How can local authorities engage the public on climate decision-making?

Local Climate Engagement
Climate Outreach, Shared Future, UK100
November 2021 - November 2023

Avoiding the worst effects of climate change will be the biggest challenge in human history. Local authorities and partnerships will play a key role in both  getting the UK to net zero and ensuring their areas are ready for changing conditions. To do this in a way that is effective and fair, they will need to engage the public. This is why we and others developed the Local Climate Engagement (LCE) — an innovative programme that uses a combination of training, mentoring, peer learning, resources and hands-on support to assist local authorities in engaging their local communities. 

Will local authorities be important in tackling climate change?

Local authorities across the country have already shown bold leadership by setting Net Zero targets that are years ahead of national legislation. Research produced for the Climate Change Committee shows that one-third of all UK greenhouse gas emissions are dependent on sectors influenced by local government policies or partnerships. The importance of local authorities’ role in tackling climate change is unarguable.

This is also reflected in the public’s views on how vital an impact local authorities can have on climate: Ipsos Mori polling commissioned by UK100 found that 40% of people believe that their local council is best placed to tackle climate change in their local area, compared to 30% for the Government and 19% for the individual. Climate Assembly UK members also backed locally-determined strategies, to allow for solutions better-suited to local communities.

Why should local authorities engage the public in climate decision-making?

Responding to the effects of climate change isn’t something done by one organisation alone. Many local authorities recognised this and have moved beyond traditional consultation methods to engage their local populations. Up and down the UK, we now see local authorities using a diverse range of techniques, from citizens’ juries and assemblies, to crowdsourcing and community conversations.

Engaging the public in climate decision-making in these ways enables local authorities to build a deeper understanding of local preferences, aspirations and needs. This supports the development of policy that is more likely to achieve public buy-in. It also allows local authorities to reach beyond those they most often hear from. This builds trust and is a key step in achieving a fair transition to Net Zero.

As with any innovative practice, this is not without risks. For example, commissioning public engagement before there is clarity of focus and a plan for how it will feed into decision-making can limit its impact at best and frustrate communities at its worst. LCE aims to help tackle these and other challenges, and to support robust engagement plans.

What we have done so far

LCE has worked with 21 local authorities to plan, commission and deliver high quality public engagement in their climate decision-making, in a way that benefits both them and their local population. Developed by Involve and four partner organisations - Shared Future, UK100 and Climate Outreach — the programme provided local authorities with a package of training, mentoring, peer learning and hands-on support.

Projects included pop up stalls at events, engagement workshops and community research conducted by members of the public.

You can read more about some of this work Essex did through this programme here — https://involve.org.uk/our-work/our-projects/talking-about-nature-what-should-town-councils-prioritise-their-nature-plans

What we are doing next

We are creating a resource hub which will be available to all local authorities in the UK. The resources will focus on good practice in climate engagement; taking learnings and questions from our work with the 21 local authorities and creating an online space for useful resources and case studies. We will be working with local authority staff and councillors to shape what this looks like, to ensure it is as useful as possible.

Working with UK100 we will also be creating learning and influencing opportunities with local politicians, on subjects such as tackling climate misinformation.

Find out more

Did you know you can commission our Local Climate Engagement intensive training, our mentoring offer, or hands-on engagement support for your own local authority?

If you are interested to find out more about this programme, please contact Maddie, Engagement Lead, about what we can support you with or for any further questions. Get in touch with her here.

This programme is funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK branch) and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.