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Are the public now engaged enough on climate change to get involved?

With the publication of the APPG on Climate Change Annual Report coinciding with some local authorities announcing section 114 measures, councils are facing the challenge of not only coming out of lockdown carrying overspends but with public expectation of doing so whilst also responding to the climate crisis. Recent research from IPSOS found that ‘seventy-one percent of the global public feel that climate change is just as significant an issue in the long term as COVID-19’

Many thought leaders have been talking about a new normal for public service administrators as a result of recent climate events long before COVID. So, is the Overton window of opportunity open as wide as its ever been? In the West Midlands Combined Authority, they have agreed a cross-party approach to the climate emergency.

Whilst not underestimating the financial pressure on local authorities, (further) developing a local mandate for change can be achieved at comparatively low cost. Here are some thoughts on how we think local authorities, as ‘place leaders’ could respond:

Firstly, consider the research and data which shows the level of behaviour change that is going on as a result of social distancing measures and how these contribute to residents quality of life/climate concern. Less use of the car, more cycling and walking, less consumerism, more fresh food shopping… the list goes on. This research also suggests that in practice, the debate has moved from engagement on this agenda to active involvement of citizens and therefore structures and approaches to climate change governance i.e. where a local authority may have declared a climate emergency, need to adapt. Is it time to consider approaches such as citizen juries or participatory budgeting with regard to traffic management schemes…enable communities to decide which schemes they are prepared to adopt rather than have these imposed (without ‘consultation’: see our earlier blog on the walking powers recently introduced by the Government).

Covid19 is, however, predicted to have a devastating depressive effect on the economy and there is rightful concern about sustainability of jobs and businesses and the mental wellbeing particularly of vulnerable people. Involving people in these issues and enabling them to generate responses beyond behaviour change is therefore crucial to maintaining the recent impetus and impact on global emissions, for example, the development of presumptive planning approval for ‘climate sensitive’ new homes and businesses, environmental measures for existing homes, and creation of green jobs – we are seeing this activity increasingly labelled ‘green recovery’.

Secondly, review current climate change/decarbonisation plans:

1. Check previous engagement and consultation output and check their ‘sell-by’ date.

2. Key issues for Local Authority climate change strategies will continue to be management capacity, Political will, the scope of council powers/duties, the involvement processes possible during and after lockdown and prioritisation of any outcomes. TCI have products for all 4 of these areas (see below).

3. Consider scope of council influence: We suggest the use of the tCI mandate to tease out political will and management capacity to deliver and what is in and out of scope of the council. At the outset of any engagement work, this should be published in order to be clear with residents, what they are able to influence. If they wish to consider other matters outside of scope these can be recorded and communicated to the relevant body.

 

4. Involvement process: Use a 4-stage option development and appraisal process to motivate people to get involved in meaningful action. Use the process to identify long list and shortlist of agreed actions. Prioritisation of effort can be a real challenge and it is important to have a transparent process for choosing where to advocate, invest or disinvest. At tCI, we have a tried and tested (in the UK courts) four-stage process. Starting with an open event to generate ideas and criteria for long/shortlisting, to consensus/numerical scoring processes to arrive at viable options to implement or take forward for public consultation. Prioritisation or option development is currently the most contentious part of the engagement and consultation process and where we can add considerable value to local decision-making. We are promoting use of approaches such as Citizen Juries and Participative Budgeting here to enable residents to design and deliver interventions.

 

5. Run any involvement process remotely using people recruited through stakeholder analysis. A simple exercise on the face of it, this means identifying whose voices need to be heard and where gaps exist in terms of listening to them up to this point. It’s possible to go further by using a simple grid to identify the power and interest of stakeholders in order to prioritise communications. However, the real insight from this process comes when you apply equalities and other appropriate scrutiny impacts) such as health and/or sociodemographic inequality to identify those whose voices are not usually heard. Once this full stakeholder analysis is complete, there are a number of ways in which remote involvement activity can be undertaken including techniques such as participative budgeting and citizen juries referred to above.

 

 

tCI has experienced associates who are familiar with climate change and engagement and consultation law. If you are considering reviewing your climate change/decarbonisation plans, please contact us for a free assessment of your consultation requirements.

 

About the Author

Andy is an experienced NHS Manager, formerly an Assistant Director of Public Health and Head of Patient and Public Engagement in the North West of England.

Read more about Andy

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