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Where’s the funding for council and community climate action?

By Annie Pickering, 17th January 2024

At Climate Emergency UK we have recently published the first-ever UK-wide assessment of local government climate action: the Council Climate Action Scorecards. We hear talk about how the UK won’t meet its 2050 net zero target date, and the Scorecard results confirm this at a local level too.

The average council scored 32% on the actions they’ve taken towards net zero.

Only 41 councils scored 50% or more for their climate actions.

Fortunately, there were some promising results, with 36 councils scoring above 80% in some specific climate action – for instance, Greater Manchester Combined Authority scored 100% in the ‘Buildings and Heating’ category.

However with councils having direct influence over a third of emissions locally, it’s urgent more is done, and soon.

It’s been 15 years since the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act and yet we are the first to measure council climate action. Our tiny non-profit with a team of volunteers stepped up to  provide guidance, accountability and support to councils to learn how to work towards net zero. As the results for the Scorecards show, there are both local and national barriers to local climate action. The good news is that we’ve identified ways that funders could better support the sector to ensure real progress is made on climate by local government and local communities.

What are the Council Climate Action Scorecards?

Climate Emergency UK assessed all 388 UK councils on the actions they’ve taken towards net zero against 91 questions or less, depending on council type. The Scorecards cover seven sections, including:

  1. Buildings and Heating
  2. Transport
  3. Planning and Land Use
  4. Governance & Finance
  5. Biodiversity
  6. Collaboration and Engagement
  7. Waste Reduction and Food

These categories were created in consultation with over 90 different organisations and individuals. Each council was marked against these criteria and given a right to reply before the scores underwent a final audit. In total, more than 30,000 unique pieces of data and evidence have been compiled with our team of four staff and an army of 200 volunteers over the last 10 months.

The scorecards give any organisation or group of residents looking to work with or influence their council specific, persuasive data from which to base their efforts.

A grey and purple graphic reads: "How good is your council's Climate Action? #CouncilClimateScorecards'. There is a cartoon of a woman working on her laptop and a speech bubble that says 'Check out the scorecards to find out!'. There is also the logo of Climate Emergency UK.
Example of Climate Emergency UK’s campaign on Council Climate Action Scorecards.

Why local councils struggle with climate action

The impacts of the changing climate are being felt most severely in the Global South, despite the fact that the majority of historic and current carbon emissions come from the Global North, including the UK. The uncomfortable truth is that it is us, communities and cities across the UK, that need to drastically change how we live so that we reduce our carbon emissions and ecological impact at the scale needed.

For the UK to reach net zero, we need a host of different actions: we need community investment mechanisms to retrofit homes, we need to implement measures to get cars off the roads whilst increasing public transport options, we need to change planning regulations to ensure zero carbon buildings – and so on.

However, the national government is lagging on climate action, with government action scored as ‘insufficient’ according to the Climate Action Tracker, and we see national climate policies currently being watered down or postponed. Against this backdrop, coupled with little guidance to councils on what they can do, taking climate action at the local level is all the more important, and local councils have a vital role to play. We can’t just wait for the national government to step up.

Unfortunately, local councils in the UK face a number of barriers to supporting this work:

  • Limited national guidance or indicators on how councils and communities can deliver on the government’s net zero pledge
  • Low public knowledge and understanding about how local government works and what local authorities can actually do to make these changes.
  • Year on year funding cuts to local government means resources available to undertake this work are extremely limited.

However, councils do have the potential to work in creative and innovative ways to deliver climate action, if supported by external organisations providing the necessary guidance and knowledge. Those groups all need funding to make progress.

A white man's hand is writing on financial papers of graphs and tables. You cannot see his head and the rest of his body is blurred.
Working on green finance – Climate Emergency UK & the Council Climate Scorecards.

Opportunities for funders to support local councils

Through councils working with charities and non-profits we’ve seen brilliant initiatives begin, such as :

All of these crucial initiatives need funding to continue, and whilst councils fund what they can, few councils have enough funds to support all necessary climate action projects, or even their statutory work, like social care. To tackle these funding constraints on councils, some are exploring innovative ways to fund climate action, such as the work done by the Preston Model of community wealth building, the Bristol City Leap climate investment fund or the Green Finance Institute Local Climate Bonds. Sadly, however, such initiatives are not widespread (as seen in our Scorecards results).

Climate Emergency UK, alongside partners mySociety, provide the building blocks for change by supporting others’ climate work. Initiatives such as the Scorecards and the Local Intelligence Hub enable research institutes, advocacy organisations, campaigning bodies and local and national governments to act better, learn and bring about change.

A colourful, square graphic that has seven small circles with writing in them as follows: Transport, Planning & Land Use, Governance & Finance, Waster Reduction & Food, Biodiversity, Buildings & Heading, Collaboration & Engagement. There is also the Climate Emergency UK logo in the bottom right hand corner.
Example of Climate Emergency UK’s campaign on Council Climate Action Scorecards.

Often, funders are looking for the end outputs to fund and are reluctant to fund the building block work of campaigning. These building blocks include foundational research, data collection or other core work that is needed to provide the necessary data, information and shared collective knowledge to deliver climate action, especially when, unfortunately, delivering climate action is new(ish) for many councils.

Finally, we all know that adapting to and mitigating the worst of the climate and ecological crises is a race against time, yet securing grant funding is notoriously a slow process. Freeing up more funds more quickly, and spending down funds would speed up climate action. There’s an effective campaign that says ‘No Music on a Dead Planet’, and the same is true for wealth.

If you’d like to find out more about Climate Emergency UK and our Council Climate Action Scorecards please visit our website or get in touch at

About the author

Annie Pickering is the Operations Director at Climate Emergency UK with over 7 years of working with volunteers on climate and workers rights campaigns, with lots of experience of UK local councils and their weird and wonderfulness. She is also a trustee of People & Planet and sea swims throughout the year in Brighton.

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