ABSTRACTS: Local climate praxis: bridging the gap between theory and practice on local climate action

2-5pm, Wednesday 30th September 2020 (See event listing)


14.00-14.05: Welcome and overview of event 

14.05-14.20: Keynote: Prof. John Barry, PCAN & Queen's University Belfast

14.20-15.20: Break out Sessions 1

Breakout Session 1.1: Applied research on the local climate praxis


Breakout Session 1.2: What community means in local climate action         

15.20-15.30: Break

15.30-16.30: Break out Sessions 2

Break out Session 2.1: Innovative forms of local engagement


Break out Session 2.2: Critical perspectives on place-based climate action

16.30-16.55: Plenary Discussion 

16.55-17.00: Closing remarks 

Breakout Session 1.1: Applied research on the local climate praxis

Suay Melisa Ozkula (University of Sheffield), Judging digital “place” in global climate change initiatives 

Internet researchers have long been concerned with the challenges of identifying spatial boundaries in online social movements. While various new social movements like Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion have used prominent hashtags to come together as social media publics, it remains difficult to judge in how far such hashtag streams and similarly anchored online movements represent physical (=non digital) locations. This is particularly relevant for global movements on climate change where local environments are a key consideration in the development of climate initiatives.

In response to this issue, this piece offers some reflections on how "place" and "on the ground" movements can be judged in online responses to climate issues and what this means for future climate initiatives. It will be suggested that, while social media publics form significant communities around climate initiatives, they offer skewed representations in terms of demographics, community formation, and issue priority, based on the cultural logics that individual media platforms provide. It will therefore be recommended that location based online spaces are provided for communities to respond to and engage with climate initiatives, as a way of offering more inclusive spaces and judging local responses more accurately.

Rory Fitzpatrick (University of Leeds), "How has climate change mattered to you over the past 3 months?" - Results from a survey during the UK COVID-19 lockdown.    

A survey was performed to capture how important people considered climate change during the UK COVID19 shutdown (March–June 2020). Although the vast majority of participants considered climate change to be of importance, particularly in the mid to long term future, there was a mixture of responses to how much more immediate challenges had altered their perspective on the pending climate emergency. Our study also highlighted a clear consensus towards participants being willing to consider personal changes which could positively alter their effect on the climate, but less motivation to publically advocate for climate action planning. This result was consistent across all respondents, regardless of their view on the immediate importance of climate change. The majorityof participants received climate information through traditional news media and social media outlets, but highlighted that they had not sought additional education on the topic during the COVID19 lockdown. However, our survey showed that when participants were asked to consider local changes in air quality, the vast majority related positive changes to wider global effects on warming. Our survey suggests that a more localized and tailored approach to discussing

Bob Walley (University of Central Lancashire), Raising awareness of climate change creatively through free and accessible community engagement festivals      

Envirolution is a community based cooperative of volunteers with limited capacity who organise annual festivals dedicated to raising awareness about climate change. For the past ten years, the group have been exploring creative ways to empower people to invoke positive changes in their lives, looking at how local communities engage with and understand the environment. Now Envirolution is seeking to assess what impact it has had. How have perceptions about climate change been addressed and how were those reflected, transferred into actions then assimilated into participants’ everyday lives? 

Firstly, this study examines quantitative and qualitative survey data regarding attendees of Envirolution events in past years, including the online INvirolution 2020 festival, examining the impact of these events on the communities engaged. Secondly, we discuss the outcomes and behavioural impacts in the community. Finally, we provide informed strategies for future project development in terms of community outreach and engaging with different levels of governance toward more combined and informed approaches. We argue that the festival can be developed as a mix of physical and online presence, as well as stimulate active participation by local community members to encourage civic involvement, learning and meaningful and positive climate action.

Andrew Walker (Local Government Information Unit), The Return of Locally Led Place Shaping  

Local authorities are taking the lead in reimagining a place shaping agenda that was previously guided, or hemmed in, by centrally determined goals. Rather than a top down version of place shaping, driven by a restricted set of Whitehall priorities and small, piecemeal pots of funding, this time it is emerging from the bottom up, in innovative new ways in local areas. This paper will show, with reference to case studies of councils in the UK, how the idea of "place" has become a framework for practical action in local areas, without guidance or direction from Whitehall. 

