Workshop: Declaring A Climate Emergency

With rising concern around the impact of climate change, South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council declared a climate emergency, two of over 260 local authorities to do so across the UK since November 2018.

This bold move promised an action plan and positive steps within a number of months. Resource Futures joined forces with the Centre for Sustainable Energy to help both councils to kick start activities.

“A big thank you to you and the team for delivering a great event for the Members. Although challenging at times, it was well received and delivered against the objectives.”

Drew Powell, Corporate Director, Governance and Assurance, South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council


Council Members from the two Devon local authorities represented a broad range of political parties, with differing levels of knowledge around the economic, social and environmental challenges presented by the climate emergency. A workshop was considered to be a good starting point and the following key objectives were agreed:

  • To ensure ALL council members had a good grounding on the context, drivers, facts and figures about the climate emergency from global to local levels
  • To help Members consider what the Councils’ role should be, the available levers and areas of influence
  • To surface opportunities and challenges and start to find areas of general consensus as well as quick wins


The workshop was split into four key exercises to provide a balance between educating the group and enabling interactive discussion around the most important themes. After warm-up exercises and setting the rules to ensure constructive discussion, activities were broken down as follows:

1. Understanding the climate emergency context – global, national & local

The first activity was a presentation from the workshop leaders offering an overview of global & national imperatives, legislative context and likely local authority impact. It also included a closer look at national and local carbon footprints, signposting important areas for attention. This ensured that everyone was clear on the basic facts and had insight into the local decarbonisation issues.

2. Exploring the councils’ influence & key stakeholder groups

Working in groups, Members were then asked to explore the types of influence that councils can have, what falls within control, procurement and planning processes as well as wider potential community influence. Armed with decarbonisation themes to focus on, members could consider areas of influence in the context of the climate emergency as opposed to business as usual.

3. Overview of other council approaches

Workshop leaders then presented examples of how other councils were responding from governance to infrastructure and key projects. This helped to build confidence around what could be achieved and how to go about it as well as where the potential challenges were.

4. Five-year visioning and planning

In groups, Members were then taken through a visioning exercise, enabling them to set out a five-year goal, seek consensus and work backwards to map out key milestones. This engaged Members in the detail of different themes and helped to map out priorities, which could feed into an overall action plan.

Finally, a wrap-up session helped to distil quick win opportunities, areas that required more consideration, some key initiatives and vital levers of influence to draw on.


Council Members left the room energised and engaged with the task ahead, feeling empowered by the ability to work collaboratively. A detailed report provided the local authority officers with all the workings out to feed into the action plan, which included quick wins and some key areas of consensus.