Alice Creasy, Matthew Lane and Rosanna Harvey-Crawford

University of Edinburgh

2 March 2020

This report, Climate Commissions as a Stimulus for Place-Based Action: An Evidence Synthesis from Existing UK Case Studies, examines the evidence from a desk-based review of existing place-based climate governance strategies across the UK.

The research, which took place between June and August 2019, was stimulated by the creation of three Climate Commissions in Leeds, Edinburgh and Belfast. These Commissions are part of an ESRC-funded project,,the Place-Based Climate Action Network (PCAN). PCAN aims to build a replicable, local model of climate change governance that brings together decision-makers in the public, private and third sectors and the research community.

While these climate commissions represent a growing number of place-based urban climate governance projects in the UK, there is little empirical evidence on existing strategies from which to inform future modes of governance. With this in mind, the aim of this research was to identify and evaluate existing collaborative climate change strategies currently or previously undertaken within UK cities. Driven by the aspirations of the PCAN project, the research has synthesised the available evidence from a series of key case studies across the United Kingdom. In doing so it hopes to inform future iterations of commission formation across additional cities, as well as offer a platform for critical reflection by those with an already established framework.

By identifying and evaluating ongoing collaborative exemplars in cities across the UK, this report not only synthesises the existing evidence but, in doing so, lays the foundation for future empirical engagement with climate commission operations in Leeds, Belfast, and Edinburgh as part of the PCAN agenda.  The evaluation of existing projects, combined with a review of the broader academic literature on place-based governance, will therefore form the basis for a series of key recommendations.

Acknowledging the complex and challenging process of creating an independent and diverse coalition of organisations and actors, these recommendations focus on potential strategies for turning words into action. Collectively, these recommendations speak to a need to set clear but flexible aspirations. In particular, it is crucial to remain open-minded regarding the tangibility of the impacts new institutional arrangements in place-based governance can (and should seek to) induce across the short, medium, and long term.

The publication of this report has been spurred by the author’s participation in the Social and Political Dimensions of Sustainability research seminar at the University of Leeds in February 2020 during which we explored the areas where this research might have an impact and discussed future research opportunities. As a result of that discussion we are releasing the report for further feedback and conversation (see downloads below).

Key Recommendations

Utilise existing networks to maximise engagement
The integrity of future Climate Commissions rests on ensuring representative and meaningful cross-sector engagement with the issue of climate change. Recognising the existing work being done by groups, organisations and networks within the city will help future Commissions to create effective objectives that engage with and build on existing action.

A secure financial plan
Financial independence is a key issue for Climate Commissions which aspire to be an independent voice advocating for climate change action within the city. A diversity of funding streams will not only help to maintain a greater degree of independence but also make future Commissions more financially resilient. Secure and meaningful funding will help to drive engagement and create employment opportunities.

Engagement beyond the physical
Engaging with the city beyond the bodies present on boards and in meetings is important for creating a representative and effective Commission. Constructing online engagement platforms alongside social media streams will help to generate fresh ideas, empower individuals and ensure more representative and relevant decision-making.

A clear focus and governance structure
Bringing together a representative coalition of actors is challenging, particularly when each may have different ideas about the type and scale of action that is needed as well as the methods for realising this action. The creation of a small, representative governing body would help to maintain the focus of the broader group.