Climate action: leadership and communication

How can we champion climate change work from the top and direct action?

Climate change hub

LGA resources

Ten questions to scrutinise climate action

In collaboration with the Centre for Public Scrutiny, the LGA has launched this publication which covers ten questions, and several supplementary follow ups, to ask if you are scrutinising climate action in your council. It lays out key issues on which local scrutineers (councillors sitting on scrutiny committees and the officers who support them) can pose to those with decision-making responsibility.

Councillor workbook: acting on climate change

This workbook is a learning aid for councillors on the roles, opportunities and drivers for council-led action on the changing climate, both to reduce local carbon emissions and to build resilience to extreme weather. 

A councillor’s workbook on the local pathway to net zero

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in achieving the UK’s 2050 Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target, this workbook can help councillors achieve this.

New Conversations 2.0 - LGA guide to engagement

The resources in this report support the basic, statutory aspects of engagement, with a particular focus on pure consultation. It explores best practice, legal requirements, and the pre-emptive steps you can take to get engagement around decision-making right. This includes assets to help you choose your channels and messengers, and decide whether you need to formally consult. There are also resources supporting the evaluation of consultation, and the use of insight.

New Citizenship Project (NCP) and Kirklees Council: Blog

New Citizenship Project (NCP) has been working with Kirklees Council for around 18 months now, to radically redefine the relationship between council and citizen: from service provider, to enabler. Throughout this project, there has been great opportunity to learn and reflect. Now we’d like to share those reflections, to see what other local authorities might learn and take away from the experience.

What was the starting point?

NCP: We’re a strategy and innovation company on a mission to support a shift in the dominant story of the individual in society from consumer to citizen. We help organisations do things better (and do better things) because we think of people differently. If you think of people as consumers, all you can do is sell to them - whether that’s predefined actions to take or products to buy. If you think of people as citizens, you have to start by asking what your organisation exists to achieve in the first place, and then how people can join in and help you do it: a far more generative and creative place to be.

We start with the belief that people do have a desire to play an active role in making their places better, but that the narratives and structures that are put in place can either help or hinder our agency to get involved. This is all about stepping away from what we call the ‘Subject’ and ‘Consumer’ narratives that have permeated through our society over the last decade or so, and stepping into a ‘Citizen’ future. For a council, this means not doing things ‘to’ or ‘for’ people, but ‘with’ and ‘through’ people.

Table with subject, consumer and citizen information

Kirklees Council: For us, this work was very much inspired by our citizens, who are already doing amazing things in our local places. We know from the work of the Kirklees Democracy Commission that people do want to get involved - our first principle is that everything starts with the citizen.

Since the Commission’s landmark Growing a stronger local democracy report in 2017, we’ve been working to change the relationship between our citizens and our council. We know that there is so much more we can do by working alongside people in our local places. Kirklees Council’s strategic focus on people, place and partners is opening up the space for more participation. We’ve established a powerful public agenda for the community.

But although we’re making great progress with place-based and more participatory ways of working, this has in the past been limited to certain teams within the council. Overall, we need to have a mindset of working with and alongside people, and not just providing services for people (where the best case scenario is that we aren’t blamed for things going wrong).

The New Citizenship Project are helping us to be clear about what we do want to be, rather than what we don’t want to be. Together we’re working with citizens to understand how we can create the conditions that will enable local people and places to thrive.

How did you set about doing it?

NCP: Through our work across a range of sectors, we’ve developed three principles that many organisations have found helpful when trying to become more participatory and citizen-led. We call these “Purpose, Platform and Prototype”.

Purpose is all about understanding what your organisation is really trying to do in the world, and articulating that in a way that brings people along with you. For a local authority, this might be understanding the unique role the council can play in a community, based on a belief in local people, above merely providing services.

The next step is to become a platform that enables people to participate in achieving that purpose with you. For a local authority, this could be about reframing the council from ‘service provider’ to ‘enabler’, but crucially, this needs to happen at all levels of the organisation, and cannot just be the role of certain teams.

Finally, there is no utopian switch we can flip to make these changes across an organisation overnight, so the way to get there is to prototype. For a local authority, this might be about identifying specific projects that would benefit from deeper citizen involvement and building those up in small steps. You might also begin identifying internal ways of working that might be perpetuating the Subject or consumer to then start testing new ‘habits’ that signal the story of the citizen.

Two pictures side by side of groups of people sitting at a table


Kirklees Council: Using those three principles as a framework, we began working with citizens in two quite different local places in Kirklees - Ashbrow and Fieldhead - in June 2019. We discovered how we can grow more participatory relationships with citizens in local places across Kirklees by exploring a question together:

How can we best work together to make the places where we live better?

