

Image: Groundwork’s Communities Prepared project

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