Briefing and signposting
We have created this page for anyone involved in preparing a Climate Emergency plan in their locality but particularly to enable community energy organisations to contribute (and make themselves central) to Climate Emergency planning at a local level. It will largely be signposting good resources elsewhere. We will endeavour to update it as the story progresses. If you have relevant resources or information please email it to email@example.com. The page will also present a succinct case for why community energy should be central to Climate Emergency planning.
Background to the Emergency
In October 2018, the IPCC 1.5° report warned of the catastrophic consequences of warming over 1.5°C and that staying below that threshold would require ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented systemic changes and emissions reductions over all aspects of society’. Carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2°C pathway – and come down to zero by 2050 rather than 2075 to stay below 2°C. Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything says, ‘There are no non-radical solutions’. Incremental change will not be enough, soon enough.
Since Bristol declared in November 2018 over 260 (64%) councils have declared climate emergencies with ‘net-zero targets’ from 2028 (Nottingham) to beyond 2050. The most common is 2030. Parliament declared a Climate Emergency in May 2019 and the government amended the Climate Change Act target to a legally-binding ‘net-zero-carbon by 2050’. Even if councils do not declare a more ambitious target they will still have to participate in achieving the national target of net zero by 2050 and will need a plan. Climateemergency.uk has a full list of councils which have declared a Climate Emergency and information to help you get your council to declare. Here is Friends of the Earth’s assessment of how each council is doing on addressing Climate Change. Here is a briefing from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Climate and Ecological Emergency group on how to support, encourage and force councils to declare and agree to XR demands including for a Citizens’ Assembly. They have produced an excellent follow-on briefing to make sure that Declarations are meaningful and have teeth. It has sections on energy as well as housing.
Everything comes within the compass of climate change. This is an opportunity to re-imagine the way we do everything. If combined with a good Climate Emergency Plan of Action, the Declarations have the opportunity to galvanise action within the council and in the community. Community energy can be indispensable to both; it is key that community energy features, with justifications, in those plans even if community energy does not yet exist in that area.
There are huge opportunities to solve many problems in the process of achieving a zero-carbon authority and/or local area, including increased health, better air, resource efficiency, reduced operating costs, more resilient communities and more. This is useful for advocating for action with a local authority. See the Ashden toolkit on the co-benefits of climate action here. The Grantham Institute at Imperial College have also produced a 13 page briefing paper with more details on the subject.
Despite these opportunities and co-benefits, there is a limited window of opportunity to achieve material change before the 'climate emergency' term may become devalued as LA21 and ‘sustainability’ did before. (‘We tried that…’). Emergency implies an urgent threat which requires exceptional responses, powers and resources. Under other circumstances (epidemics, terrorist attacks) the government often convenes the so called COBRA committee chaired at the highest level. Local authorities should be convening a Local Climate Emergency Committee of stakeholders from the council, public and private sector, agencies, local groups and residents.
There has not yet been a coordinated response and little, if any, resource support of councils to address this Emergency.
Currently one of the best centres of intelligence and information is climateemergency.uk. NGOs like The Centre for Sustainable Energy, Ashden and Green Alliance are picking up pieces of the puzzle (see below).
How can Community Energy contribute to the Climate Emergency (at a local level)?
Community energy is well placed to engage the passion, local knowledge, expertise and capital of local people to install community-owned and controlled renewable energy. Community energy is also proven to be at least 25% better at engaging with the community on energy (e.g. conducting energy audits, installing smart meters, etc.) than the large energy companies or government. On top of that a government-commissioned report in 2014 showed that community energy delivered 12-13 times the community benefit of a commercial energy installation. According to the Committee on Climate Change’s Net-Zero report in May 2019, 62% of all measures to achieve the target are dependent upon behaviour change.
Community energy is also doing some ground-breaking energy efficiency and fuel poverty work.
Community energy should be central to any Climate Emergency plan and resourced and supported appropriately by the relevant level of government. Local authorities should engage with, resource, offer sites to and invest in local community energy groups. Councils can also be instrumental in starting local community energy where none exists as happened very successfully in Plymouth; see this TED talk.
Targets must be carefully defined. Some councils have declared a target just for their own operation and estate - some acknowledge some remit for the emissions of their whole area. If the council succeeds but the rest of the borough fails to meet the zero-carbon target then there will be failure overall. The council’s own emissions will be a tiny proportion of that area’s total emissions but they have a lot of power (and responsibility) to work with large emitting partners in the public and private sector and to engage communities and householders. Community energy can play a key role in both.
Baseline and timeline
To plan by how much to reduce every year to reach net-zero and to know the scale of the challenges in each sector, an emissions baseline is key. Many councils will not have this and getting it may be difficult. 2019 is the final year of the Carbon Reduction Commitment under which councils and all large organisations were required to report their carbon emissions. The 2018/19 figures should be available soon…this must not be allowed to be a reason to delay starting the plan.
