How are our local councils progressing with their climate action plans? How well are they keeping us in touch with their action? Sally Barnard and Alison Marshall have been investigating and report back on their findings.
Nearly all councils in the SECA area have now produced climate action plans. Only four out of 56 are still to go. But now the crucial question is – what action has been taken? In the most recent update to the SECA survey of council climate action we decided to focus on whether councils have published a climate action report or fed back on progress in other ways. We want to pass a message to councils that it is important to communicate progress to the public.
So in January we contacted lead cabinet members and climate officers in all 56 county, unitary, district and borough councils in our region (Surrey, East and West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent). We also searched the council websites.
So far we have had replies from 30 out of 56 councils. That’s over half, which is encouraging in itself. It’s also encouraging that the majority of councils now have at least one dedicated climate officer – that’s definitely progress from 2019 when we started the survey.
 Runnymede and Dartford council websites give no mention of climate action plans. In Spelthorne and New Forest action plans appear to be in progress.
What did we find out?
It’s early days with climate action reporting. Some councils have produced annual reports and made them accessible to the public, some are just reporting to committees or Cabinet, some have not got as far as a report yet. Details and links are all in the SECA survey in the next-to-last column on the right.
NINE councils have produced reports for Cabinet or committees but which are not easy for the public to access.
SEVEN councils plan to produce reports later in 2022.
However, in SIXTEEN councils we could find no evidence of any reporting or feedback on progress.
You can check your own council in the SECA survey (the column about annual reporting is second from the end on the far right). This is all work in progress, so please let us know if you spot errors or omissions firstname.lastname@example.org
What makes a good report? There could be a trade-off between making a report clear and easy reading, and satisfying those who really want to know the detail of council progress. Eg Hampshire CC has a detailed written report. Southampton has produced a clear infographic but gives little detail. Test Valley is producing six-monthly reports to Cabinet and has been transparent in giving links to these from its climate pages. Eastbourne and Lewes combine written reports with traffic light tables of action. Gravesham and West Sussex have produced well-communicated reports clearly targeted at the public, but they may be lacking in detail.
A combination of a user-friendly overview and links to detailed updates or to a table of progress is probably the best answer.
What can you do if you think your council is lagging? You might consider contacting them and pointing them to this article and/or giving them some examples of reporting to encourage them on their way.
These are all nudges along the way. The big issue is what emission reductions are being achieved and how fast? Are there big steps forward that could be examples for all to follow? So far most councils are reporting similar steps with ‘low hanging fruit‘, for example: EV charging points; various approaches to home insulation; Solar Together schemes; wildflower verges; tree planting; decarbonising council estate; using EVs for council vehicles; promoting the Low Carbon Across the South and East (LoCASE) business scheme. A few councils are reporting bigger steps, for example: district heat networks; buying land for biodiversity/flood control; building cycle bridges; setting up community climate funds for local groups.
It is going to be increasingly hard to keep tabs on progress. It seems to us that there needs to be a systematic national system of reporting. Meantime, we will try to fill a gap for a while longer, though as you can see our SECA system is rather creaking at the seams! It may be that Climate Emergency UK, who recently produced the national scorecards for climate action plans, will be able to take over some of the work. They have an impressive team of professionals and volunteers but need funding to keep going – if you can help, there’s a donation button on their homepage.
Sally Barnard and Alison Marshall – SECA council coordinators