After a spate of climate emergency declarations in 2019 and 2020, local authorities up and down the country began to set climate targets for themselves, independently of government. Climate action plans were drawn up to outline how cities and towns could reduce their carbon and meet those targets. A couple of years on from that moment, how is that wave of good intent translating into real change? Are council climate action plans getting us anywhere?
One organisation that’s been looking into this is Climate Emergency UK, which was formed in haste out of that same moment in order to track progress. They were the organisation that maintained the global list of emergency declarations. As a follow up, they have taken things a step further: their volunteers and assessors have read every council climate action plan in the country, given it a score and released a ranking.
You can browse their Council Climate Scorecards on a dedicated website, and one of the most obvious things is how variable the results are. At the top of the class are Manchester, Solihull and Edinburgh, three of a handful of councils that score over 80% on Climate Emergency UK’s criteria. At the other end of the scale, dozens of councils score a blunt zero for not having any kind of plan at all.
Overall, performance isn’t great. Across the 409 councils, the average score is 43% on a set of criteria that includes community engagement, clear goals, costings, timelines and political commitment. (You can see the full checklist here, or view the methodology). It’s clear that a lot of climate action plans were put together quickly, with varying degrees of competence, though often in good faith and as a first step.
I’d include Luton in that, knowing some of the people involved. We score a fairly lowly 19%, but our plan is full of proposals to investigate possibilities rather than make concrete promises. An updated version is imminent, and I will be reserving judgement for the new plan.
One thing that’s positive about the findings is that performance of local councils isn’t strongly tied to political parties. The top council is Manchester, which is Labour, but Solihull in second place is Conservative.
The benefit of a set of rankings like this is that they give councils a sense of where they are and how they’re doing, in the absence of guidance or funding from central government. It also gives them something to work to as they seek to improve, and in an hour’s time I will in fact be in a meeting at the town hall where we will discuss the rankings and what we can learn.
How did your council score? Have a look at councilclimatescorecards.uk