Councils have a huge role to play in tackling climate change and protecting our natural environment. Decisions by councils can make a big difference, whether improving public transport, ensuring warmer and more energy efficient homes, or protecting green spaces. The 2023 local elections saw over 8,519 council seats being contested across England. In Sheffield, where Hope for the Future is based, 29 of the 84 seats on the council were up for grabs. That’s why Hope for the Future, in partnership with South Yorkshire Climate Alliance and Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, ran a climate and nature hustings.
The event was an opportunity for residents, business owners, and communities across the city to ask questions and hear future councillors' plans on what to do to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Despite all four parties (Labour, Green Party, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives) being invited, only the Labour Party and Green Party sent representatives.
Of the 20+ questions we received for candidates from members of the public and comments on the night from the attendees you can roughly split the concerns people have into two groups. Most of the questions focused on local issues in Sheffield, the kind of issues which also crop up across the country and in cities across the world. For instance, active travel, recycling, and air pollution. Most telling of these local issues is the Sheffield tree scandal which was the focus of several questions and comments. With the benefit of hindsight this was identified as one of the key reasons Sheffield Labour underperformed in contrast to the rest of England in the elections. Considering this, these hyper-local issues are important to keep in mind if you are trying to get any of your local politicians to act on your behalf, especially so with councillors. When planning how to engage, even if your issue may have national or global implications (as is often the case with climate change) it is often worthwhile taking a step back and thinking about whether this is having an immediate impact in your community.
Several of the other questions were tied to the UK’s action on climate change, for instance, one question highlighted that “The science is clear that we need to reduce meat consumption (or switch to plant-based options) in order to tackle the climate crisis and enable nature recovery. What will you do to act on this as a local councillor?”. Interestingly, despite the candidates being generally supportive, they did admit that they were somewhat limited in what they could achieve apart from making the food at council functions meat-free. This highlights a key point when choosing to engage a local politician, be they an MP or councillor, recognising what they have responsibility for and what they can legitimately act on.
The UK political system is complicated with differing powers between different elected representatives. At HFTF we recognise this and provide free training, resources and support to help people make sense of what’s possible to combat climate change through UK politics.
To access our support and training, please sign up on our website.