Expert opinion carefully crafted to help senior leaders across the public sector to embrace complexity, find new ways of thinking and solve problems.

The nature of the climate problem

by | Oct 19, 2021 | Climate, Place | 0 comments

At IMPOWER we have worked hard over a number of years to develop and refine our EDGEWORK approach, which reliably delivers sustainable change in some of the most complex challenges facing our public service clients. A key feature of EDGEWORK is that it is constantly being improved and updated as our teams meet new challenges.

Over the past year we have turned our EDGEWORK approach to perhaps the biggest and most complex problem of all – the climate change challenge. This problem is not only huge, but it also creates fear, and for some a feeling of hopelessness – ‘it’s too late’. This makes it extremely difficult to know how and where to start; but if there is one thing we have learned from EDGEWORK it is that the only way to really learn how to make change happen is to start.

We have committed ourselves to helping local authorities to get results in the race to reduce carbon emissions at local level. We are still on the journey, learning rapidly from our clients, and drawing on the EDGEWORK theory of change to provide a framework. A critical part of the work has been to ensure we are framing the problem properly.

We have observed some early themes emerging from our engagement so far:

  1. Passion, energy and high-quality intellectual effort is really clear across local government. Whilst this is not yet distributed evenly, it is clear from speaking to both officers and members that this is increasingly a non-partisan issue that is in everyone’s top 3-5 challenges.
  2. The intensity of feeling is particularly strongly felt amongst younger people (staff, residents) and this can appear as a generational divide within organisations and communities.
  3. Almost everyone has done the maths – local government is directly responsible for a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions in any place. The controllable space is tiny. This challenge is about becoming superb at influencing in the local place, and doing so with ruthless prioritisation on the interventions that shift the needle.
  4. This is a holistic, complex problem. It cannot just be about infrastructure, but equally it is not just about behaviour. This makes it really tricky to know how to start – how to convert the ambition into action.
  5. This is also a psychological problem which can be too big to grasp. A whole branch of psychology and psychotherapy has developed to help people deal with the cognitive challenges which arise as a result, and this makes leadership really difficult. Optimism cannot be an authentic stance when things are going to get worse.
  6. Councils are hugely capacity constrained. Even the most publicly committed councils are lucky if they have more than two FTEs working on this problem.
  7. Assuming councils can work out what they should be spending money on, the usual business case model doesn’t work. Even with the most creative accounting, investing in local carbon reduction will not save money in the next two budgets rounds. And budgets are extremely tight.

IMPOWER is committed to helping the sector meet the climate challenge, but we don’t pretend to have all the answers. What we are doing is investing time and money in:

  1. Topic expertise – new highly experienced capability in the team
  2. Client engagement – working intensively with our current clients to establish what it takes to square the circle between urgency, capacity and money
  3. Benchmarking – a new lens of the IMPOWER Index, looking at the path to net zero for each local authority place
  4. Engagement with networks – both hosting events and attending events in this area to help generate the right conversations

Over the coming weeks we will be setting out further thoughts in each of the above areas as we continue our learning and engagement. Watch this space.