Starting with local strengths, we shared stories of what makes us feel proud to be part of where we live. We then explored the common themes in those stories, as well as what was different. By discussing those themes, we established ‘building blocks’ that would help us work together and enable more people to get involved, making those stories a reality for more people.

From those common ‘building blocks’ we produced questions, which gave Kirklees Council a role to play (as a Platform) in bringing those shared themes to life in local places across the borough:

  • I Care, We Care - How can we put more trust in the people of Kirklees?
  • Human connection - How can we promote and enable personal connections?
  • Everyone can contribute - How can we recognise and encourage every person’s ability to contribute?
  • The spaces to flourish - How can we provide buildings and greenspace where people can be together?
  • Celebrate the journey - How can we celebrate people’s everyday efforts?

We then discussed what people would need to think, know, feel and do, in a future where we truly live by these principles. This produced some fantastic insights - a few of which are:

In a future where everyone in Kirklees is enabled to make the places where they live better, we will...


Everyone is equal

Our place is worth the effort

It’s important to look out for each other


How my neighbours drink their tea

How to get involved

Where to get help


Inspired to join in

Reward of helping someone

Pride in our homes, gardens & streets


Take part in local groups

Share skills and knowledge

Simple acts of kindness


These workshops were just the beginning, but they gave us a crucial starting point to work from. We’ve since worked to embed these principles across our work with citizens, in a new approach we call ‘The Kirklees Way’ - creating and sustaining the conditions to enable everyone in Kirklees to be an active citizen.

How will you make it stick?

Kirklees Council: Using the insights from the workshops, and further work in partnership with the citizens of Kirklees, we’re now starting the next phase of our work with New Citizenship Project, working alongside citizens to make the places where we live, work and play better.

We are now faced with an important question: How can we measure active citizenship in local places across Kirklees, and do it a citizen-led way?

To answer this question, we’ll be working in partnership with people from across civil society to develop a measure of Citizen Confidence that evaluates our success in, and holds us accountable to, working in the Kirklees Way.

We’re already supporting citizen-led organisations, councillors and colleagues to use the Place Standard tool, which is a way of having meaningful conversations about local places - this could be your street, neighbourhood or town - through some simple questions. This is helping us to learn how people feel about the places where they live, work and play and to act on those insights.

Over the coming months, we’ll be doing further co-creation workshops, open collective storytelling and experimenting to develop this new measure, as well as creating toolkits to support its use. We don’t know exactly what this will look like, but we’re really excited to continue developing it by working alongside our communities.

NCP: Subject, consumer and citizen are three narratives we’ve been working with for a while now. But whilst previously we’ve seen them as a natural trajectory that will see our society arrive at the citizen - where our role is to speed up the shift - recent events have suggested that these three stories are in-fact competing and at some point, one will emerge as dominant.

In the subject future, local governments step into the role of ‘Local Protector’ - becoming administrative outposts of a controlling and expanding state. Whilst the additional funding and power this future would bring might sound appealing, it would reduce the role of the individual to nothing more than a receiver.

The consumer story is the one that was dominant in wider society before COVID-19, and suggests that the only agency we have as individuals is through our wallets, and that we are here to be served. This is what ‘back to normal’ would look like - where the government's role at all levels is to provide efficient and effective services - and it is a story in which neither local authorities nor citizens will ever be able to fulfil our potential.

The citizen is the story that opens up a really exciting future. We’ve seen this story emerge in powerful and exciting ways, such as in the surge of civic energy expressing itself through Mutual Aid groups. In many cases, local authorities (such as Kirklees) have stepped alongside citizens in this immediate space - not attempting to supersede or dominate, but providing the infrastructure, resources and expertise that enable these emergent citizen-led solutions to fulfil their potential. We’d don’t know exactly what the citizen story looks like, but it is the one we can and need to build.

To help with this, we’re looking to convene six local authorities — representing a range of scales, remits and regions - to work with, build on and challenge these ideas more systematically over the next year, with the ambition of creating an output together that could then be used by other local authorities. The template for this is a process we call Collaborative Innovation, one we’ve already run in several other sectors.

If you’d be interested to know more about either of these opportunities, please get in touch via, or find @NewCitProj on Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you!

Follow our work in Kirklees at Democracy in Kirklees or via @kirkdemocracy on Twitter.

