This is my analysis from last week’s Local Government Chronicle. What’s it about? Here’s a clue: though I learned many years ago that sub-editors never accept the author’s suggestion for a title, I still try – and for this one my attempt was “It’s The Local Economy, Stupid”.
The challenge councils are working on now, dealing with funding cuts, are minor compared to the challenges our places face as a result of systemic global problems. This is why people like Neil McInroy focus on the concept of local ‘resilience’.
I accept that there aren’t yet many local politicians looking to reshape their local economies to meet these fundamental challenges. So the argument needs to be won.
You can help by asking your local leader, “What will the local economy be like if the financial markets meltdown after a default by, say, Greek and Portugal? And wouldn’t it be good to start right now to shape it so that it can deal with shocks like that?”
Creating a sustainable future at the grass roots
22 September 2011 | By Warren Hatter
All local economies are facing instability in three systems on which we depend: in the financial markets, in energy supply and prices, and in ecosystem services. And we can already see local problems caused by instability in these systems: just look at the boarded windows on a typical high street, rapidly rising domestic energy prices, or the way that more homes are becoming uninsurable due to flood risk.
Worse, whatever the causes of the recent riots in urban England, they are a sure sign that there are many who feel detached from their local economy. Worse still, all these systems are now subject to major shocks, whether this is financial meltdown from a European country defaulting on its loans, massive jumps in food prices or cuts in oil supply.
There are concrete ways of getting to the understanding that your locality is vulnerable. Maybe through ecological footprinting of the area and starting to understand ‘one planet’ principles (like Sutton LBC); through commissioning a consumption-based carbon footprint, revealing that the true scale of the carbon challenge is more than twice what NI186 has had us believe (like West Sussex CC); or through a networked approach to place planning (like CLES’s work on local resilience).
When leaders realise that their local economy is not fit for purpose, what do we do? First, recognise where we need to go. We often hear leaders talking about the opportunities of a ‘low carbon economy’, but there is much more to this concept than benefitting from ‘green growth’ by providing goods and services related to energy provision and efficiency. The local economy that evolves will need to be:
resilient to shocks linked to food supply
resilient on energy
using much lower-carbon supply chains for everything
able to maintain its natural and social capital
If we don’t choose to be laissez faire, what can local government do to create the conditions for this new, sustainable economy to thrive?
Recognise that place is important
The “little platoons” approach to localism and big society will not suffice here. I believe that there is a vital role for leadership of place (place shaping, place stewardship, call it what you will) that is often absent from Big Society narratives and which is best carried out by a strategic body with a mandate: the local authority. As NLGN has suggested, some places are better equipped than others for the ‘Big Society’, so some intervention is needed. But this has to be about supporting communities, not top-down approaches which stifle innovation.
Grow our economic capacity
Relatively few economists work for local government; still fewer who are engaged with the ‘new economics’ and want to develop policies that let diverse, local enterprise flourish and resource loops become closed. In the future, for example, how can we encourage funding through a new local lending infrastructure? There is a range of models being used and proposed by the likes of NESTA.
Evolve our approaches to local leadership
More than ever, local authority leadership has to allow others in the community the space to lead. To do this, we need to excel at recognising civic entrepreneurship, and nurturing it. And enable the networks that are most likely to bring innovations to scale, so that every place might benefit from innovation elsewhere.
A sophisticated approach to behaviour change
More resilient, successful places can only be created with significant lifestyle changes, but we know that, in recent years, attempts to persuade people towards lower-impact lifestyles have had limited success; increasingly, we are learning to make sustainable living aspirational and in tune with people’s values.
We will have to measure our wealth in a much more rounded way than GDP and GVA do at present. One benefit of new ways of understanding success is that it will make sense for local assets to be used to their full potential.
Whatever we call it, the signs are that the new economy, the Civic Economy, the Big Society, is emerging, with massive energy, with diverse leadership and funding mechanisms and with a strong sense of place. Though these disrupt business as usual, they point to a high-wellbeing, resilient future with high social capital; this is unequivocally an opportunity agenda.
If we can work our way through the challenges, we will find that the local initiatives like these become mainstream. Delivering them is not our job in local government; creating the fertile ground for them to grow and thrive, is.
Warren Hatter is a local improvement advisor specialising in climate change, behaviour change and local leadership
Two recent reports make it clear there are already plenty of initiatives to inspire and councils are involved in many of them. Among the many initiatives highlighted in NESTA’s Compendium for the Civic Economy and NLGN’s Realising Community Wealth are:
- Fintry community energy partnership, producing profits from sustainable energy for a whole community
- Nottingham University Hospitals’ sustainable food procurement, promoting local entrepreneurs and growers while improving value for the NHS
- Sutton Bookshare, a virtual library where members lend books to each other
- Time Banks network in Islington, enabling people to share skills
- Southwark Circle, a co-designed membership scheme for older residents
- Surrey Museums’ provision by volunteers
It’s good that LGC has used this story to highlight some of the real progress made by local authorities in reducing carbon. But I’m afraid that the stats showing falling emissions in every authority only tell part of the story: the territorial part.
Once we take into account the emissions we are all responsible for, the emissions needed to create the goods and services we use and buy, the story is very different. These embedded emissions have been increasing, but central and local government don’t report them. So the real story is that every area is responsible for way more carbon that we admit, and most of it is outsourced.
Some authorities, such as West Sussex County Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, are starting to understand the consumption footprint of their area, and explore how it can influence policy. And they are part of a growing trend: only this week, an Inquiry was launched by the parliamentary Energy & Climate Change Committee to investigate the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK.
