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Place-based climate action growing, but political leadership needed

Place-based climate action in the UK is continuing to grow, with new governance models emerging, but political leadership at the national level continues to ignore the contribution of local communities, a report by PCAN has found.

The Place-based Climate Action Network notes that successful local engagement and partnership models - often, but not always in the form of climate commissions - have emerged across the country. But, while the new institutions are proving to be effective platforms for local communities and stakeholders to engage, build consensus and convene conversations, they are not a substitute for policy and political leadership.

Place-Based Climate Action Network

Supported by ECCI, the Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) is about translating climate policy into action ‘on the ground’ to bring about transformative change. This ESRC-supported network brings together the research community and decision-makers in the public, private and third sectors through five innovative platforms: three city-based climate commissions (in Leeds, Belfast and Edinburgh) and two theme-based platforms on finance and climate adaptation, with business engagement integrated into the working of each climate commission.

ECCI's Head of Partnerships, Jamie Brogan, is also a Co-Investigator for PCAN and Chair of the Edinburgh Climate Commission. ECCI is helping City of Edinburgh Council establish its first Climate Commission. The Commission is tasked with driving action on the climate crisis and Edinburgh’s commitment to be a Net Zero Carbon Emissions city by 2030.

Report findings

Around 30 climate commissions and similar types of place-based partnerships have been identified, ranging from forerunners like the Leeds Climate Commission (established in 2019) and PCAN's other core commissions in Edinburgh and Belfast to county-wide commissions in Surrey and Essex and a regional one for Yorkshire and Humber. 

PCAN's findings show that local partnerships can lead to better outcomes to deliver net zero at every level of place but that collaboration does not always happen naturally when working within organisational parameters. Cultural change is required in setting priorities and boundaries, alongside conscious and designed coordination with the capacity to deliver such collaborations.

The report welcomes the broadening of climate focus by local councils beyond reducing emissions, but says that the momentum set by the rash of climate emergency declarations in 2019 has not been maintained. Adaptation planning remains in its infancy and opportunities to join up net-zero activities with resilience measures are insufficiently exploited.

All of this is made harder by "ad hoc and intermittent" national climate policies presenting a challenge to place-based delivery, the report says.

The summary report contains sets of  rcommendations for local authorities, local communities and stakeholders, local businesses, and national government and devolved administrations, and calls for climate action to be fully embedded in local decision making and broader strategies such as planning, economic development, and health.

A primary recommendation for national government is to put in place a coherent framework to support local climate action (mitigation and adaptation together),backed by appropriate funds, resources and skills. Addressing the political leadership issue, the report calls for recognition that climate action requires the joined-up interplay between national and local actors with clarity on longer-term funding and policy landscapes to enable coordinated approaches.

After five years, PCAN is coming to an end in April 2024. It's message is unequivocal: "Local action without national support will be challenging; national policy without local buy-in will fail."