Oxford City Council: Mobilise residents in climate emergency

Oxford City Council (OCC) unanimously declared a Climate Emergency in January 2019 alongside a motion opposing the now-paused, Oxford to Cambridge Expressway proposals.


Oxford City Council (OCC) is now using the evidence-based recommendations from its 2019 Citizens’ Assembly to steer their approach to climate change across the city, and mobilising its young residents to champion issues such as air pollution.

The challenge

OCC’s approach is in response to an identified need for more public information and engagement from residents on climate issues, in particular younger people in the city whom they had been struggling to reach. They recognised that as the home to two big universities, and several schools, they have a large population of young people with quite high awareness of climate issues with whom they should be engaging.

The solution

To reach a younger audience, OCC set out to work with partners across the city, including local schools and its Youth Ambition Team which already had direct links to children and young people in the city.

In 2019, the city became the first in the UK to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on climate change, bringing together partners from both universities as well as 50 residents, selected at random, to participate in a lively discussion on how to go about cutting carbon emissions in Oxford. The council posed the question - ‘The UK Government has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ’net zero’ sooner than 2050 and what trade-offs are we prepared to make?’ which helped to generate ideas for cutting carbon emissions in Oxford as well as their successful campaigns working with external stakeholders.

OCC put forward cabinet member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, Councillor Tom Hayes, who opened the assembly and was the recipient of the Assembly’s recommendations, and council leader, Councillor Susan Brown, who closed the assembly, to show support at the most senior level and demonstrate their individual passion for tackling climate issues.

The Citizens’ Assembly was independently facilitated by experts, Ipsos MORI who then produced a report with their findings and recommendations. One recommendation was that the council should look at its role in convening and engaging stakeholders and the wider public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Another request from the Citizens’ Assembly was to produce educational material and information about how individuals can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

OCC committed to holding a summit as an example of their commitment to hold ‘new types of democratic discussions involving people with the broadest representation of views and backgrounds’. The Youth Climate Summit was held in November 2020 and brought together young people from the city to discuss the issue of the global climate emergency in Oxford alongside speakers including councillors, the council’s newly appointed scientific advisor as well as an education and youth advisor from Oxfam. The summit was held online for young people (age 19 and under), who live or study in Oxford, to be a part of the discussion about how the city tackles the global climate emergency at a local level.

In December 2020, OCC set the date for a Zero Carbon Oxford summit, to be held on 4 February 2021. The Zero Carbon Oxford summit is to be held with key partners to set a vision for reaching Net Zero faster than the Government’s legal deadline of 2050.

The summit will also lead to the creation of a new Zero Carbon Oxford partnership for the city, replacing the Low Carbon Oxford partnership established a decade ago. The new partnership will enable a wider range of stakeholders to play their part in cutting Oxford’s carbon footprint to zero.

OCC has also worked with climate group Oxford Friends of the Earth and local schools on their anti-idling campaign ‘Oxford Air Needs Your Care’, encouraging parents not to leave their vehicle engine running whilst waiting at the school gates. This is the first formal collaboration between Oxford City Council and Oxford’s Friends of the Earth, and involves schoolchildren surveying idling engines at the school gate and learning about the health impact of air pollution along with the simple measure they and their parents can take to reduce emissions with the aid of a council-produced education toolkit. This campaign also engaged children by launching a competition to design an anti-idling poster.

Social media is an important route to reach younger residents, but other options have proved effective including posters in bus stops. Many residents who took part in the Citizens’ Assembly noted that they found out about Assembly from travelling past the posters. OCC also plans to explore other avenues for communication across the city, including utilising video screens on local buses where appropriate.

A big priority for the council has been making sure residents know that they are taking climate change seriously. For the communications team, the council’s commitment to climate emergency is reiterated in all of their climate change messaging, to keep up the reminder of why they’re doing what they’re doing and keep up momentum.

Impact

The Schools Tackling Oxford’s Air Pollution (STOP) project, which the ‘Oxford Air Needs Your Care’ falls under, was awarded Air Quality Communications Initiative of the Year in the 2018 National Air Quality Awards.

The Youth Climate Summit was not just widely covered by the local press but reached a wide audience via the council’s YouTube channel and across social media. By allowing young people to co-produce the summit and vote on the topic of discussion, OCC ensured this target audience was actively engaged from the beginning.

Lessons learned

As well as learning from other councils, OCC worked with the environmental group, Extinction Rebellion to gather as much insight as possible whilst embarking on the Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change. An Oxford Extinction Rebellion representative was on the independent Advisory group and helped provide governance and oversight for the creation, structure and operation of the Citizens’ Assembly.

Laurena Edwards, a member of the Communications Team at Oxford City Council:

If we find someone who is really passionate about an issue, who is willing to speak on our platforms about it then that’s amazing whether it’s a video or picture. People see their friends, and family that they recognise talking about an issue they care about, so they share it and then more people see it.

Contact

Email for STOP campaign: airquality@oxford.gov.uk

Email for Youth Climate Summit, Zero Carbon Oxford Summit, and the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change: lowcarbonoxford@oxford.gov.uk