Five lessons learned from taking climate action at a local level

A man standing in the middle of a rural road on the Isle of Mull looking at hills in the distance.
Published: 24/06/2022

The first year of our Climate Action Towns work has taught us a lot, including why it is often best to start a climate conversation by not talking about climate. Here is what we have learned so far.

The people and organisations we have connected with through the first year of our Climate Action Towns work across Scotland are eager to understand what the climate emergency means for them and their towns. But many are unsure what action to take, and where to start.

A perceived lack of visible climate change impacts in the towns has – understandably - limited people’s understanding of how serious the climate crisis is. The result is that physical adaptation and behaviour change are not happening at the scale and pace needed.

Below are five important lessons we have learned from the first year of the project, about how to take climate action with greater urgency and efficiency.

1. Start a climate conversation by not talking about climate

Begin climate conversations by asking ‘non-climate’ questions about changes in the local area. This approach allows local people to be place ‘experts’, and leads to better, more insightful discussions about local climate impacts than opening with the ‘climate’ word.

In Blackburn, incredibly rich and detailed observations about the changing local climate were initiated by unanticipated and spontaneous conversations. A passing joke about drowning worms led to a thoughtful discussion about collapsing eco-systems, the vulnerability of local, national and international food chains and the impacts of localised surface water flooding.

2. Maps, maps, maps

Making maps helps us all to shift theoretical climate issues into a tangible, meaningful resource. Throughout our work, maps have proved to be an incredibly valuable tool for starting a climate discussion with people of all ages, demographics and levels of climate literacy.

Our Carbon Conscious Places mapping exercise in Alness and Invergordon harvested a wealth of input from across both towns, using questions that were focussed enough to draw out relevant climate observations.

3. More tools are needed to help people see how climate change will actually affect their town

A lack of place-specific climate risk data is making it challenging for people to understand how climate change will affect their town. Whilst we have been able to use tools like SEPA’s flood risk mapping to clearly illustrate the risk posed by rising sea levels and surface water flooding, illustrating other risks like wildfires, crop failures or increasing vectors of disease is much more challenging because there is very limited place-scale data.

For communities to be able to develop localised adaptation and mitigation plans, they first need to have a clear picture of what climate risks they are actually facing in their area. At present the focus is too much at a national, rather than a local level. A suite of tools that clearly illustrate relevant local climate risks is urgently needed to help inform decision making.

4. A library of precedents showing successful climate action is needed to show people what is possible

Examples and case studies are a valuable tool for providing inspiring examples of how climate action can be undertaken at a local level. They can increase understanding of how the Place Principle and climate action and justice intersect. Learning from others that have already dismantled barriers and demonstrated success can help to inspire change in other places.

A catalogue of climate action precedents really helps to guide and inspire people towards action they can take in their own towns.

5. It is better to build on existing place-based work than start from scratch

There is value in taking time to understand local context and to identify where opportunities, gaps and overlaps exist. Tailoring a project’s scope to meet local needs, to deliver on the Place Principle and to add value to existing place-based work has used resources efficiently and increased buy-in to the Climate Action Towns work.

Which towns are involved in the Climate Actions Towns projects?

The five learnings above are a summary from our reflections on year one of the climate action towns project. The towns involved in the Climate Action Towns project are:

  • Highlands - Invergordon and Alness
  • West Lothian - Blackburn
  • Argyll & Bute - Campbeltown
  • North Ayrshire - Stevenston
  • North Lanarkshire - Holytown
  • Dumfries & Galloway - Annan

Header image credit: Danka & Pete on Unsplash

Learn more about our Climate Action Towns project

To protect Scotland from the impacts of climate change, we all need to work together to adapt the ways we live, work, play and move in our cities, towns and villages. Find out how we're working with local communities to support place-based climate action in a network of small Scottish towns.

Learn more