Cllr Paul HaslamNorth Yorkshire Council
A graphic with a picture of North Yorkshire Cllr Paul Haslam reads "My advice to councillors: climate action can help ease the cost of living crisis"
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I have some advice for national, regional and local politicians alike: don’t sideline climate action in the process of tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

Despite the General Election pulling focus, we mustn't forget that it’s not just newly elected MPs but new mayors and councillors coming out of the May local election who will be looking for ways to ease the cost-of-living burden on their communities. With that in mind, I have some advice for national, regional and local politicians alike: don’t sideline climate action in the process. Tackling emissions and boosting climate resilience can actually help residents save money — but only if you have the knowledge and skills to do it right. That’s why the most important investment you can make right now is in your own climate leadership.

As Warren Buffet would tell you, “The best investment by far is anything that develops yourself, and it’s not taxed at all.” Politicians are human. The idea that upon election we become instant experts on every issue facing our towns and cities is not only unrealistic, it's counterproductive. As an executive coach I advocate a life of continuous learning. We need to be open to acquiring new skills in order to achieve our goals and aspirations. When you have purpose behind you, you will be amazed how easy new things are to learn.

In May’s local election, it became quite clear to me that, for the first time in many years, other pressing concerns had overtaken climate change as the primary issues raised by constituents on the doorstep.  It’s not that it’s not important, just that concerns about the  cost of living, health and wellbeing and affordable homes were resting more heavily on people’s minds. The takeaway message, for me, is that we will never achieve our net zero goals without a just transition. It’s therefore important to craft climate policies that will save residents money, or at least won’t add to their bills.

For example the Local Plan is a great opportunity to reduce a region’s carbon footprint (in North Yorkshire Council, a new one is in the planning stage). Between a fifth and a third of all CO2e emissions come from buildings. Are the build specifications the highest they can be (please note: building regs are the lowest they can be?) If you then add the local transport plan to that and encourage better public transport and active travel links you are attacking roughly a third of CO2e emissions. You can see how it builds up and isn't necessarily pushing up residents’ bills — in fact, better insulated homes and cheaper transport options can slash household costs while cutting emissions.

Ultimately, our residents understand that we need to take action and also that we are on a journey, especially when it comes to complex challenges like climate change. What they want is for us to be upfront about what we don't know, but committed to filling those knowledge gaps so we can make informed decisions on their behalf. We need the humility to be honest and acknowledge our limitations and the courage to address them, bringing our communities with us on the path to net zero.

It's why I enrolled in the Climate Leadership Academy for local climate leaders run by UK100, the only cross-party network of local leaders committed to ambitious climate action. Having championed this agenda for North Yorkshire Council, I knew we were making progress — from building retrofits to EV infrastructure but it was at a glacial pace which the world can't afford — but I also knew I had more to learn.

Over six intensive days, The Academy gave me invaluable insights from climate policy to community engagement. Sessions on the role of local plans in addressing climate change inspired me to champion the highest standards of energy efficiency in new housing developments, exploring ways to incentivise developers to go beyond the minimum requirements. It also highlighted the importance of being aware of the rising tide of misinformation — spread by a vocal minority and targeted at local climate action — while providing both strategies on how to respond to it and actions to try and ensure it never takes root in the first place.

Beyond the practical knowledge, The Academy gave me a network of ambitious peers from all tiers, parties and places. Being able to trade notes, troubleshoot shared challenges and celebrate collective successes has been transformative. I left with renewed confidence, clarity and commitment to drive forward our Climate Change Strategy and Biodiversity Action Plan.

Back home, what I have learned has made me more effective as a Climate Change Champion and climate advocate. I've built stronger relationships with officers and fellow councillors. I've spotted new opportunities for investment and collaboration. And I've become a better bridge between the council and the community, able to engage residents in what can often feel like an abstract or distant issue.

Of course, as councillors facing budget pressures, ring-fencing time for professional development can feel like a luxury. But when it comes to the climate crisis, it's a necessity. COP26 in Glasgow underlined that we are in the decisive decade. Councils have a make-or-break role in curbing emissions and boosting resilience. We owe it to our communities to be the best leaders we can be. It helps that the Climate Leadership Academy is free.

With 2022 and 2023 being the two warmest years on record, the case for upskilling could not be clearer or more urgent. The Climate Leadership Academy, now recruiting for its next cohort, is the perfect place to start. It certainly empowered my own political leadership. To all newly elected and incumbent councillors, I encourage you to take the leap. Discover the new efficient “carbon free” way of doing things. Your residents, or more likely their children and grandchildren will thank you.

The cost-of-living crisis is a once-in-a-generation challenge, the climate emergency is existential. By investing in your own climate leadership, you can help your community tackle both. It’s too important to sit and wait to see if the new government seizes the initiative. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by — apply for The Climate Leadership Academy today.

The UK100 Climate Leadership Academy closes for applications on Wednesday 10 July, 2024. Apply now.