The “Core Cities’ #climate emergency responses” report – what went well, badly, what next

Last week we published a report Core Cities and the Climate Emergency – learning from each other.  Below is an interview with the report’s co-ordinator, Chloe Jeffries. It’s part of Climate Emergency Manchester’s commitment to post-mortems which help us get better at what we do, and  – we hope – of some use and interest to other folks.

[Update 8th July – see this very thorough article on The Meteor about the report.]

Who are you and what is CEM?
I am Chloe, a core group member of CEM – a non-partisan volunteer group connecting citizens and holding Manchester City Council to account on the promises made in its climate emergency declaration. I’m also the coordinator of the report ‘Core Cities and the Climate Emergency’. That’s a lot of core!

Describe the process of creating the core cities report, and its rationale.
CEM produces “Hung Drawn and Quarterly” reports on Manchester City Council’s (in)actions, but we’re aware that no one local authority has all the answers. Both policymakers and citizens need to see what is (or isn’t) being done in other comparable cities. To make such comparisons, we want to draw on local knowledge. Groups or individuals based in the areas are better-placed to undertake research – they know the region and may remember previous attempts.

CEM has already produced reports which bring together a team of volunteer researchers. In March 2020, we produced a comparison of the local authorities in Greater Manchester drawing on research from a team of volunteers based in Bury, Stockport, Oldham etc.. The Core Cities report scaled up this model, with volunteers in the seven locations covered in the report taking on different roles: research, design, proofing. I think we all increased our skills in those departments!

What went well?
Sharing frustrations with others based in other cities! I particularly enjoyed having a regular phone check in with one researcher, who really dug deep into the data. Not all of that made it into the final report but it was good to talk it through, get our heads round it together and work out what to do next. He had a background in divestment campaigning, which came in really here but also meant there was a lot of new stuff to cover.

Cover image of Core Cities and the Climate Emergency
Thanks to Laura for the excellent cover

A shout out is also due to Laura of LJBStudio, who designed our beautiful front cover image. It far surpassed my expectations. Who knew that local authority climate policy could be made so visually attractive?! 

What didn’t?
We decided early on that this report would be based on publicly available information, to serve as a base line. That’s a necessary first step, but only takes you so far. Even the councils who put a good amount of information out there, tend to hide bad news and tell you good news over and over again. Now that we have a good handle on where each of the seven cities are up to, we’ll deploy Freedom of Information Act requests to plug gaps next time, and provide training for any volunteers who have not used FOIAs before.

What sort of reception and media traction, if any, has the report had?
Lots of nice comments – ‘what a difference from the usual PR and greenwash’  was my favourite. A couple of local journalists have been interested and that’s something we’ll be looking to increase next time, perhaps with some juicy findings from the FOIAS. We’d be very happy to offer support in how to write a press release to volunteers in different cities, who would like to push a story relating to their council but are not sure how to grab media attention.

Assuming there is a next time, what will you do differently, why, how?  How can folks get involved?
Next time will be November, to coincide with COP. We’ll want to cover all of the Core Cities – so would LOVE anyone in Belfast, Glasgow, Leeds or Newcastle to get in touch. And even if you live in the cities that we covered this time, we’d love to hear from you. These are big issues and there will be useful and interesting tasks a-plenty. All time-limited, with check-ins and plenty of feedback. Just email me chloe@climateemergencymanchester.net

What surprised you (both the process and the product)
I’d expected some discrepancies in the level of detail provided by Councils, but the gulf was even more striking than I had thought it would be. Glossy 90-page brochures vs no mention of climate!  I was also surprised that so few climate emergency action plans mention food. Its importance has become even clearer during the pandemic.

What advice would you offer people wanting to find out how their town or city is doing, especially in comparison to other towns or cities of similar size/nature?
I’d love to say look on your Council’s website, but these are often out of date (some have not even uploaded information on the climate emergency). One thing everybody could do, which relies on very little prior knowledge, is to ask their councillor what has been done in their ward (i.e. neighbourhood) since the declaration of the climate emergency – the emphasis on DONE is important, as is SINCE the declaration. You’ll often be sent information about old or existing initiatives. Start hyper-local, work out from there.

What next for CEM more generally?
On 10 July, it’s one year since Manchester City Council declared a climate emergency. We’ll be marking that with a bit of a stock take from other groups across the city. And maybe some cake. The next anniversary is the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s declaration, in August, so we’re putting together a report to help citizens scrutinise that body. More generally, CEM is running a petition to get Manchester City Council to have a seventh scrutiny committee, devoted to climate and biodiversity policy. Anyone who lives works or studies within the boundaries of Manchester City Council can sign. It’s also creating a skills and knowledge programme that we call the ‘Activist Citizenship Toolkit’, or A.C.T

Anything else you’d like to say?
If you’d like to help with the next report, or have any questions, do get in touch. I’m chloe@climateemergencymanchester.net. If I don’t reply for some reason, try contact@climateemergencymanchester.net

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