Councils have a direct connection with local places. They are intertwined with local networks and communities in a way that is just not possible for central government to emulate. Furthermore councils have the detailed knowledge of local areas and local identities, with the impetus to develop strategies around these, harnessing the value of physical and social assets for public benefit. Narratives of ‘place’ and ‘place shaping’ draw attention to the social and physical fabric of communities and are sensitive to their collective experience, whether in urban environments, high streets, town centres or rural areas. ‘Places’ are also economies where we earn our living, communities where we relate to others, and the centrepiece of our identity and belonging. There are many dimensions to place and community. Building locally distinct understandings of what these terms mean and enables them to be mobilised towards long term and  complex issues from climate change to economic development.   

Breakout Session 1.2: What community means in local climate action

Lucy Stone (Our Common Climate), Common ownership of the green economy; how collective decision-making and ownership models could accelerate climate progress and address inequality. 

The role of ‘community’ in the context of climate change has largely been overlooked as too small to confront the inherent national and global system changes required by climate change. Yet, when it comes to addressing climate change, localism is where action can accelerate or stall – for example local planning decisions. Communities are on the front line of dealing with climate impacts already, and a resilient community is a foundation to both reducing emissions and adapting to the baked in impacts.

Common ownership of renewable energy, land and forests are underway in the UK and other countries globally. These models of place based climate action are a transformative approach that can lead to further cycles of action and engagement.As  we transition to a green economy, we need to address who decides, benefits from and owns these new assets. Enabling collective participation, decision making and ownership in the green economy is a way to confront the deeply embedded inequalities in our current energy, food and land systems. This piece explores Elinor Ostrom’s work on ‘Commoning’ as a practical route as well as a narrative framing for place based ‘community action’ that moves away from voluntary led small initiatives to active participation and cooperative ownership.

Rebecca Willis and David Tyfield (Lancaster University), Turning targets into action: tackling climate change in a local context

The UK has committed to ambitious carbon targets, requiring major changes at local level across a wide range of policy areas, including transport, land use planning and economic development. But how are these targets, and the strategy required to meet them, understood by officials and politicians at local level? There is very little research into the lived experience and motivations of decision makers, yet rapid climate action requires their support and active engagement. While questions of technical governance and policy design have been well studied, less attention has been paid to the question of how solutions might be implemented, and by whom.

This paper reports on a PCAN funded project working with decision makers in three UK cities to explore these questions. It will interrogate the implicit norms and assumptions that govern participants’ work, and collaborate with them to develop new working practices to enable the shift to zero carbon. It aims to uncover the implicit, embedded understandings (or ‘phronetic knowledge’) of policy actors, to understand how the institutional and cultural norms of government influence climate action, and to develop a contextualised account of how strategy development and policymaking needs to change, in order to achieve rapid climate action.

Wolfgang Haupt (Leibniz-Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany), Explaining climate policy pathways of unlikely city pioneers: the case of the German city of Remscheid

The German midsized city of Remscheid, located in the German state of NorthRhine Westphalia, can be characterized as an unlikely climate pioneer. In fact, Remscheid is a least likely candidate for pioneering climate policies. Previous research suggests that climate pioneers are typically characterized by a growing population, favourable economic conditions, political influence of green parties, and strong civil societies. However, none of the listed characteristics apply to Remscheid quite to the contrary. The paper aims at solving this research puzzle, based on an exploratory in-depth case-studyof Remscheid’s climate policy pathway since the early 1990s. The city performs much better than most German cities of comparable size because the lack of capacities can be compensated by strong key actors and creative policymaking.

Local actors manage to attract external funding from a variety of sources and frequently participate in applied research projects on relevant topics. However, we also find that planning from project to project and the resulting insecurity have a negative effect on setting long-term climate goals and developing holistic visions for the future. Regarding future research, we call for a systematic exploration of the potentials and limits of local climate policymaking that is largely financed by third-party funding. Moreover, we suggest a closer examination of the interplay between local actors and researchers and how the latter can be successfully involved as co-creators of local policy change.

Rebecca Wells (LSE), The use of Citizen Assemblies and Juries in cities as a deliberative tool for addressing Climate Change: A comparative case study of Oxford and Leeds  

Recently, there has been increased interest in the use of Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries on climate change at different levels of government. Many have advocated for their use on climate change as a deliberative tool to supplement representative democracy by engaging with citizens and creating a structured dialogue between citizens, experts and politicians to chart a collaborative way forward, facilitating informed policymaking and societal buy-in for the tough climate change policy decisions. 

