CCN Blog: Balancing societal and environmental demands

CCN Blogs, CCN Latest News, CCN News 2020 | 18 September 2020

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County authorities are a vital part of the solution to the climate emergency, through their responsibility for infrastructure, economic growth, stewardship of the rural environment, roles in waste and recycling and providing green and public places.

This follows councils across the country pledging to address climate change and are planning and taking action to be carbon neutral by their target dates, which will also aid central government to achieve their legally-binding goal of reaching net zero carbon by 2050.

A tangible way of achieving change is through policy development and subsequent implementation in both local and national governments. Cornwall Council has displayed local leadership through deploying a ‘decision-making wheel’ onto all of its cabinet reports, and this will ensure decision making that puts environmental issues at their core. This model is based on Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’.

The model comprises of 9 environmental and 13 social indicators, set in the wheel and which aims to strike a balance between introducing policies which go not go above a level whereby they do irreversible damage to the environment, and do not go below a level whereby societies within the county do not have access essentials, such as food, housing and healthcare.

The social foundations within the wheel are inspired by the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. These goals are a collection of 17 global aims that are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

The decision-making wheel has these aspirations at its heart and is creating a new way of thinking as it helps people to understand the inter-connectedness of their lives with the environment which is demonstrated by the trade-offs between generating social, economic and environmental growth. It aims to focus the resources of council decision-making structures onto the environment and the impact on it.

Having been used in all decisions since last September, work is underway to embed the tool across a much broader range of processes including investment boards, budget setting processes, commissioning and lower level decision-making committees: embedding the impact on the county’s environment and social justice into every decision the council makes.

Since its inception, it already generated results in terms of climate change actions. Cornwall Council say that ‘utilising the principles of the wheel the council have committed to halting the installation of fossil fuel heating in new council-built properties; approved funding for a 2.3MW wind turbine that will generate enough electricity for 1,200 homes and has co-invested £1.4m in deep geothermal energy at the Eden Project alongside European funding and institutional investors.

The council also approved a £2m investment into the £17m Saints Trail development which, once completed, will provide an 18.6 mile network of trails that will connect coastal communities, link housing and employment growth areas, helping to reduce transport emissions and improve air quality. This focus is aligned to £23.5m of government funding secured for a pilot which started in April 2020 to reduce bus fares across Cornwall and encourage people out of private vehicles.’

To support its members, the Local Government Association has produced a guide for councils on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This provides local authorities with a framework on how they can set priorities, spot gaps, ensure nothing important is left out and review their progress on the targets.

By embedding the wheel in council decisions, Cornwall aims to protect the county’s environment for its current and future residents.

Like climate change, Covid-19 cannot be treated as a one-off or finite event with a clear beginning or end. We must ensure our decision making helps our residents, businesses, communities, and the environment we live in, to become more resilient in a period of unprecedented change.

CCN will be working with members and stakeholders to continue to share best practice.

Ellie Skinner, Policy and Public Affairs Officer, County Councils Network