Encouraging signs of local climate action in UK

18th March 2021 - 00:01

There is strong, vibrant and broad-based support for more climate action at the local level in the UK, but a lack of capacity and expertise, exacerbated by COVID-19, has affected some local authorities’ ability to respond.

A new report by the Place-Based Climate Action Network (PCAN) has found that three out of four local authorities have declared a climate emergency but these have been followed up with new or updated climate action plans in only 62% of cases.

However, new institutional models that promote more inclusive, partnership-based approaches to local climate action are taking off, with a growing number of local climate commissions, action networks and participatory forums like climate assemblies and juries.

The report also highlights the role played by local businesses and the financial sector, and the need for a just transition to underpin the response to climate change to ensure people and communities are not left behind.

Professor Sam Fankhauser, Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, who leads the PCAN network, said: “Local action is absolutely crucial if the UK is to meet its net-zero ambitions. In researching this report we have discovered some truly inspiring local climate initiatives, but also got a sense of the barriers that hold them back.

“This report contains some important lessons for making local climate action even more powerful.”

Dr Candice Howarth, Senior Policy Fellow at the London School of Economics, who is lead author of the PCAN report, said: "Our report brings together examples of climate action from local authorities as well as partnership working at the local level through climate commissions and similar organisations.

“The extent of climate emergency declarations made across the UK is really encouraging and highlights the work that local authorities and other groups have done acknowledging the challenge of climate change. Most of this focuses predominantly on mitigation, however, whereas adaptation is barely mentioned in declarations. We highlight some important recommendations for local authorities, local communities and national government and the devolved administrations."

The report takes stock of local climate action in the UK in 2020, providing a snapshot that shows how the momentum generated by climate emergency declarations in 2019 has been impacted by a combination of the pandemic and inconsistent support from national government.


It makes a suite of recommendations, including:

  • Local authorities should: follow up their climate emergency declarations with new or updated climate action plans; adopt a partnership-based approach to climate action involving non-state private and civic actors as well as the public sector; develop climate finance strategies to mobilise local savings and attract investment in climate action measures.
  • National government and the devolved administrations should: recognise and leverage the agency and power of local communities in fighting climate change; put in place a coherent framework to support local climate action, backed by centrally driven funds, resources and skills; tackle the policy and institutional barriers that hold back climate action, recognising that national policy uncertainty can thwart place-based climate action.
  • Local climate change communities should: broaden the scope of climate action to include adaptation and a just transition, utilising sustainable recovery strategies from COVID-19; formalise the drive for zero-carbon communities through structures like climate commissions; collaborate with their local university, national government and local authorities to improve the knowledge base on climate action.

Launch event

The report, Trends in Local Climate Action in the UK, was launched at an event on Thursday 18 March 13.30-14.30. The event was chaired by Prof. Andy Gouldson of PCAN and the report presented by Dr Candice Howarth with speakers Philippa Borrowman of Green Alliance, Louise Marix Evans of Quantum Strategy & Technology and Cllr Edwina Hannaford, Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Neighbourhoods, Cornwall Council. Watch the recording of the webinar.

The full report, appendices and database of climate emergency declarations is available on the PCAN website: https://pcancities.org.uk/trends-local-climate-action-uk

Register for the event: https://pcancities.org.uk/event/trends-local-climate-action-uk

Media contact: Kate Lock, Communications and Policy Officer, K.M.Lock@leeds.ac.uk  

  • The Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) is an ESRC-funded £3.5m research network, set up to enable cities, towns and communities to build local action on climate change. The five-year research project, which launched on 30 January 2019, brings together the research community and decision-makers in the public, private and third sectors.
  • PCAN consists of five innovative platforms to facilitate two-way, multi-level engagement: three city-based Climate Commissions in Leeds, Belfast and Edinburgh, and two theme-based platforms on finance and climate adaptation. Business engagement is central to each Commission. The PCAN Fund (a total of £400,000) enables us to stimulate engagement in place-based climate action more widely through a combination of projects and Fellowships.
  • PCAN builds on the policy connections, networking capacity and research strengths of a core team based across its host institutions: the London School of Economics and Political Science; the University of Leeds; the University of Edinburgh, and Queen’s University Belfast.
  • An ever-growing number of independent Climate Commissions in Lincoln, Surrey, Doncaster, Croydon and Essex have been inspired by the PCAN model, with more coming on stream all the time supported by us through the PCAN Network+.
  • Contact: https://pcancities.org.uk @PCANcities  pcan@lse.ac.uk