The first stage is likely to be a Council Carbon Reduction Plan. It must set out the scale of the carbon reduction necessary from xxxx tonnes of CO2 to zero and break it down to yearly targets. This should be frontloaded - i.e. achieve more per year in the early years, and the final reductions to zero will be the most difficult. There need to be at least annual reviews of achievements and the plan must be modified as necessary.
The ‘actions to take’ to achieve these targets in each relevant department must be clearly set out and budgeted. How these actions will be resourced in human, equipment and financial terms must be set out clearly and realistically.
The transition to ‘net-zero’ is a huge challenge whatever the time-frame as carbon emissions are built into everything we do. The net-zero target should be the frame within which all other policy is designed or reviewed. It should be an over-arching goal of any local plan.
Some of the carbon reduction can be delivered centrally by changing planning, operations, equipment, transport, retrofitting buildings, installing renewable energy and battery storage etc. But local government will need changes in legislation, policy and planning guidance as well as extra resources and powers if it is to succeed. Local authorities should be coordinating where possible to present a united front to government to secure these. The Chief Executive should write to the relevant Secretaries of State (probably initially the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government but also BEIS) requesting the powers and resources to enact this urgent transition locally.
The Sustainable Communities Act may prove useful because it is designed to remove central government barriers to local change. The Localism Act allows for 5 year Neighbourhood Plans, which should have dealing with climate change at their heart since we only have 10 years to do it.
However, the Climate Emergency and net-zero target should be an opportunity to engage the whole community in this challenge. Nothing will happen that has not been imagined first and we need to enable dreams that are as big as the problem. Community energy can help open up discussions with the community which will enable a bigger vision and better solutions.
The council will not have control of much of what needs to change, especially when it comes to the behaviour of people. Community energy, which is about local ownership and democratic control, increases people’s sense of agency and stake in how energy is generated and used. This can be key to behaviour change. Equally, culture changes have been achieved by small changes in required behaviour (seat-belts, plastic bags, smoking in public places) and the council can introduce those, with the participation of their workforce. The benefits of change must also be emphasised.
The council’s first priority is likely to be achieving the target in its own estate and operations. Front-line areas will include; Buildings (corporate, and rented out and housing), Energy, Transport and Procurement (‘Scope 3’). The plan should also include enabling the transition of the locality. Vitally, other council plans must be aligned with the Climate Emergency plan (see Planning below). Achieving the net-zero goal must be an over-arching goal within which all other policy must sit.
It is good practice to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the plan, for example through a steering group of already engaged people and groups and representatives from those that perhaps aren’t yet engaged but are crucial to realising the plan, e.g. unions, health providers, schools and colleges. Devon has a Net-Zero Taskforce as steering group and is holding a Youth Parliament in November 2019. Bristol City Council (2030) has a Climate Change Advisory Committee. Leeds has a Climate Change Commission. The government has its own independent Committee on Climate Change.
It’s important to work with local groups and allies: community energy groups should be involved from the outset. Transition Town initiatives have been working on this agenda for many years. Find your local one at https://transitionnetwork.org/transition-near-me/ Extinction Rebellion local groups may have a working group on the local Climate Emergency. Friends of the Earth has set up lots of local Climate Action Groups to help their volunteers work towards good local Climate Emergency planning. See how your local authority is currently performing on climate action.
It is important to be clear about how net-zero will be achieved with clear targets, interim targets and actions attached to relevant departments/stakeholders. There must be clear lines of accountability headed by a high-level officer, ideally at Strategic Director level. There needs to be adequate additional resourcing in terms of coordinating officers but also additional people resource in the relevant departments as well as budgets for the work in the plan. The progress of the plan needs to be reviewed at least yearly and the delivery plan modified if necessary. Oxford has announced £19 million to help achieve the measures recommended by its Citizens' Assembly.
The reasons for the target and the plan need to be well communicated within and outside the council, with relevant training offered, and officers and workers genuinely involved in developing and achieving the plan. It must be seen as an opportunity not a burden. The plan should be looking for ‘win, win, win’ solutions which solve a number of problems and supply a number of policy outcomes simultaneously.
For example, increasing insulation in council properties reduces heating bills, meaning rent and council tax is more likely to be paid, more income is available to be spent into the local economy, health and well-being increases, health cost fall, absenteeism reduces. The housing asset and rental value is protected by making it more ‘future livable’ and easier to heat with low-carbon technologies such as heat-pumps, thus enabling carbon targets to be achieved and climate change costs avoided.
Agreeing the Plan
Some councils have agreed to the Extinction Rebellion demand to hold a Citizens’ Assembly (CA) to help come up with a plan. This is a group of local citizens, randomly selected but representative of the local demographic mix, who are independently convened (expenses paid) to learn from experts, review proposals and come up with a plan - rather as a jury is trusted to decide a court case. This has the advantage of being democratic and taking responsibility away from the delivery authority for what may be difficult and even unpopular decisions. The Extinction Rebellion demand requires that the authority be bound by the results. Some authorities are seeking to limit the remit of the CA and to simply ‘consider’ their decisions. This does not fulfill either the purpose or the potential of the CA.
