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A Call to Climate Action for Councillors

April 2021 by Nicola Siddons

What role do councillors think they can and should play?

In 2015, almost 200 countries agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the Paris Agreement, and in April 2021, the UK Government pledged to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. This will become enshrined in law in June 2021.

Whilst these agreements set clear goals, much of the work on the ground remains firmly at the local authority level, with councillors having a crucial role to play.

How does this fit with a politician’s mandate as a democratically elected representative? What role do councillors think they can and should play?


The Carbon Literacy Elected Members Toolkit supports the crucial process of engaging a wider audience with climate change

The Carbon Literacy Elected Members course equips councillors with the tools and knowledge they need to mobilise change within their constituency and their wider sphere of influence. It is part of a suite of comprehensive toolkits created for local authorities with funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) via The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

There is a dedicated section on communicating climate change effectively to hard-to-reach groups, supporting the crucial process of engaging a wider audience with this vital subject. Some essential behaviour changes, such as transitions in transportation and diet, can potentially alienate certain audiences. The deeper insight and understanding imparted by the toolkit provides councillors with key routes to genuine engagement, and the ability to justify why action on climate change carries democratic legitimacy.


Building democratic support for climate action

Other important topics include understanding the health benefits and jobs created by active transport networks, retrofitting homes and green infrastructure.

Participants also gain an appreciation of the various ways that councils can raise funds through clean air zones, community municipal bonds and renewable power generation, whilst also lowering air pollution and reducing fuel poverty.

These topics provide councillors with the support and knowledge needed to articulate the scale and significance of global and local climate governance, and craft responses that build democratic support for further action.


Feedback from the pilot

The writing group included Councillor Rachel Coxcoon of Cotswold District Council, and was piloted and further developed with the generous support of Peterborough City Council.

We asked both Clare Foster, Environment Strategy Technical Officer and Hannah Swinburne, Principal Climate Change Officer at Peterborough City Council to answer some questions in relation to their delivery of the Elected Members course:

Why Carbon Literacy in Peterborough City Council?

‘In 2019, our council declared a climate emergency; we both acknowledged that climate change is happening and more importantly we recognised we needed to play our part in tackling it.

‘As part of the declaration, we committed to embedding climate change knowledge across our authority. Our councillors play an important role in making decisions within our city and have strong relationships with our local communities, so offering Carbon Literacy training to our elected members was an easy decision to help tackle climate change.’

Tell us the story of how you came across Carbon Literacy, through to using the Local Authority Elected Members Toolkit?

‘We were aware of The Carbon Literacy Project as we had both recently undergone Carbon Literacy training. However, in discussing with The Project how we could roll out training to our staff, we were made aware that a course for elected members was in the process of being piloted. We felt this was an opportunity that would be of great value to our councillors, and so worked very quickly with The Carbon Literacy Project and our members to ensure we could be part of the pilot.’

Could you provide some specific advice or tips on delivering to this particular audience? Is there any guidance you would offer on avoiding common pitfalls?

‘We felt that one benefit of delivering to this particular audience is that there were already established relationships between many councillors. This meant that they were comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings during the activities, which led to some interesting and lively discussions.

‘As trainers, we grew to understand that one of the major areas councillors were keen to gain an understanding of was an effective means of engaging with the public on climate change. This is covered specifically in the course, but it is certainly beneficial if you can keep this in mind and help make those links throughout the training.’

As a trainer, how did you find delivering Carbon Literacy training with the Local Authorities Elected Members toolkit, and what do you feel you gained?

‘Overall, we found it to be a very positive and rewarding experience. It was exciting to engage with a diverse group from across the political spectrum, as they each brought their own unique perspective and knowledge base.

‘Our councillors talk with people from across our city every day, and so connected easily with the way climate change could impact all of our lives as well as really seeing the co-benefits of projects to tackle climate change.’

Would you recommend the toolkit to others and why?  What is the most positive thing you feel elected members and the council as a whole have to gain?

‘Absolutely. The toolkit is well structured and really tailored to the needs of elected members. You can feel confident that the science and insights you are providing are well researched. The training gives councillors the tools and skills to be able to evaluate proposals based on their ability to limit climate change and bring about additional benefits.’

Are there any stories from the training sessions where you really saw the message come home?

‘The first module of the course sets out the science of climate change, in which we tell a story of two possible future scenarios for our planet; one where we work effectively on the challenges ahead and the other where we keep to business as usual.

‘This really hit home with our councillors, to see two such divergent possible futures ahead of us, and what the implications of taking no action could mean.’

What comments did you have from learners?  What did you feel they felt most excited and enthusiastic about?

‘We received some really positive feedback from our learners. One learner felt that the activities “revealed something about all of us“. Another learner said: “there was a fairly wide divergence of experiences and all of the group discussions were fascinating.”

‘In terms of the course as a whole, we received feedback that it creates “a good foundation if you don’t know a lot about climate change and how it links with other co-benefits”, and another councillor shared that it “provides a comprehensive view of climate change; contributors, consequences and solutions. A very broad spectrum of ideas and pitfalls. This course is a must if one is to be informed in the world of climate change.”‘

What are your Carbon Literacy plans going forward?

‘Building on the success of this course, we are looking to roll out further Carbon Literacy training to our councillors. We already have a waiting list of members keen to undertake the training! We have also started our staff training and are working on plans to expand this across the organisation.’

Is there anything else you would like to add?

‘A big thank you to The Carbon Literacy Project – not only for this opportunity but also the support that they provided to help us deliver the pilot course.’


If you’re interested in the Carbon Literacy Elected Members Toolkit and would like to find out more about it, you can do so here. If you would like to request the Elected Members Toolkit, please email us at localauthorities@carbonliteracy.com

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