Blog: Climate change at the heart of everything we do
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As COP26 approaches Climate Change Transformation Manager Judi Kilgallon reflects on the importance of the Local Government contribution to tackling climate change, and how the Improvement Service is working to embed climate change in everything we do.

Can tackling climate change be more than just yet another priority for Local Government? What does a ‘green recovery’, a ‘green job’ or a ‘net zero organisation’ actually mean? How can we make this agenda into an opportunity and not just a challenge?

Despite the difficult questions, complexities of target setting and translation of international ambitions, one thing is clear: transformation is needed. In every sector, every business, every community and every local authority.

Across Scotland, council officers, elected members and their partners are working hard to deliver meaningful change for their communities. Local Government is committed to delivering the action needed to both adapt to the impacts of climate change and to deliver a just transition to net zero.

The role of the Improvement Service is to support councils to provide effective community leadership, strong governance and high quality, efficient services. To do this successfully we must also respond to the key challenges facing local authorities; and tackling climate change is the biggest challenge of all.

However, this challenge also presents an opportunity. With our extensive activity on transformation, data, planning and poverty, and our partnership work, we can explore how interventions can deliver on the triple wins of health, equity and the environment. Carbon reduction is part of a wider picture which includes health outcomes, inequality and community resilience.

This interdependency and urgency means that climate change is not just another priority to add to the list. It must be at the heart of everything we do to build capacity and support transformation.

At the Improvement Service we are considering climate change across every programme and role. The IS Board undertook a 'deep dive' on climate change to establish our strategic direction complemented by staff engagement and training through carbon literacy. Based on this work, we have created a statement on “Our Approach to Net Zero” to give direction and focus to our activity. This is a significant step and we will now focus on developing the underpinning actions and targets on this journey, always looking to improve and maximise our positive impact on people and planet.

We cannot do this without working in partnership.  We collaborate closely with our Local Government family, developing resources, events and support alongside COSLA, SOLACE and the Sustainable Scotland Network, a public sector network of sustainability practitioners. Our Digital Public Services team worked with partners to deliver the National Entitlement Card, supporting the move to bus travel for over 60s, those with disabilities and, from Jan 2022, for under 22s. A new partnership with the Scottish Cities Alliance has enabled the delivery of carbon literacy training to elected members across the cities, with future training planned for senior leadership. Elected members have a crucial role to play in driving this agenda and we are developing further briefings and resources, in particular for induction next year.

We are using our networks to mainstream and normalise conversations around climate change with officers working in economic development, transformation and organisational development. Providing bespoke support to local authorities and their partners gives us the insight we need to influence and communicate the national picture. How we engage with data to support place-based decision making and policy is a crucial area for development.

In this pivotal year of COP26, I look forward to seeing how Local Government continues to respond to the climate change challenge to deliver benefits for people and planet. The Improvement Service has an important role to play in this transformation and we will keep developing our activity. To find out more visit our Climate Change Programme page.