This short guide for council officers is produced by ClimateAssemblies.org. Extinction Rebellion has resources on Citizens’ Assemblies including FAQs, a short film and a Guide to Citizens’ Assemblies.
The Opportunity for Community Energy
Renewable electricity generation is a known and proven way of reducing emissions. Whilst it is difficult to make an investment case under current circumstances, each council will control many assets such as schools and offices with a high daytime load where there would be a business case for on-site renewable energy generation. A relationship with a community energy group can make these projects happen (and deliver social benefits). The PowerPaired scheme run by Forum for the Future is a free online platform which provides a matchmaking service to bring together community energy groups and the owners of sites with potential for renewable energy generation. Here are explanatory webinars for local authorities, asset owners and community energy groups. Councils can also borrow money at very low interest to invest, as long as it benefits residents; they should invest in community energy projects, especially on council-owned properties.
Community energy, as a trusted local partner, can play a key role in advocating with the community and businesses for the changes required. In many cases they may be a key delivery partner, especially where it requires direct interaction with residents, such as energy audits and energy efficiency retrofit. Carbon literacy, within the council and beyond, is also key to how people respond to the climate emergency and the required behaviour changes. Community energy can help deliver the training and engagement required.
https://www.climateemergency.uk/ has many resources including a full list of councils which have declared a Climate Emergency and their targets and motions, some plans, and a Basecamp site for discussion, and sharing resources.
Extinction Rebellion has produced an excellent briefing to make sure that Declarations are meaningful and have teeth. It has sections on energy as well as housing.
Centre for Sustainable Energy has launched a Climate Emergency Support Programme for local authorities. It is focussing especially on the challenges in two-tier authorities. It is encouraging District Councils to connect with their Town and Parish Council and resourcing those to declare Climate Emergencies and engage their very local communities in solutions that will help the District Council meet their targets.
Ashden has set up Liveable Cities Programme to help the ‘metro mayoral city regions’ realise their sustainability ambitions given the new opportunity for environmental leadership that they offer. These include Greater London local authorities, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Liverpool City Region, the West of England, Tees Valley, Sheffield City Region, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Ashden also has their co-benefits of climate action toolkit and, developed with Friends of the Earth, 31 Actions for Councils which also lists co-benefits.
Green Alliance will be working with three different city councils, to enable the planning process and then to share good practice.
Councillors and council officers can apply to join the Local Government Association (LGA) Special Interest group, the Climate Emergency Network, to support Local Authorities in declaring a Climate Emergency and in preparing and implementing plans to achieve carbon neutral status as quickly as possible. Contact: Cllr Kevin Frea (Deputy Leader, Lancaster City Council) - Telephone: 07716246672, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local Energy Hubs that have been set up by BEIS to support local energy initiatives. ‘Local energy’ refers to all energy projects that are led by local organisations (public, private, third sector) for local benefit. All aspects of collective action to reduce, purchase, manage and generate energy are included within ‘local energy.’ This includes but goes beyond community energy.
Ireland has declared a 'Climate Emergency' based on the Oireachtas Climate Action report which followed on from a Citizen's Assembly. "The proposals agreed by the Assembly over the course of just two weekends revealed the capacity of citizens to analyse, weigh up and decide on a course of action for their country – and to do so as a collective. The outcomes are clear, feasible and courageous." There were only 6 TD's in the Dail when the Emergency was declared, so it remains to be seen how much ownership of the decision will be taken by the Irish Government in the coming weeks.
SCATTER is a local authority-focussed emissions tool, built to help create low carbon local authorities. SCATTER provides local authorities and city regions with the opportunity to standardise their greenhouse gas reporting and align to international frameworks, including the setting of targets in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Basecamp site for discussion and sharing resources, mentioned above.
Getting the Local Plan right and in line with the local council’s Climate Emergency targets is key. It is the legal framework which developers and councils have to comply with. If the Local Plan is not harmonised with the Climate Emergency targets (as they effect planning) it will be difficult to compel developers to go beyond the Local Plan targets. A good plan will prevent lock-in to high carbon buildings, infrastructure, transport, waste policies etc. It should be consistent with wider national and city targets.
Section 19(1A) of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 - ‘Plan must.. contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.’ This should make emissions reduction a central organising principle of plan making. Plans should contribute to national climate budgets. National Planning Policy Framework 2.7 states that the purpose of planning is ‘sustainable development’. Chapter 14, para 148 ‘contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’, para 149 ‘Plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting...in line with the objectives of the Climate Change Act.’ Policy Planning Guidance states, however, that it must be consistent with ‘local economic viability’. The Town and Country Planning Association estimateS 80% of Local Plans are not taking their legal duties seriously. Local Plans must contain indicators that show what success looks like and be monitored to assess progress.
See a video briefing by ClientEarth here
We will endeavour to update this page as the story progresses. If you have relevant resources or information please email it to email@example.com.