We live in interesting times. I’m writing this on the day that the UK leaves the EU. The future feels uncertain – a bit like staring into the fog, not quite sure what lies ahead. In addition to the political upheaval we’ve had in the UK we’re also facing a global public health emergency with the coronavirus outbreak- and we’ve still only just started 2020.
But there are signs of hope. China has shared the genetic code of the coronavirus. Scientists across the world are already working on a vaccine and with real international collaboration and unprecedented speed, there may be a vaccine by summer. When faced with this kind of global emergency, we’re working together.
The Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) represent another kind of hope, a beacon of global cooperation, setting a vision for a better future for people and planet. Later this year, the UK will host COP26, a UN climate change conference designed to produce an international response to the climate emergency. The question is, can we cooperate to produce the kind of change we need?
The answer to that lies not only in global cooperation, but also in the actions of local people in every country who support that vision of a better world – that’s us in our own homes, communities and workplaces, and also the businesses and local authorities that make decisions affecting our lives and the environment every day.
According to opinion polls, about 85% of Britons said they are concerned about climate change, with more than half saying they were very concerned (Ipsos Mori, August 2019). So many of us share this concern, made more vivid by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and Greta Thunberg’s climate strikes. Attenborough, Greta and thousands of others are showing how climate change affects our wellbeing now and poses a real threat to the wellbeing of people and planet in the future. Local authorities are also recognizing their role in this. Last July, the Local Government Association declared a climate emergency and by October, over half of local councils in the UK had followed suit.
As with the response to any emergency, we need clear and co-ordinated plans, the right resources, good collaboration between a wide range of partners to make things happen, and robust data to know if we’re on the right track. And we need it quickly.
As a charity focused on sustainable wellbeing, Centre for Thriving Places has pulled together the data needed to shine a light on how local authorities in England and Wales are measuring up on sustainability. Each year, the Thriving Places Index focuses on how local conditions affect our wellbeing, viewed through the lenses of sustainability and equalities. This helps to provide real insights, recognizing that sustainable wellbeing is a delicate balance between what people and planet need to thrive, potentially achieved in different ways in different places.
This year’s work around the Thriving Places Index will focus on challenging questions like how do councils that have declared a climate emergency compare to those that haven’t? It’s early days, but the aim is to use this important data to help local authorities know if they’re on the right track by showing where measurable improvements are happening and how they’ve been achieved. Sharing information about what works to develop better place-based approaches to sustainability is an important aspect of dealing quickly and effectively with the climate emergency.
Centre for Thriving Places would love to hear from local Sustainability Pioneers who’d like to share their practices with others via their blog. If you’ve been doing great work in your area and think your local authority could be one of Centre for Thriving Places featured local authorities, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
The new Thriving Places Index will launch on March 18. Together, we can all be part of the solution.
Dawn Snape is Centre for Thriving Places’ Co-Chair and Assistant Director of Sustainability and Inequalities Division at the Office for National Statistics.
Join us at the fourth national launch of the Thriving Places Index at the Urban Innovation Centre in central London – register for your place here.