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Think globally, act locally – how councils can help reduce the impact of climate change

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

Every now and then you get a jolt that puts everything into perspective. Today some of the world’s leading scientists provided a stark warning that there is just over a decade to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Holding back the tides (quite literally, in some places) from extreme flooding, or dealing with deadly droughts, can feel like an insurmountable task when thinking on a worldwide scale. But the impacts of climate change on one side of the world can impact on immigration, security, health, food supplies, and the economy on the other.

As former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon once said: “Global is local and local is global.”

Taking climate change seriously is not just the responsibility of every country, but every area within each country too.

In the same week LGC is officially unveiling its revamped searchable library of best practice case studies, here are some ideas about what councils have done to improve the environment in their areas while also cutting costs.

Reducing waste

One of the most obvious ways to help improve the environment is to reduce the amount of waste residents throw to landfill.

Among the more novel ideas to have emerged from local government in recent years is a mobile tip which plays an ice-cream van-style jingle during its rounds in Blackpool.

While it cost the council £45,000 to set up an 18-month pilot with a contractor, officers said it was “great value” as, within the first year of operation, the mobile tip collected 116 tonnes of waste, engaged with more than 6,000 people and collected more than 37,000 items.

Elsewhere, Warwickshire CC managed to increase the amount of food waste it collected by 71% by simply conducting a concerted campaign that used a number of startling facts and figures that made residents think a bit more before the put food in the bin. Doing so led to a saving of about 3,000 tonnes carbon dioxide and nearly £450,000 for the council’s coffers too.

Harnessing the power of the sun

With a population of about 60,000 people Forest Heath BC typifies the fact size should not stop smaller councils from thinking or acting big.

Following a £14.5m investment the borough is now the owner of the largest council-owned solar farm in the country.

The electricity it generates will be enough to power 3,000 homes, as well as cutting carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 2,000 cars. In time the solar farm could provide energy to the council’s offices and leisure centres.

Despite the large upfront investment, the council is already gaining an annual income of about £300,000 with a view to that rising to more than £700,000 in the next decade.

Swindon BC has also invested in solar power but funded it in an innovative way with the help of the public. Its bond raised £1.8m from the public, while Swindon BC invested £3m itself.

Sixty-five per cent of profits from the solar farm now go towards funding local community initiatives, with the remaining 35% are directed to the council.

Such was the success of the initiative that Swindon BC launched a second solar bond in November 2016 to finance another solar farm on a former landfill site.

As well as gaining a direct return on its investment (revenues are raised from selling the electricity generated), the council will earn an additional £1m in business rates and rent by 2020 through its ownership of these renewable energy-generating schemes.

Improving biodiversity

Commercial crops, such as tomatoes, oilseed rape, apples and strawberries, are worth between £430m and £690m a year to the UK’s economy. And yet both the crops are under threat due to a decline in the number of key pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths. A variety of pressures, such as habitat loss and degradation, use of pesticides, climate change and pests and diseases are all placing pressures on pollinators.

However, Dorset CC has written, adopted and implemented a pollinator action plan which is intended to help increase biodiversity in the area while also saving money at the same time. For example, the county now saves around £93,000 a year by only cutting rural road verges when needed, allowing wildflowers and grasses to flower and set seed.

By David Paine, acting news editor

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