Public engagement and the green recovery: six priorities for local authorities
tCI’s first Guidance Note on public engagement for the green recovery aims to set out a framework for local authorities in approaching public engagement and consultation relating to their climate emergency declarations, zero carbon targets and post-Covid-19 ‘green recovery’ planning. Written by the Institute’s Environment Working Group, the Guidance Note summarises legal aspects of the challenge, highlights key issues and outlines six priority areas that councils need to focus on.
Tackling the climate emergency and making a green recovery possible requires continuous engagement processes over a longer period than typical local authority-led engagement programmes. It requires councils to communicate effectively and engage ‘everyone’ to encourage bold changes in mindset and behaviour. Success will require councils to go beyond their comfort zone and make difficult decisions. This means not just paying lip service to public consultation or engagement, but organising it well and acting on the results.
Local authorities will need to reach out beyond the ‘usual suspects’, e.g. to low-income families, faith communities and ‘the offline’. Young people are at the forefront of climate campaigning, yet many officials have no idea how to engage them in policymaking. At the same time, many young people and others are still uninterested in the climate crisis, be this due to lack of knowledge, apathy, poverty or involvement in drugs and crime. To engage these people, the underlying issues also need to be tackled.
Post Covid-19, it is essential to find common ground between mainstream ‘economic re-start’ objectives (employment, social services support) and climate and environment actions (green jobs, clean air, wildlife protection). This requires local councils to be joined up – internally and externally. Councils need to use their convening power and strategic partnerships to bring stakeholder groups together to work out solutions. To reach net zero carbon emissions, local authorities need to prepare for some hard talking, and listen closely to the public, who will have ideas and local knowledge, and be able to comment on the acceptability of solutions.
Covid-19 has demonstrated the power of strong messaging and the extent of behavioural change that is possible. Climate-friendly infrastructure has been introduced in response to Covid-19, although much of it is temporary, and its long-term installation will depend on ensuring adequate public consultation. Some climate engagement programmes have been delayed because of the pandemic, or follow-up has been curtailed; others have moved their climate engagement online. Many councils face a financial crisis following the pandemic, while there are few stable sources of funding for climate and environmental initiatives or the required public engagement. Engagement and action need to be very cost-effective, and innovative sources of funding are needed, e.g. from local offset programmes and carbon fines.
There is no standard set of public engagement activities for the green recovery and there is a lack of guidance on what combination of activities might be most effective, offer greatest value for money, or deliver particular goals. tCI’s Advice and Guidance Package for Public Engagement on the Green Recovery aims to fill this gap, and is based around six key areas that require attention by councils’ leadership and climate and environment teams:
- Ensuring effective internal and external governance: To deliver a green recovery, councils will need to collaborate across departments, and build effective and transparent external partnerships.
- Building capacities: Councillors and officials need to be up to speed on climate and environmental issues, as well as the different ways to bring the public into those discussions most effectively.
- Ensuring efficiency and stable funding streams: Councils need to set in place adequate and stable funding streams for their climate plans and related public engagement activities and seek cost effective and efficient engagement approaches.
- Selecting appropriate methods and techniques: Continuous public engagement requires a comprehensive strategy involving a wide range of techniques: online engagement hubs need to be complemented by offline engagement formats and targeted consultation events.
- Making better decisions: Extensive public consultation around an environmental or climate strategy can produce a rich set of public recommendations and comments. These need to form part of a productive ongoing dialogue, leading to better decisions long term.
- Measuring effectiveness: Evaluation enables the continual improvement of engagement techniques, can result in more cost-effective engagement, and may provide crucial evidence to justify budget spending.
If you wish to discuss the potential implications of the climate and environmental crisis on your public engagement obligations, if you seek to engage the public in activities to promote a green recovery, or if you would like objective advice on the merits of different types of public engagement approaches, please contact the Institute’s Environment Working Group.
More details about the Institute’s Advice and Guidance Service for Public Engagement on the Green Recovery can be found here.