Case studies

Cornwall council: Doughnut economics in council decision making

When the Carbon Neutral Cornwall (CNC) Action Plan was adopted in July 2019, a clear political steer was given that all decision-making pertaining to climate change mitigation should be balanced against the principle of social justice. Utilising the ‘Doughnut Economics’ model developed by Katie Raworth, the decision wheel (see example below) has been deployed for cabinet decisions since September 2019. The wheel is used to illustrate the positive and negative impacts of the decision being proposed in an easily accessible form that draws decision-makers to key issues that may require further debate, mitigation or even cancellation.

The challenge

Complex problems such as the climate emergency or COVID-19 cannot be treated as one-off or finite events. If decision-makers attempt to over-simplify the vast implications of the uncertain outcomes, we risk ignoring the evidence gaps in our knowledge and processes, and will likely exacerbate problems by addressing them through the same systems in which these problems have developed.

Decision-makers need tools to be able to deal with uncertainty and complexity, and make the most informed decisions possible while being encouraged to recognise and acknowledge the information that is missing.

Cornwall’s response to the climate emergency is not simply to become carbon neutral, our main goal is to create a Cornwall that is safe, resilient and thriving for one and all. There is no clear roadmap to this goal, these problems are not another service performance goal familiar to council members and officers, where control and accountability is clear and supported through existing statute or policy. This is a challenge where the totality of the solutions needed is not clear and the approach we take will be emergent.

The solution

Since September 2019, every decision which has come to Cabinet, has been through the Cornwall Council decision wheel. The decision wheel is based on the Doughnut Economics model pioneered by Kate Raworth, which aims to balance the boundaries of a thriving society with those of a thriving planet. The goal is to find the sweet-spot wherein both can thrive, as threats to either could be potentially catastrophic.

The wheel consists of 11 outer environmental sections and 11 inner social, economic and cultural sections. It is designed so that these sections are considered in conjunction with each other and that the wider effects of proposed initiatives are brought into the decision-making process. It is also a tool to prompt thought on how a project can further benefit the residents and environment in Cornwall. It is of benefit to undertake the exercise as early in the project as possible in order to mitigate the effects of any adverse implications that are discovered during the process.

The sections of the wheel are considered in turn and assigned an impact level. These scores represent the impact the project / policy will have and are weighed against the decision to proceed, mitigate or not to undertake it at all. A brief narrative is included alongside the wheel which draws attention to any points that project leads would like to clarify or provide further explanation on. 

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable)

In addition to helping with the decision-making process, this exercise is helping build understanding of relevant social, economic and environmental concerns for the work that we do across a broad cross section of people involved in shaping the future direction if the work that we do. It is embedding a new way of thinking at the council, helping people understand the inter-connectedness of our lives with the environment in which we live by demonstrating the trade-offs between generating social, economic and environmental growth. It is focusing the limited resources of our decision-making structures onto the most relevant issues which, now, formally include the environment and our impact on it.

In adopting the wheel, Cornwall Council are looking to enable our people and planet to thrive, a decision which Amsterdam recently followed having adopted a similar approach based on the doughnut model for their response to the economic challenges brought about by COVID-19.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The development of the tool is progressing rapidly towards a semi-automated system that will automatically produce the relevant ratings to reduce the subjectivity of the current model – and it will also feed directly into the council’s carbon inventory that is being developed to give an annual account of the decisions we are taking as well as progress against our own carbon reduction targets. A multi-disciplinary working group are looking at how it integrates with the Comprehensive Impact Assessment (CIA) to both enhance that process and reduce additional pressures on report authors.

Alongside the decision wheel, Cornwall Council are also working with the University of Exeter to create a ‘State of the Doughnut’ report for Cornwall. Co-design events are also underway with businesses, community, cultural organisations and the health sector to support the development of similar decision wheels which can share resources, ideas and data across Cornwall.

Lessons learned

Bringing a new tool into decision making process is not easy; it requires both top-level buy-in but also understanding and compliance from officers. To assist with lead officers rating each segment accurately the tool is accompanied by detailed guidance with questions about each category carefully tailored in collaboration with representatives from key departments across the council. An Officer in the Carbon Neutral Cornwall Team has been placed in charge of developing and embedding this tool and is currently training all relevant staff in its use through meetings, conferences and lunch & learn sessions.


Links to relevant documents

Vale of White Horse District Council: Maintaining high level recycling during the COVID-19 pandemic

The council used innovative digital education to communicate and engage with residents in lockdown. Read the full case study.

Developing a community forum to help tackle climate change and increase biodiversity

South Hams District and West Devon Borough Councils share their experience of developing a community forum.
Read the full case study.