Council carbon data published
19 September, 2011 | By Rachel Salmon
Carbon emissions fell in almost all local authority areas in recent years, according to government figures.
Figures released last week by the Department for Energy and Climate Change showed an overall fall of 14% across all local authority areas between 2005 and 2009.
The report found that domestic emissions had fallen in all local authority areas but there were rises in industrial, commercial and road emissions.
Progress: a Parliamentary Ctee Inquiry into UK consumption-based #emissions reporting #carbon #climatechange
I just want to celebrate that this is happening. If you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I bang on about consumption-based emissions a lot. Because it’s vital, and because so few other people do. But most of all because naive me still cannot believe how blinkered policy-makers at all tiers are in ignoring this perspective. Rant over. Thanks to Tim Yeo. Let’s hope it’s an important step on the road to having governance arrangements and policy-making that takes account of the carbon in supply chains.
Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting
The Energy and Climate Change Committee, chaired by Tim Yeo MP, is today launching an inquiry to investigate the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK.
The UK’s reported greenhouse gas emissions have decreased since 1990, in line with our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. However, it has been suggested that this is a result of the way that emissions are currently accounted for, which is on a production basis. Production-based emissions reporting only takes account of emissions produced physically within a particular territory. If a consumption-based accounting approach was to be used—that is, reporting the carbon embedded in all of the goods and services consumed within the UK—it is very likely that the emissions attributable to the UK would be shown to have been increasing.
The Committee will examine the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK. The Committee invites responses addressing some or all of the following questions:
- How do assessments of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions differ when measured on a consumption rather than a production basis?
- Is it possible to develop a robust methodology for measuring emissions on a consumption rather than production basis and what are the challenges that need to be overcome to deliver this?
- What are the benefits and disadvantages associated with taking a consumption-based rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?
- Is there any evidence of industry relocating from the UK to other countries as a result of UK climate change policy?
- Would it be (a) desirable and (b) practicable for the UK to adopt emissions reduction targets on a consumption rather than production basis?
- What are the potential implications at the international level of the UK adopting a consumption- rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?
- Are there any other issues relating to consumption-based emissions reporting that you think the Committee should be aware of?
I recommend ‘Climate Check’, a new report from Green Alliance, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF, aimed at holding the Coalition Government to account on its low carbon commitments. In summary, it’s a mixed verdict. I want to hightlight this for two reasons:
First, to raise the profile of this as an accountability mechanism. It is vital that this sort of analysis is happening, and high profile, not least in the absence of the Sustainable Development Commission.
Second, to raise the issue (as I often to) about consumption-based emissions policy. Now that we know that half of the emissions for which we are responsible are not covered by the territorial emissions commitments the government has made, there is also a role for these NGOs to be challenging the Government to do so. This report is not about lobbying for further commitment, but …
I would like to see future editions of ‘Climate Check’ track progress on the one commitment relating to consumption-based emissions that this Government has made: in its Carbon Plan, published in March 2011, it committed to “gather evidence on the contribution that the production of goods and services that are consumed in the UK is making to carbon emissions in other countries. The Government will develop plans to reduce the most significant emissions …. for example, management of emissions through supply chains.” This may be a modest commitment, but it is the only one linked to half our footprint, so arguably more important to advance than any one of the many government pledges relating to the territorial half of our carbon impact.
The Coalition government was formed in May 2010 on the basis of a common policy platform thrashed out over several politically charged days. That platform, the Coalition Programme, contains some significant commitments to the UK’s low carbon transition which should increase the UK’s economic resilience by decreasing the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels.
This report is an assessment of the Coalition’s progress against the low carbon commitments set out in its programme for government. The analysis has been undertaken and produced by five of the UK’s leading environment and development organisations – Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Green Alliance, RSPB and WWF.
The report assesses both the quality of the policies that underpin the government’s low carbon commitments and the timeliness of their delivery. It makes recommendations about how performance on individual policies can be improved, as well as three high level recommendations which tackle the major barriers to better performance.
So the Localism Bill will not define ‘Sustainable Development’. We can’t pretend we didn’t see this coming. But it’s still a shocker, for many more reasons than I’ll go into here.
Let’s just think about one: what it reveals about what we mean by ‘localism’. The (New) Localism that I understand would accept the universal definition of Sustainable Development (which we have basically had since 2005’s Securing the Future) and make decisions locally informed by this, and by local circumstances.
In contrast, what we’re heading for is local government, in effect, being free to (in fact, being obliged to) define ‘sustainable development’ itself. As well as the additional burden, and the additional complication and contestability this adds to planning decisions, it will legitimise decisions based on prioritising economic growth at the expense of social and environmental sustainability.
As they say on message boards, *facepalm*.
Legal definition of sustainability ruled out
The government has been accused of “paying lip service” to protecting the environment after refusing to define in law what ‘sustainable development’ means.
Joan Walley MP (Lab), chair of the environmental audit committee, said her committee had been “fobbed off” after ministers refused to act on one of its key recommendations.
Changes proposed in the localism bill will introduce a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, meaning that councils default answer to planning applications should be ‘yes’.
In a report in March, the committee called for the bill to include a definition of the term ‘sustainable development’ and for it to include “the five recognised principles of sustainable development”.
However, in its response to the report, published on Monday, the government said the measures would not be necessary as the new National Planning Policy Framework would outline “the key principles that should underpin every aspect of planning”, making a legal definition unnecessary.