Environmental, faith and community groups have a key role to play in campaigning for their local councils to first declare a climate emergency, then act on it. 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 are some suggestions on approaches to take.
If your council is one of the few in the South East that is yet to declare a 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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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, and training webinars. 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 tool which pulls together data on How climate friendly is your community. 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.
How did your MP vote?
The Guardian has come up with an online tool that allows you to find out how your local MP has voted in 16 indicative climate votes between 2008 and 2018. Each MP has been assigned a score between 0% and 100% based on their voting record. The lower the score, the worse the record.
SECA monthly actions
We have decided to suggest one idea each month for a combined action that SECA members can get behind. By joining forces we figured we could really multiply our impact! We started in November 2019. Click on the link for more info on each action.
- November 2019 – Plant a Tree
- December 2019 – Vote for Climate Action
- January 2020 – Pledge to Fly Less
- February 2020 – Shut that Door!
- March 2020 – Rewild our Verges
Nicola Peel got the ball rolling in coordinating the monthly actions. The plan is to come up with a programme for several months ahead so member groups that are interested in taking part can gear up to get involved. If you have any ideas, contact us on SECA.email@example.com
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
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.
The South Downs National Parks Trust has two funding windows currently open, and one launching soon.
- The Volunteer Conservation Fund (up to £5000)
- The Sustainable Communities Fund (up to £10,000)
- The Boltini Litter Picking Fund (launching soon)