The LGA Webinar, Spotlight on Green Reset, was organised as part of the LGA’s virtual annual conference. It covered how local government can work towards a sustainable recovery and seize opportunities given to us from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has provided an unprecedented wakeup call, highlighting inequalities in our communities and the gaps in reaching our sustainable development goals. It is a time for change and a systemic shift towards a sustainable economy.
This overview provides a summary of what each speaker presented on, followed by the conclusions and next steps moving forward.
Three hundred and eighty eight people attended the webinar with four speakers presenting their thoughts and reflections on the impact of the pandemic on council climate change strategies. The session was chaired by Councillor Liz Green, Vice Chair of the LGA Improvement and Innovation Board.
Councillor Liz Green began the webinar by outlining how the pandemic has caused an unforeseen switch in people’s behaviours and attitudes. The global lockdown has not only meant that we have had to drastically change the way we work and live, it has also meant that we have an opportunity to do this in a way that will benefit our environment and help us to reach our carbon reduction goals.
With this in mind, we are able to see examples of this from a number of different councils and public sector bodies.
Cllr David Renard, Chair, LGA’s Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board and Leader, Swindon Borough Council
Reflecting on the LGA’s vision for rethinking local and the theme of place leadership, the green recovery needs to be at forefront when communicating a way forward with central government. Decarbonising transport, green jobs, clean electricity generation, energy efficient products and rethinking housing are some of the issues we need to address. The past few months have shown how important the environment is to us with more cyclists and wildlife booming, communities are reflecting on how we get back to work in a sustainable way. By partnering up with organisations such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, councils can drive the change that has begun as a result of lockdown restrictions. The legacy of COVID-19 should be in using it as an opportunity to reduce carbon and restore our environment.
Jo Wall, Strategic Director (Climate Response), Local Partnerships
Jo presented the work that Local Partnerships have been doing on COVID-19 in collaboration with councils. The speed of change they have seen has been incomparable especially with people’s behaviours. Now, the United Kingdom is on track to meet its third carbon budget. We are making progress, but it is in specific areas such as transport. How we manage the climate crisis is by using less, transitioning to electrical sources, generating electricity from renewable sources and adapting for the inevitable consequences.
Mike Cockburn, Lead Commissioner - Environment, Wirral Council
Mike began by outlining the Wirral’s position as a peninsula exposed to the elements. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Wirral set up a command and control structure to respond quickly and effectively. Overnight they were able to break down barriers and silos virtually so decisions could be made immediately and collectively. They set up a metrics dashboard which focussed on the climate emergency implications from the pandemic. By taking a blended approach, the council will be reviewing it’s assets, progressing carbon literacy across the council and collectively establishing a climate emergency action plan.
Cllr Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader, London Borough of Waltham Forest
Councillor Clyde Loakes explained how Waltham Forest implemented walking and cycling infrastructure to respond to COVID-19. They used funding provided by central government to reprioritise their roads for pedestrians and cyclists. Though they came up against strong opposition, the results have been a dramatic reduction in vehicle usage and carbon emissions as well as an increase in resident quality of life and economic growth of local businesses. By introducing narrowed junctions, blended crossings and increased pedestrians shopping areas they have shown that putting these modes of transport first they can make a huge impact on their carbon emissions
Poll results Fifty one per cent of attendees said that financing their climate change programmes was the biggest concern for councils in green reset, followed by too many competing priorities for the council at thirty one per cent. Thirty nine per cent of the delegates replied to say that lobbying central government was one of the biggest forms of support which the LGA could provide to councils at this time, followed by thirty three per cent who said that grant funding for climate innovation projects would be useful.
How can local authorities recover from the pandemic in a green way?
- Invest in renewable energy sources
- Prioritise green methods of transport
- Use evidence based decision making to implement green strategies
- Engage with residents and use the momentum of behaviour change to protect green spaces and wildlife
- Communicate the data with local areas to make it clear that there is a climate emergency.