Environmental, faith and community groups have a key role to play in campaigning for their local councils to take action on the climate. There are many ways of doing this and different groups will want to make their own decisions on which tactics and approaches will be most effective. SECA is here to make suggestions, share resources, and coordinate action. We advocate a deliberately cross-party approach since this is most likely to lead to consensus decisions by councils, with actions that will be followed up on irrespective of which party is in power. Here is a blog article with our top tips on what we’ve learned so far about campaign tactics. It covers the practicalities and the politics of working with local councils. And here are some suggestions on approaches to take.
If your council is one of the few that is yet to recognise the climate emergency, or pass a meaningful motion, there is important work to be done in getting them over this first hurdle. Until they acknowledge the seriousness of the climate crisis, they are unlikely to consider decisive action. Our ABCD Climate and Nature Pledge aims to focus attention on the issue in local elections – see here for details of the 2023 campaign.
Turning words into action
A climate emergency motion amounts to little more than empty words if it is not followed up with decisive action. Local groups can play a vital role in keeping pressure on councils to follow through on their commitments and keep track of progress. Here’s a checklist of common sense advice on how to go about it:
- Start by briefing yourself on how the council works – you need to understand what the council’s mandate and responsibilities are, how the committee structure, party groupings and budget cycle works, and who the key people are.
- Learn about what the council is already doing on the climate and sustainability agendas – there may be more going on than you realise, or they may be local factors that influence decisions that need to be taken into account.
- Make contact with your own local councillor – meet face to face if possible, and build personal relationship. Remember that most councillors are not climate experts. They are often very busy people, and they have lots of other issues to deal with. So be clear, be brief, and be reasonable. Put yourself in their shoes and find ways of presenting your arguments in ways that chime with their priorities.
- Make contact with the cabinet member and council officers responsible for the climate plan – they will be key players who you need to establish a relationship with.
- Work out what role to play – in some cases a trusted partner or ‘critical friend’ role will be most effective. In others, more of a watchdog role may be needed. You may not be able to play both at the same time.
- Decide when mass action is called for – there may be moments where a well-targeted letter writing campaign, packing the public gallery at a council meeting, or mounting some other peaceful direct action event, may have an important part to play in focusing minds and getting public attention. You’ll need to gauge when those ‘tipping point’ moments are.
- Feed in constructive ideas – familiarise yourself with the various action plans under the ‘resources for councils’ on the SECA website, and point council contacts towards them.
- Offer to help – for example, publicising consultations or encouraging your members to sign up for council-led pledges or schemes.
- Attend council meetings and subcommittees – maintaining a presence at key meetings will show you are watching, and keep the pressure up to honour climate commitments rather than sliding them onto the back burner or the ‘too difficult’ pile.
- Keep track of commitments – so you can remind councils of the deadlines and targets they have set, and track how well they have stuck to them.
- Celebrate success – giving credit where credit is due is more likely to win friends than constantly criticising councils for not doing enough.
- Hone your communication skills – keeping climate action in the public eye is vital if the transformation we are looking for is to happen. This means forming relationships with the local media and working out the best ways to reach and influence the local community.
- Build alliances – local climate actions groups can’t do all of this alone. Your impact will be magnified if you can find partners to work with. Schools, scouts and guides, faith groups, chambers of commerce, local businesses, and a range of other community organisations can all play an important role, not only in reaching out to their members, but in making clear to the council the breadth of concern about the climate.
We are all learning as we go so do feed back your experience of what approaches work best for you. And let SECA know of examples of successful initiatives from your council for SECA to showcase. Email us at: email@example.com
SECA Climate Action Pledge
For the last three local elections, SECA has run a pledge campaign where we have encouraged local groups to approach their candidates to invite them to sign up to climate pledge, and record the fact by having a photo taken of them holding up the signed pledge card. It feels like a great way of focusing candidates’ attention on climate issues, and showing voters who care about the climate where the candidates stand. Once elected, it also provides local climate groups with a list of potential allies they can work with to follow through on the pledges.
In May 2019, 16 out the 40 candidates from across the region who signed up for our first pledge campaign were elected. In the May 2021 local elections 331 candidates signed up to our ABCD Climate Action Pledge, and 64 were elected. In the May 2022 elections, where fewer councils were involved, 111 candidates signed the pledge and 30 were elected.
We are running the SECA Pledge Campaign again for the 2023 local elections. Full details of how it works and how to take part are available here.
Successful candidates in the 2022 local elections
Here’s a blog article with suggestions on how campaigners can follow up with the successful candidates, to help support their work in championing the climate and divestment agendas.