This study builds on the literature promoting increased citizen engagement on climate change by investigating the recent use of Citizens’ Juries and Assemblies on climate change in UK cities. It aims to identify the reasons for their increased use in UK cities, investigate how they are being structured and the implications for the recommendations produced, and finally how they are influencing cit-ylevel climate policy. A qualitative comparative case study analysis is being performed on the Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries carried out in Oxford and Leeds in late 2019 using semi-structured interviews of those involved in commissioning them, those who ran them and those who received the recommendations and help form climate policy in these city councils. The interview transcripts will then be analysed thematically.

Break out Session 2.1: Innovative forms of local engagement

Peter Harper (University of Bath), A local plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030         

Many local authorities have declared their intention to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2030, yet in most cases the real meaning of this goal remains obscure. This paper explores potential meanings in terms of a series of ‘scopes’, with reference to a specific case, the shire county of Wiltshire. These scopes are used to quantify the actual emissions under consideration. The paper selects a particular scope and attempts to construct a quantified decarbonisation programme that could in principle be ‘owned’ by the county. It goes on to ask how the necessary funding could be achieved from local resources, and to consider the long-term benefits of what is essentially an investment in a prosperously sustainable future.

Robert Connell (The University of Edinburgh), How can city climate commissions mobilise the importance of place in encouraging private sector action on climate change?    

There is a consensus in the academic literature around climate change that any meaningful, transformative action on climate change requires support and leadership from the private sector. However, in order to catalyse meaningful climate action within the private sector, it is suggested that climate change, and the challenges it presents, needs to be framed in a language familiar to business. Meanwhile, although the benefits of climate action in the private sector have been brought to light through academic literature in the last two decades, the focus has remained largely on investigating the steps taken to change internal business practices in response to climate change. Framing private sector action on climate change as a process of business model adaptation, this paper explores how the changes being made can benefit the places in which businesses, their employees and their markets, operate. In taking this approach the paper develops an argument for how ‘place-based’ scales can better harness the shifting motivations for private sector action on climate change.

Ellie Murtagh (Sniffer/Adaptation Scotland), Unpacking 'place' in Place Based Adaptation - A Framework for effective place based adaptation in practice

This paper critically examines the concept of ‘place’ in relation to place-based adaptation to elucidate challenges in practice and advance the theoretical debate on the role of ‘place’ in climate adaptation. Projects at various scales of ‘place’ (e.g. neighbourhood, locality, city and region) across Scotland were studied and explored with a Place Based Learning Working Group comprised of stakeholders from across the community, climate adaptation and public sectors. Findings identified that ‘place’ can serve as both a barrier, in terms of nostalgia, alienation, place detachment and lack of consensus, and enabler, in terms of connections, identity and values, to climate adaptation.

This analysis identifies characteristics of effective place-based adaptation and proposes a framework to support and enable effective place-based adaptation. The framework developed through a co-creation process involving practitioners and academics is supported by examples from practice. It argues that successful place-based adaptation involves shaping, developing, or enhancing a ‘place’ in response to current and projected climate change, whilst contributing to a broader context of change including social and ecological justice. Place based adaptation must strive for the triple win of social, economic and environmental benefits, through building adaptation into other agendas including planning, culture, health and wellbeing.

Erika Russell (University of Surrey), Developing a carbon baseline to support multi-stakeholder, multi-level governance at a county level           

Whilst carbon foot-printing and baselining has been completed for several UK cities, the work by the Surrey Climate Commission, Surrey County Council and the University of Surrey offers an insight into issues that arise when trying to provide information appropriate for  county-based, multilevel governance across an urban/rural area. Key to the engagement of local actors is the provision of a baseline carbon footprint that is relevant to place, local issues and interest group alignment. This has been considered for both consumption based and territorial emissions. Attempting to use publicly available, and thus accessible data, this work has identified barriers that would face similar Commissions, such as the failure of national data to align with place-based approaches, emission models that are only available at a national level, complexity of overlapping data sets, opacity of data within topic-specific models and hotspot data gaps e.g. care homes. The analysis operates at a district and county level and offers a springboard for both strategic planning and practical action. We suggest this approach is critical for multilevel and cross sector networks, such as the Surrey Climate Commission, where data must inform public sector, business and third sector participants and underpin high ambition for change.

