While the coronavirus crisis has been challenging for society, it has also demonstrated our collective ability to take effective action when faced with large, complex challenges. The scale of the political interventions – affecting everything from how we work, to how we interact and travel – has been nothing short of staggering.
There is now a growing call across the world for the economic recovery to be led by investment in sustainable technologies and green infrastructure; a so-called ‘Green New Deal’. But how can local authorities make the pivot towards engaged and purposeful climate action, and what processes must be put in place to enable them to create sustainable places together with communities?
Drawing on insights from a series of workshops organised as the Climate Response Working Group, this piece explores these questions. Part of a series of blog posts written for the Future Place initiative, it sets out strategies that local authorities and other placemakers can use to embed sustainable placeshaping measures in their operations and galvanise collective climate action.
Share knowledge to create a step-change
We created the Climate Response Working Group (CRWG) in November 2019 as part of a mission to improve the public sector’s response to the climate crisis. CRWG was born from local authority officers in a range of different roles seeking solutions to common barriers. To find these solutions, we started to stimulate conversation across local authority boundaries while also recognising the need to include professional experts from other sectors.
CRWG’s mission quickly became to share knowledge, to explore and test ideas, and to empower public sector officers to foster climate action. We have learnt so much in our first year, thanks to everyone involved, and are keen to share our findings. Below are listed some of the key learnings that have been captured at our workshops.
Facilitate existing expertise
We tend to think that the public sector is starved of experts, but sometimes it can be easy to miss the skills already there. For example, some local authorities already have energy system experts, officers who have measured the council’s carbon footprint before, as well as landscape architects and passivhaus experts.
These experts often sit across multiple departments and teams, making it difficult for authorities to take joined-up action. Enabling local authority officers to find experts in other parts of their organisation with shared goals can therefore often be a big step towards enabling collective action.
Upskilling internally will always be important but sourcing external expertise can be crucial – at least in the short term. At our workshops, we have found creative ways to address this issue, whether through optimising procurement strategies for external consultants or expanding our professional and social networks personally.
Some of these tactics have been summarised in a discussion note on governance and capacity building.
Implement carbon accountancy
It is essential that local authorities build their capacity to measure carbon performance. Carbon accountancy measures help map an authority’s carbon performance, allowing officers to identify where they can have the biggest impact. This can in turn enable teams to obtain support for proposed activities across the authority, thereby driving purposeful action.
Common methodologies and systems for implementing carbon accountancy are now readily available. We explore some of these in a discussion note on carbon accountancy.
Develop proactive adaptation tactics
In addition to mitigating climate change, Authorities must also look to adapt to it. By adapting to known climate risks – such as flooding, drought and overheating – local authorities can help establish more resilient communities and protect the most vulnerable in society. This in turn reduces the burden on existing social safety nets, such as healthcare, and can bring cost savings to local authorities.
The CRWG has been exploring how to take holistic approaches to climate action plans, how to include and monitor adaptation measures, and how to embrace regional strategies. Some of the insights are captured in a discussion note on adaptive strategies.
Explore circular design principles
Pivoting towards a circular economy is essential to drive a green recovery, create new jobs and protect essential ecosystems. Circular design principles can be embedded into every product or process and at every scale. This is about designing for disassembly and reuse rather than demolition and disposal. It is about sustainable and smart resource management, ensuring waste is retained at its highest value along the supply chain.
A growing body of knowledge details strategies for how to develop and implement circular economy design principles. Some of these are captured in a discussion note on circular design principles.
Plan for low-carbon
A key message we’ve heard from experts delivering low-carbon developments (such as to the Passivhaus standard) is this does not need to come at an additional cost. With proper training and upskilling – and by securing the right expertise at early project stages – low-carbon developments can deliver long term savings, help invest in community wellbeing and reduce pressure on local authority services in the future.
We have captured insights and strategies in a discussion note on low-carbon.
Invest in human resources to build capacity
We are convinced of capacity-building, knowledge-sharing and upskilling’s importance to achieve sustainability goals. Investing in human capital is a key enabler to accelerate our pathway to zero carbon and galvanise climate action within the public sector.
In building the public sector’s capacity, we must break down siloes within our own organisations, across disciplines and sectors. Truly collaborative and multi-disciplinary approaches are central to delivering climate actions, and we all have a role to play in responding to the greatest challenge we face.
As CRWG continues to grow and enters its second year of operations, we will host four meetings in 2021. We, and our members, remain committed to problem-solving and proactive responsiveness through the realistic assertion of what we can do as individuals and as a collective.
Ciara Hanson & Laetitia Pancrazi are co-founders of the Climate Response Working Group. They welcome new members to the group from any professional background. If you're interested in the CRWG, you can join the LinkedIn Group.