SECA Climate Action Survey
SECA is tracking councils’ progress in developing meaningful climate action plans and has collated this information on an online spreadsheet. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/SECAclimateactionsurvey There’s an introductory tab explaining how it works, and separate tabs for each county.
It’s work in progress. The plan is to keep this updated as further news comes in. If you hear of developments not yet featured, or spot any corrections needed, do let us know by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the Blueprint Coalition
A coalition of leading think tanks, NGOs and research organisations led by ADEPT, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, has put together a blueprint for how the government can accelerate climate action at the local level. Their premise is that councils are an indispensable partner in reaching the UK’s national target of net zero by 2050 – but as they point out in their Progress Tracker report central government has yet to step up the challenge of empowering and supporting council action.
The Blueprint Coalition set out a comprehensive set of recommendations, based on extensive research with local authorities, on how the right support from central government could support local delivery within England for action on climate and nature, and boost sustainable economic growth. They invite other interested parties to sign up to this Coalition. Many local authorities have signed up and SECA has added its name to the list; SECA member groups could follow suit to show their support and help add impetus to their efforts.
Friends of the Earth resources
Friends of the Earth are gearing up their support for local climate groups, and have established a network designed specifically for this. Groups don’t have to change their name or structure to become part of the network, so long as their values align. As well as appearing on their map of groups taking climate action locally, FOE provides a whole array of helpful resources including ‘How-to guides, training webinars and access to grant funding. Once registered you can join their online chat platform so that you can share what you are doing with other groups. Find out how to get involved and register, or get in touch with Brenda Pollack the SE. Regional Campaign Organiser.
One very useful document they have published recently as part of their excellent Resource Hub is a template for local council climate action plans. They’re calling it Your Climate Action Plan and it has a checklist of 50 actions councils can take. It’s a development of their 33 point local authority action plan, published earlier in the summer. The idea is to provide a starter for discussion among local pressure groups on what actions are most appropriate for their area. The suggestions is to tick off those the council is already doing, prioritise the most urgent actions, get your community behind them, and then engage with the council.
FOE have also produced an excellent Near You tool which pulls together data on how climate friendly your community is. You pop in your post code and it comes up with a score showing how your local council area is performing, with data on tree cover, transport, housing, waste and renewables. You can drill down to find out more about where the data comes from, and the assumptions behind it. Here’s a blog on how it works.
Engaging the public on Climate Change
People approach climate change from many different angles, with different concerns, motivations and preconceptions. This means that no one message or communication approach is going to hit home with everyone. There is a lot to learn about effective public engagement approaches. The Britain Talks Climate toolkit from Climate Outreach, published in 2020, is an excellent introduction to the topic. Based on detailed audience research, they have broken down the general public into seven broad segments – which range from ‘disengaged traditionalists’ to ‘progressive activists’. They found that all seven segments are concerned about the climate, and have suggestions on what messages will be most effective in getting their attention and support.
How did your MP vote?
They Work With You has come up with an online tool that allows you to find out how your local MP has voted on all kinds of government motions.
How Change Happens
Transformative change doesn’t happen by accident or overnight. There are always multiple factors behind it. So it’s worth reading up on some of the theories and frameworks that are out there that unpack this whole issue. For example:
- Theory of Change: creating a social mandate for climate change – from Climate Outreach provides a helpful overall framing of the challenges involved and the importance of creating a social mandate for change. Though focused at a fairly high level, the principles are equally applicable to town or district.
Songs and poems
Need something to inspire you or sing along to as you march? We’re starting a mini-library of songs and poems you can use. Send your favourites along. Here’s couple to start with:
- Greta’s sailing – to the tune of ‘We are Sailing’ by Rod Stewart. Here’s a video of its first performance at the Steyning Climate Strike.
- They already know – a protest poem by Steyning poet, Simon Zec.
Other useful resources
- I support a climate emergency declaration pledge card
- A Vote for Climate Action poster
- A South East Climate Alliance A3 Poster
A variety of other networks are springing up across the country to galvanise local action on the climate, for example:
- Herefordshire Green Network is running a project they are calling The Great Collaboration – towards a Zero Carbon Herefordshire
This section is under development, so please let us know if you come across any promising funding sources.
Rampion Fund – a community benefit fund set up by Rampion Offshore Wind Ltd and managed by Sussex Community Foundation. Applicants need to be from a specific geographic area. Grants are between £1,000 and £10,000, with higher grants available in exceptional circumstances.
Postcode Society Trust – allocates funds from the Postcode Lottery. They have regular funding rounds and provide grants of up to £20,000. Their themes include: Improving biodiversity & green spaces; Responding to the climate emergency & promoting sustainability; and Increasing community access to outdoor space.