University of Exeter: Clearer and more accessible local information needed on how councils are addressing the climate emergency, research by University of Exeter students shows

Details on how councils are tackling global warming is “lacking”, and there needs to be a “step change” about how they treat climate emergency declarations, the study says.

The report, published by the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) says there is evidence of positive action by local authorities to address the climate emergency, but there is a need for greater urgency if ambitions are to be achieved.

Without this there is a risk: “local climate emergency declarations become worthless political statements, and the opportunity for effective action will be missed”.

This report is the culmination of a nine-month research project carried out by the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF). The research was conducted via ELF’s network of university-based policy clinics with eight universities, including the University of Exeter Law School, plus members of the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) Student Working Party. Students conducted research about different regions of the UK, with Exeter students, led by senior lecturer Tia Matt, examining the South West.

The study found all 32 local councils in the South West had claimed to produce a climate emergency declaration, but not all were available to the public. Only five have not produced a strategy or plan.

Environmental Information Regulations, distinct from Freedom of Information requests, were sent to every local authority, and 25 responses were received from those in the South West.

The study shows councils are engaging with residents through consultations, webinars, social media, conferences, community forums, citizens assemblies, encouraging behaviour change to help meet targets.

A total of 376 local authorities across the UK were reviewed, identifying around 79 per cent have made a climate emergency declaration. The South West had the highest percentage of local authorities with climate emergency declarations, with the East Midlands the lowest. However, the research also found that most councils without a CED were still taking action to address climate change.

Tom Brenan, ELF’s Joint Executive Director and Head of Education and Policy, who co-ordinated the project, said: “The Climate Change Committee has previously highlighted the importance of public engagement in the climate change conversation and the key role played by local authorities in this. Our research found some good evidence of public engagement across the country but there needs to be much more of this. COP26 is a great focal point for local authorities to sharpen the detail of information provided and involve local communities in plans and decision-making to address the climate emergency.”

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