Webinar: Scrutinising climate action

Climate change is a critical global problem that will impact environments everywhere and individuals across all levels of society. The challenge has been thrown into sharper focus by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating the need for places and communities to become more resilient. Within the local government sector, councils have been leading the response to climate change, but with many having declared a ‘climate emergency’ there is a need to show how they will prioritise and embed climate action in all policy areas. Scrutiny has a critical role to play in these cross-cutting issues, testing the assumptions in the development of climate action plans and securing political buy-in for sustained action. Scrutiny can also support the council to engage with partners and channel local views, as well as playing a formal accountability role as councils make public commitments to climate action. 

Drawing on the LGA’s publication ‘10 questions to ask if you are scrutinising climate change’, the event outlined a practical approach for scrutineers to understand and seek oversight on climate action in their localities. It was designed to explore questioning, identify key stakeholders, plan effective scrutiny work and consider the impacts that scrutiny can expect to deliver on this issue.  

You can view the event presentations:

We have also produced a blog which provides a summary of the key themes that emerged during the morning and afternoon session on 18 September 2020, as well as some practical advice identified by participants.

Leadership Essentials: Climate Emergency for Elected Members

This programme will help elected Members (who take a lead on the climate emergency) to explore the crucial local leadership role in responding to the climate emergency. Featuring a range of inputs, practical sessions and discussions, the programme will explore themes including community engagement, action planning, current climate change issues and how councils can bring partners together.  

Dates will be posted on this page and through the LGA climate change e bulletin when they are released.


Webinar: Locking in positive behaviours and the co-benefits of green recovery

Download presentations from Cllr Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Dr Neil Jennings, Jonathan Baker and Dr Sam Hubble.

Read the blog.

Webinar: Creating meaningful engagement with communities on climate change

Organised by the LGA in partnership with Design Council, the “Creating meaningful engagement with communities on climate change” webinar scaled design approaches across the public sector and stimulated new thinking on collective climate change matters. The various initiatives and approaches presented demonstrated the importance of engaging with residents, communities, organisations and wider stakeholders to build momentum and raise awareness of collective efforts. They also showed the strength of collaboration across partners to achieve a shared mission. Design plays a key role in facilitating these connections, building relationships, and bringing together diverse perspectives around complex challenges. The transferrable nature of design approaches makes them powerful tools that councils can apply to their most diverse challenges. 



Past LGA event resources

LGA Climate emergency conference 22 January 2020

See all the resources at the climate emergency webpage.

Resources from elsewhere

The COVID-19 pandemic's lessons for local climate leadership

A report from Boston University, writes about the opportunities and challenges presented for climate change, following the COVID-19 peak.  

Four lessons shine through:  

1. Focus beyond the COVID-19 crisis and maintain and boost climate-action momentum because the risks and costs will only grow if action is delayed.  

2. Act to prepare your communities for climate change and GHG reduction; walking away from or delaying crucial climate actions risks disastrous and inequitable local consequences.  

3. Enhance local climate action by building on your residents’ and businesses’ behaviour changes during the pandemic response that reduce emissions and enhance resiliency.  

4. Maximize the local economic and community benefits of an economic recovery that simultaneously drives business and job expansion, improves personal and public health, reduces GHG emissions, strengthens climate resilience, and improves social equity. 

C40 Knowledge: Inclusive community engagement playbook

Community engagement is the process of involving the people that live and interact with your city in its development, including anyone with an interest or influence in, or who is impacted by, a local plan, policy or action. Engagement strategies help cities to develop a better working relationship with the community to ensure that the needs and issues of all parties are understood, and can be addressed to achieve positive change.

This playbook is a detailed practitioners’ guide on everything cities need to know about how to deliver inclusive community engagement. It includes an innovative and diverse selection of tools of varying complexity to cater to cities with different needs and capacity, and case studies from cities around the world.

Citizen and community engagement (Ashden)

This toolkit offers important insight into the co-benefits of climate action, which are often ignored in public messaging. But it is precisely through focusing on these co-benefits that we will encourage a wider cross-section of the population to engage with, participate in, and indeed lead the ever-growing range of opportunities to take climate action at a local level. This chapter explores different options for how councils can:

  • Use deliberative processes to give them a mandate for climate action.
  • Work with their communities to deliver co-benefits through climate action.
  • Overcome concerns or objections to particular changes, using a co-benefits approach.

Climate Action Co-Benefits Toolkit – Chapter 6 (PDF)