Break out Session 2.2: Critical perspectives on place-based climate action

Rebecca Sandover (University of Exeter), Contrasting public and political actors’ views of Citizen’s Assemblies: An exploration of the perceived legitimacy and value of deliberative public engagement on climate change

Commentators have noted the rise of a ‘new climate politics’ which has emerged in the wake of recent global climate change protest movements . One part of the new climate politics entails experimentation with citizen-centric input into policy development, via deliberative forums such as citizen’s assemblies. National and local governments are increasingly utilising these institutions of deliberative democracy on topics related to climate change, including pathways to transition to Net Zero carbon emissions. Yet relatively little is known about the motivations and aspirations of those commissioning citizen’s assemblies on climate change or how the general public perceives these institutions. Studies on citizen’s assemblies have focused on the experiences and views of citizen’s assembly participants themselves, with less work on political actors’ views of citizens’ assemblies and even less examining wider public perceptions.

This paper will present findings on the perceptions and expectations of the Devon Citizen’s Assembly process which was established following the declaration of a climate emergency and led by Devon Climate Emergency Response Group. It will explore issues around the legitimacy, credibility and likely impacts of the assembly, as well as its aspirations and concerns, which links to debates in the academic literature concerning public trust in political institutions, and the institutionalisation and broader purposes of public deliberation.

Clare Wharmby (Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation),  Understanding the carbon impact of city-wide decision-making        

The City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) set a target to achieve net zero carbon for the whole city; this boundary covers the whole local authority area with a footprint of around 2.2 million tonnes of emissions per year. In order to try and achieve this target, the city has funding through the EU Climate-KIC Healthy Clean Cities project to look at strategic experiments to identify and test deep system changes to achieve transformation to a zero carbon Edinburgh by 2030. However, decision-making around housing, infrastructure and provision of healthcare and education services continues as an ongoing activity and risk locking the city into a high carbon pathway and jeopardizing any chance of reaching this target. We a developing a Carbon Scenario Tool (CST) for the CEC and other partners to enable the future carbon costs and benefits of options to be estimated based on available information. This has provided decision-makers with quantitative data to recognise what impact decisions can have on the target and support investment in low carbon options. The process of embedding the CST into decision-making across different areas and levels is ongoing but access to easy and auditable data means the tool is gaining traction in a number of key areas.

Zoe Robinson (Keele University), Universities as places of climate praxis     

Universities have been lauded for their potential as ‘Living Labs’ for sustainability (Evans et al. 2015). Universities can have many advantages for trialling sustainability innovations: private utility networks, control over a diverse built environment, and a significant readymade and diverse community of staff and students, generally more likely to hold pro-environmental views of new technologies. Nevertheless, project management of living laboratories in the context of higher education can still be challenging.

This paper explores the Living Lab concept in practice, drawing on two University-located carbon-reduction focused projects: the design and implementation of a smart energy network demonstrator and the first UK trial of blending hydrogen into the gas grid. We explore the perceptions and experiences of the residents living their lives as part of a ‘living lab’ trial; the way that the participants of the living lab are conceptualised in the development of these projects by project designers and managers; some of the specific issues that emerge from trialling innovations in a university setting; and the implications these have to the role of universities as places of innovation and climate praxis.

James Derounian (Society of Local Council Clerks/ De Montfort University), Enacting “place-based initiatives at the local level”: The actuality and potentiality of 10,000 ultra-local councils       

This paper combines with 3 of the conference themes: what "‘community’ means in the context of climate action"; exploring the translation of climate policy into action, and innovative forms of engagement at the local level "and their role in overcoming limited capacity to deliver climate action across different governance levels". The paper will be presented by practitioner-academics connected with De Montfort University’s Community Governance blended-learning undergraduate courses.

The paper builds on previous research/ presentations (detailed below). In particular, the presenters will argue that 10,000+ parish, town and Community Councils across urban and rural England and Wales can and do already deliver "local climate praxis", and have the capability to significantly scale this up. We will also argue that such community-embedded democratically elected councils/ councillors provide a practical conjunction for local government and community concerns and activities. Parish councils themselves  demonstrate sustainability in that they have existed since Victorian times. Crucially, such local councils have the capability to ‘precept’ locally tax, in order to fund initiatives across the range of economic, social and environmental sustainability; and since the 2011 Localism Act these local councils were awarded additional powers by the UK Government to improve local quality of life.