How can local authorities engage the public on climate decision-making?

Local Climate Engagement
Climate Outreach, Shared Future, UK100
November 2021 - November 2023

Avoiding the worst effects of climate change will be the biggest challenge in human history. Local authorities and partnerships will play a key role both in getting the UK to net zero and ensuring their areas are ready for changing conditions. To do this in a way that is effective and fair, they will need to engage the public. That’s why we and others developed Local Climate Engagement (LCE) - an innovative programme that uses a combination of training, mentoring, peer learning and hands-on support to assist local authorities in engaging their local communities. 

What role do local authorities have in tackling climate change?

The importance of local authorities’ role in tackling climate change is unarguable. Research produced for the Climate Change Committee shows that one-third of all UK greenhouse gas emissions are dependent on sectors influenced by local government policies or partnerships. Local authorities across the country have already shown bold leadership by setting Net Zero targets that are years ahead of national legislation.

The public too see local authority action as vital. Ipsos Mori polling commissioned by UK100 found that 40% of people believe that their local council is best placed to tackle climate change in their local area, compared to 30% for the Government and 19% for the individual. Climate Assembly UK members also backed locally-determined strategies, to allow for solutions better-suited to local communities.

Why should local authorities engage the public in climate decision-making?

As their work on climate change grows, many local authorities have moved beyond traditional consultation methods to engage their local populations. Up and down the UK, we now see local authorities using a diverse range of techniques, from citizens’ juries and assemblies, to crowdsourcing and community conversations.

Engaging the public in their climate decision-making in these ways enables local authorities to build a deeper understanding of local preferences, aspirations and needs. This supports the development of policy that is more likely to achieve public buy-in. It also allows local authorities to reach beyond those they most often hear from. This builds trust and is a key step in achieving a fair transition to Net Zero.

For local authorities, engaging the public in climate decision-making is not without risks. For example, commissioning public engagement before there is clarity of focus and a plan for how it will feed into decision-making can limit its impact at best and frustrate communities at its worst. LCE aims to help tackle these and other challenges, and to support robust engagement plans.

How can taking part in LCE help?

LCE enables local authorities and partnerships to plan, commission and deliver high quality public engagement in their climate decision-making, in a way that benefits both them and their local population. Developed by Involve and four partner organisations - Shared Future, UK100 and Climate Outreach - this programme provides local authorities with a package of training, mentoring, peer learning and hands-on support.

Project group

Five project group local authorities have received the following: 

  • £45,000 pro bono support to plan, deliver and evaluate local climate engagement in decision-making by one of our expert practitioners 
  • Three-day intensive Local Climate Engagement training for local authority officers and their partners
  • Two-hour training for elected members in engagement in local climate decision-making 
  • Peer learning sessions with other project group local authorities 

Coaching group 

16 coaching group local authorities have received the following: 

  • Three-day intensive Local Climate Engagement training for local authority officers and their partners
  • Seven hours' of drawn-down mentoring time to help local authorities develop engagement plans, strategy development, additional training and/or being a critical friend 
  • Three two-hour peer learning sessions with other coaching group local authorities 
  • Two-hour self-guided learning resources in engagement in local climate decision-making for elected members and senior leaders 

This programme is funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK branch) and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Which local authorities did we work with?

The LCE Programme worked with local authorities from across England and the political spectrum to support and deliver high-quality public engagement projects on climate policy. 

The Project Group

The local authorities who were part of our Project Group were: Derbyshire County Council; Essex County Council; Lancaster City Council; Sunderland City Council, and; Warwick District Council & Stratford District Council,

The Coaching Group

Our 16 local authorities who were part of the Coaching Group are: Brighton and Hove City Council; East Riding of Yorkshire Council; Hebden Royd Town Council & Todmorden Town Council; The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Kirklees County Council; Liverpool City Council; Reading City Council; Reigate and Banstead Borough Council; Rochdale Borough Council; Sheffield City Council; South Tyneside Borough Council; Stevenage Borough Council; Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council; West Berkshire District Council; West Midlands Combined Authority; Winchester City Council

Programme applicants

These local authorities were selected from the 75 applications we received for the 21 spaces available with interest from every region of England. We had an excellent spread of applications across regions, geographies, the political spectrum and types of local authority:

  • Political Administration (at time of application): 33% Conservative led councils, 41.3% Labour led and 12% were Coalition led
  • Region: The highest number of EOIs were received from the South East & North West; then Yorkshire; South West & West Midlands and the other regions.
  • Make up of rural/urban/mixed areas: 37% Rural; 41% Urban & 22% Mixed

These applications demonstrated a strong cross-party desire for a community-backed transition and the understanding that we can’t achieve Net Zero without public involvement in climate decision-making. Our Local Climate Engagement Programme supported Local Authorities to do just that.

The National Advisory Group

The Programme had a National Advisory Group that met throughout the programme to offer advice and guidance. The National Advisory Group members were:

  • Rebecca Willis, Lancaster University - Chair of the National Advisory Group
  • Alice Owen, Place Based Climate Action Network
  • Bonny Ibhawoh, Participedia Project Director 
  • Isobel Wade, Greater Cambridge Partnership 
  • Jess Studdert, New Local
  • Judy Ling Wong, Founder of Black Environment Network (Twitter: @ling_judy)
  • Louise Marix Evans, Quantum Strategy & Technology (LinkedIn & Twitter: @QuantumStraTech) 
  • Martin Hunt, Forum for the Future (LinkedIn)
  • Patrick Allcorn, Department of Energy Security and Net Zero
  • Paul Anderson, Voyage Youth
  • Tanya Pascual, Hertfordshire County Council (LinkedIn)

National Advisory Group Meeting Notes

LCE National Advisory Group ​​​​​​Meeting 1 Notes (March 2022)

LCE National Advisory Group ​​​​​​Meeting 2 Notes (June 2022)

LCE National Advisory Group Meeting 3 Notes (September 2022)

LCE National Advisory Group Meeting 4 Notes (January 2023)

LCE National Advisory Group Meeting 5 Notes (May 2023)

The documents linked here are PDFs. Please email [email protected] if you require these notes in a different format.

Evaluating our Local Climate Engagement programme

To assess the impact of the programme and capture learnings on the process, the Local Climate Engagement partners worked with an independent evaluator to assess the extent and ways in which The Programme's objectives and outcomes were met. The learning from this evaluation will inform the development of wider activity in Local Authority engagement on climate change, locally and nationally and at times internationally. The final programme report is available to view here.

LCE Evaluation Report

Find out more

If you are interested to find out more about this programme, please see the programme prospectus and FAQs below. You can commission our Local Climate Engagement intensive training, our mentoring offer, or hands-on engagement support for your own local authority. Please contact Carly, Head of Capacity Building, about what we can support you with or for any further questions. Her email address is [email protected].