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How local leadership can make the difference

This guest post from Damian Hinds MP is taken from a longer piece ’Climate change is local’ contributed to Green Alliance’s recent pamphlet Unlocking local leadership on climate change: perspectives from coalition MPs

Al Gore made climate change his passion and took his message across the globe. Whatever your view of Gore and his film, he has probably done more to raise the profile of the issue than any organisation or government.

Ron Ingerson is the parallel of Al Gore at a local level, and his contribution is no less vital. While an Al Gore can establish that “something must be done” it takes a Ron to persuade people that “this is what we can do”. Starting with getting a dozen neighbours together in the Hampshire village of East Meon five years ago, almost a quarter of the village residents signed up to a programme of practical emissions-reduction commitments, under the banner of Greening East Meon. Now, Ron and his colleagues continue to supply villagers with a trusted source of information on tackling climate change, principally through the local school and the village magazine, Meon Matters.  Today, the village has one eco-house and another being built, a number of houses with solar panels and one with an air source heat pump.

Localism leading to innovation
Action at the local level has always been inspiring and exciting, and never more so than now when the localism agenda has the potential to strengthen it: to free up local authorities to innovate and to empower communities. The village of East Meon and the many other Greening communities across the country are clear examples of the localism agenda in action.

But we’re not there yet. Green Alliance’s 2011 report, Is localism delivering for climate change? found that 65 per cent of local authorities were deprioritising or scaling back on climate change initiatives in the current economic climate. Of course, all local authority activities are under pressure, but the most far-sighted authorities are continuing to innovate in this field, while sharpening their economic criteria. That kind of approach is exactly what the localism agenda hopes to enable.

The need for support from all levels, including the prime minister
If local authorities are to succeed, they need support from the centre. Central government creates a national sense of purpose, and can use policy or regulation to tackle climate change, sponsor new technologies, enable the sharing of best practice and create new financial mechanisms and opportunities to drive action, like the Green Investment Bank or the Green Deal. However great the devolution of operational responsibility, the power of the purse strings should not be underestimated; whether through the tax system for households and companies, or grants and fines for local authorities. And central government plays an important communications and support role too, helping both local authorities and individuals to do more.

On a complex subject like climate change, many people will need guidance and reassurance about what they are doing, as well as active support to make greener choices easier ones. That requires both leadership and support at all levels, from peers, public-spirited neighbours, local voluntary groups, local authorities and central government. Success will come from recognising the strength of the local whilst remaining aware of the interplay between all these levels, from individuals right up to central government and the prime minister; himself an individual after all.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.