The LGA launched Climate Local in June 2012. Since then more than 50 councils have come forward to sign the Climate Local commitment. These councils are agreeing local commitments and actions to reduce carbon emissions and to build resilience to the changing climate.
Between January and February 2016, the Local Government Association contacted 353 council officers with responsibility for adaptation to climate change. The aim was to understand the extent to which councils were embedding climate change risks and adaptation measures into their plans and policies and the way they carry out their business.
An email containing a unique link to a survey was sent to contacts in all 353 councils in England. Seventy councils submitted a response, giving an overall response rate of 20 per cent. This level of response rate means that the results should not be taken to be more widely representative of the views of all councils.
This section of the report outlines the key findings from those authorities who were able to provide a response.
The low level of response may be considered a finding in itself. Without following up non-respondents it is impossible to know the reason for this; but it may indicate that there are fewer staff dedicated to this role in councils now, or that there are increasingly limited resources.
The findings below should be considered in light of the fact that those who responded may be different in some way to those that did not: for example, it may be that those who did not respond have less resource or are less advanced/embedded than those reported here.
Planning and reporting progress
Most of the respondents indicated that they were planning and implementing climate change adaptation and resilience measures, whether this was underpinned by a dedicated climate change strategy or through other council plans and strategies. However, a number of councils were not collecting information and reporting on their progress in assessing the risks of a changing climate and embedding adaptation into core activities.
Where councils were collecting such information, the most common channel for reporting was to senior officers and other existing council boards, such as sustainability, health and wellbeing and carbon management.
Corporate estate and operations
A majority of responding councils included climate risks and adaptation measures in corporate or departmental risk registers, and many included them in asset management plans. However, fewer included climate risks and adaptation measures in staff health and wellbeing strategies, and procurement and commissioning strategies.
Health and social care
More respondents than not said that the health impacts of climate change were included in the joint needs assessment, fuel poverty strategies and local heatwave and/or cold weather plan; although a number of respondents could not provide answers to questions related to health and social care.
Emergency planning, community resilience and flood planning activities
While a majority of these respondents indicated that their council recorded the incidence and impacts of severe weather events on local communities, respondents were less sure of the extent to which their local resilience forum recognised and addressed the longer term risks of climate change to communities.
There was evidence, however, that local flood risk management strategies were recognising the impact of climate change on flood risk, and also that business continuity plans included climate change risks.
Planning and development
There was strong evidence from responding councils that climate risks and adaptation measures were included in their local plans/core strategies, and also evidence that this was discussed at the pre-application stage in the planning process. In terms of application validation lists and minerals and waste policies, a majority of respondents did not know whether risks and adaptation measures were included.
Highways and transport
Of these responding councils, many with responsibility for highways and transport had included measures to ensure that transport infrastructure was resilient to climate change impact, such as prolonged periods of high temperature or increased severe weather. However this was by no means universal, with the same number reporting that such measures were not included.
There was also evidence that some highways and maintenance plans included longer term resilience measures, for example in the materials and methods used to maintain highways.
Few respondents said that climate change resilience and sustainability were embedded into their Local Enterprise Partnership’s project and programme delivery to a moderate or great extent. They were more likely to indicate this was included to a small extent or that they did not know.
There is some uncertainty as to whether Local Enterprise Partnerships were recognising and addressing the longer term risks of climate change to communities.
Engagement of senior officers and council members
There was some evidence that senior officers are slightly more engaged with climate change adaptation than council members. For these responding councils, at least, it appeared that, on the whole, the level of engagement of both these groups had remained about the same compared to two years ago: although in some cases officers and members had become more engaged and in others less engaged.
Responding councils were using a broad range of information channels to receive information and support relating to adaptation, but the most popular was the bulletin produced by the Climate Local Programme. The Climate Local website was also a popular means channel for receiving information.
At the end of the questionnaire respondents were given the opportunity to comment on any other aspect of climate change adaptation, and a small number provided a response. There is evidence that, for some councils, climate change adaptation is a peripheral interest, and possibly the main reason for that relates to resources. Since climate change adaptation is mostly discretionary, some councils felt it was not a priority. In addition, one officer remarked that “there is rarely a coherent ‘invest to save’ business case for climate change”.
A small number of authorities commented on central government policy. For example, one council complained that the government have restricted the council’s ability to address climate change through the planning process and there were also concerns about a diminishing climate change /green agenda.