Putting communities at the heart of climate action decision making

July 20, 2023   By Kelly McBride, Deliberative Democracy Lead, TPXimpact,

Climate change and its impacts are already being seen and felt around the world, meaning we need to take action now to mitigate and adapt to its effects, both in the short and long term. Kelly McBride, Deliberative Democracy Lead at TPXimpact, outlines the opportunities for and barriers to tackling climate change locally.

It’s widely understood that we need to take action, but there are a range of different ideas on how to best address climate issues. Some say we need a coordinated global approach, while others believe national governments should take the lead. Both these approaches are important and necessary, but what is less talked about is the role of local communities in decision-making to help shape and make impactful changes.

This was the key point of discussion at a panel I was recently a part of at New Local’s Stronger Things event. This session featured a range of insightful speakers from across the world, all who had a passion for putting power into local communities’ hands to address the biggest challenges they face, especially when it came to climate change. 

Each of us had our own views on how to drive community engagement in local climate initiatives, but we all agreed that it can bring real solutions. From my perspective, one of the biggest challenges in involving communities in climate action is how to show people that their input can influence decision makers and help shape policy where they live.

Framing the conversation 

As mentioned, people are aware of the scale of action that is needed to tackle climate change. However, this can leave them feeling that, with the level of change that is needed, taking action at a local level will have little impact and that their ideas won’t be heard by those in charge, leaving them hesitant to get involved in community action. 

To overcome this potential apathy and promote grassroots action, local authorities need to make it clear to people how their participation can create immediate and meaningful benefits. By framing conversations around topics like improving transport systems or enhancing air quality in town centres, while also demonstrating that community views matter and will be acted upon by all stakeholders, councils can engage people in not just addressing climate change but also improving their own local environment. This will give residents more reasons to get involved and drive change in their own backyard.

Diversity and inclusion

Additionally, it’s crucial to bring people together to discuss their concerns and ideas. Communities are diverse and full of individuals with different perspectives. Providing a platform for them to share their thoughts and collaborate on finding solutions fosters teamwork and ensures greater support for any actions taken.

Putting theory into practice 

I’ve witnessed first-hand the benefits of taking this approach. With my colleagues at TPXimpact, I recently collaborated with Barnet Council which has declared a climate emergency and committed to becoming a NetZero council by 2030. To help fulfil this commitment, we supported the Council to organise a Citizens’ Assembly, which ran from February 2023 to June 2023. The assembly brought together 40 residents representing a diverse range of perspectives, along with 20 young people.

Addressing climate change cannot be done through a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires action at all levels, from global organisations to local authorities.

Throughout this process, participants attended workshops to learn about climate change, discussed local issues, and collaboratively determined practical solutions. The assembly produced a comprehensive report with its vision and recommendations, which were presented to elected representatives in June. The council is now bringing the wider community together to discuss how they can act upon the recommendations, while ongoing engagement, including activities such as public events, community gatherings, and commissioned murals, will ensure continued involvement and progress monitoring.

By aligning its goals with what residents consider to be the priorities for action to address sustainability in the borough, Barnet Council fostered trust, community involvement, and people-driven climate action. 

Addressing climate change cannot be done through a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires action at all levels, from global organisations to local authorities. By involving communities in policy shaping, we can work together to develop solutions that not only produce greener outcomes, but also meet the needs of individuals and create better services for everyone. 

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