Local elections are coming up again on May 4th. This is a big moment for local democracy, with elections being held in 46 councils across the South East. With the upheavals in national politics, the outcome of local elections is even more unpredictable than usual. Although climate action is now a priority for many voters, it still doesn’t get the election air time it deserves. SECA’s Climate and Nature Pledge Campaign aims to do something about that!
The 2023 pledge is similar to the one we ran in 2022, but this year we have added more references to nature. We are inviting SECA member groups in all the districts and boroughs with elections coming up to get behind the campaign and encourage their local candidates to sign up. In this blog Sally Barnard and Thalia Griffiths explain how the campaign works and why it matters.
THE CLIMATE AND NATURE PLEDGE
Please register your pledge using the form here!
By signing the pledge candidates are agreeing, if elected, to press their council to: Accelerate action, Boost partnerships, Communicate, and Divest from fossil fuels. The reverse side of the Pledge Card spells it out in more detail:
The front side of pledge card is where candidates sign
The reverse side provides more details
HOW CANDIDATES CAN SIGN UP
There’s four steps involved:
2. Take a photo of the candidate holding up the pledge card.
3. Register the pledge with SECA so we can keep track of who’s signed (see below).
4. Post the photo on your social media with the hashtag #ABCDpledge
Candidates can do all this themselves, or campaigners can work with them to take the photo and record the pledge.
REGISTERING THE PLEDGE
There’s two ways to do this:
EITHER – enter the details and upload the photo directly onto our online Pledge Register: (note: this is a Google Form so you’ll need a Google account to do this)
OR – email the photo to SECA, together with the candidate’s name, the election they are standing in, the political party and the name of the electoral ward. Here’s the address: ABCDPledge@gmail.com
WHO’S SIGNED SO FAR
We’ll be publishing a list of who has signed so far here: https://bit.ly/ABCDregister2023
And you can see a gallery of photographs of candidates holding up their pledges here: https://bit.ly/ABCDphotos2023
Some of the election pledgers so far this year. Click on the image for the full gallery
BACKGROUND TO THE PLEDGE
WHY THESE ELECTIONS MATTER
The local elections on May 4th are a key moment in the democratic process. This year there are elections in 46 councils across the South East and the outcome is likely to be more unpredictable than usual due to the upheavals in Westminster politics. The dangers of the climate crisis have become more evident with huge floods in Pakistan and wildfires in the Med alongside the obvious fragility of our supplies of fossil fuels. We need to keep up the momentum and pressure for urgent climate and nature action in our local areas.
WHERE ELECTIONS ARE BEING HELD
These are the councils where seats are being contested:
Unitary authorities: Brighton and Hove, Medway, Portsmouth, Southampton
District and Borough councils: Arun, Ashford, Basingstoke, Canterbury, Chichester, Crawley, Dartford, Dover, Eastbourne, East Hants, Eastleigh, Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell, Folkestone, Gravesham, Guildford, Hart, Havant, Horsham, Lewes, Maidstone, Mid Sussex, Mole Valley, New Forest, Reigate, Rother, Runnymede, Rushmoor, Sevenoaks, Spelthorne, Surrey Heath, Swale, Tandridge, Test Valley, Thanet, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Waverley, Wealden, Winchester, Woking, Worthing.
Note there are no county council elections this year.
COORDINATING OUR EFFORTS
We are suggesting that SECA member groups in these council areas contact all the candidates for their local area ahead of the election to invite them to sign the pledge (see template letter below).
ABCD PLEDGE CARD
The front of the card is for candidates to sign; the reverse side spells out the pledges in a bit more detail.
The pledges focus on four areas where further action by most councils is urgently needed. Here’s the thinking behind them:
A. Accelerate Action – we want all councils to accelerate their action to reflect the urgency of the crisis. Increasingly councils are committing to a leadership role and setting emissions targets and biodiversity strategies for their whole council area, not just the council owned estate. We want this to be the case for all councils. We want councillors to raise questions and keep challenging to ensure that all council decisions take climate and nature fully into account (see note 1 below).
B. Boost Partnerships – councils are realising that they need to build alliances to galvanise climate action, though this has often been slow and patchy. Alliances with community groups, business, and other local stakeholders need to be boosted. Many communities are organising to take action and need to be supported with grants and helped to find their way through council processes.
C. Communicate – this remains a weak spot for many councils, although it is improving. Around 50% of councils in the South East now mention climate on their home page. We need all councils to reach out to local residents with clear and engaging information so that the public know what the council is doing and are encouraged to take action themselves. Council’s also need to be transparent on what they are actually achieving. It is encouraging that 48% of councils had produced an annual climate report by the end of 2022. (See the SECA survey for details of your council.
D. Divest from Fossil Fuels – This is a crucial issue for most climate campaigners. How can councils recognise the climate emergency yet ignore the impact of their multi-million pound pension fund investments in fossil fuel companies? Some people will argue that pension fund management is not within the remit of district and borough councils, as it is delegated to the county level. But it is possible for district and borough councils to pass a motion calling on the Trustees of their Local Authority Pension Fund to divest, as Adur and Worthing Council did in December 2019. Other councils that we know of who have passed a motion are: Hastings BC (2022); Lewes DC (2020); Brighton and Hove City (2022) and most recently Rother, in Feb 2023. So far, none of the county councils in our region have done so.
Some councils are further ahead than others on the four pledge areas. You can check what climate targets your council has already agreed to, and see how they are performing on partnerships, communication and divestment, by looking your council up on the SECA Survey. There’s a tab for each county, and details for every local authority in the South East.
These are the key deadlines:
- Approx April 5th – Official lists of candidates and contact details will be published on your local District or Borough Council website.
- April 18th – This is the approximate date that postal votes will be sent out. Voters often post them back straight away, so a significant amount of campaigning needs to happen before this time.
- May 4th – Election day
Postal addresses of candidates (or their agents) will be available around April 5th on your District/Borough council website. You may be able to find the emails for some candidates by checking the Who Can I Vote For website where you put in your postcode and it tells you who is standing. While it’s best to contact each candidate individually, if you’re short on time you could just contact the leader of each party on the council. Or you could contact all the candidates in your ward and ask them to pass the pledge on to others in their party in the district.
Here is the outline of a template letter you can adapt and send if that’s easiest.
Note that it is good practice to contact all political parties. If you are using SECA materials please make sure that you do so, as we take care to be non-party political.
Any questions – just email us at: ABCDpledge@gmail.com
- It is important for all council candidates to be familiar with their own council’s current climate action plans. You can find a list of them here. Nearly all have room for improvement. For an assessment of how your council’s plan stacks up against others across the country, take a look at the Climate Action Plan scorecard from Climate Emergency UK (CEUK), which we wrote about in this blog.
- Soon all councils nationally will be scored for their climate action by CEUK, not just their climate plans. These scores will be published later in 2023. For a preview of the criteria and a well researched guide to what your council could be doing see the list of questions and methodology here.
Sally Barnard is one of the coordinators for council issues at the South East Climate Alliance and has been closely involved in the pledge campaign and SECA Survey. Thalia Griffiths is coordinating the SECA pledge campaign and is also the newsletter editor for SECA. You can contact them at: ABCDpledge@gmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org