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Just another competing priority?

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One of the issues debated at the launch of SOLACE Enterprises’ leadership development programme was just how much of a priority dealing with climate change is for local authorities and their partners.

In my view, this is a useful debate to have because its implications are felt at both the practical and policy levels.

Put simply, some ask how local government can reasonably prioritise reshaping their delivery and capacity when there are so many other competing priorities.

Beyond an exemplar project or two, goes the argument, how can responding to climate change trump child protection, Icelandic investments or dealing with the impacts of the recession?


This is a really important challenge to those of us who believe that the need to respond to climate change fundamentally alters the framework within which the state operates.

Davy Jones, in his essay rounding off Looking Back, Moving Forward , published by IDeA , touches on the implications of this debate for public policy.

He argues that local authorities will need to operate within a statutory framework that gives them an overarching duty to secure the ongoing viability of their localities socially, economically and environmentally.

This is pretty much how I see it.


Dealing with climate change by creating low carbon communities and dealing with the impacts of climate change already in the system underpins all the other delivery and policy priorities. In other words, climate change doesn’t trump all the other issues, it underpins them and makes it possible to deliver on them.

To give an example, responding to recession will only consist of short-term fixes, unless we are investing in creating a successful low carbon economy, along the lines of the LGA’s ‘green new deal’ proposals .

And this is why the debate matters at the practical level as well.


The skills associated with leadership on climate change are not ‘niche’ - they will help across the board.

Facilitating behaviour change is one example. If we can work out how to shape communities so that people choose to live lower carbon lifestyles in terms of food, energy, transport and so on, then we will also be able to crack the apparently intractable issues around, for example, obesity.

I think that what this points to is that our long-term success depends on recognising now that climate change is not ‘just another agenda’ and addressing it not just another competing priority.

SOLACE's Future Leaders, Future Contexts was hosted by Birmingham City Council.

LGC's national conference on the Carbon Reduction Commitment: Preparing the Public Sector takes place on 23 June.

Warren's other blogs:

Energy and lifestyles

Local leadership on climate change

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Innovation, not reorganisation

Chase growth at your peril

Whisper it, the downturn's not all bad

Recycling stockpiles

Warren Hatter is Founder of Ripple PRD . His LGC blog is twinned with his Ripple Effect blog .

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