Community Climate Action Hubs: response analysis

Scottish Government received 70 responses from third sector and community groups in response to the Climate Action Hub programme announced in 2020. Two pathfinder hubs were identified and the information was used to shape the programme.

Question 3:

What are the key barriers to climate change action/ behaviour change at a community level that you have identified during delivery of previous projects. How could hubs address these?

Respondents to the ‘Request for Information’ identified a number of key barriers which have impacted their ability thus far to create meaningful, effective, and sustainable climate change action and behaviour change at a community level. There were nine main themes that the barriers recorded by respondents fell into which were: lack of knowledge, lack of time, lack of funding, low levels of engagement, insufficient or non-existent infrastructure to support work, a cluttered local and national funding landscape coupled with issues with governance and bureaucracy, multiple community-specific issues and obstacles to change, limits to groups’ ability to effective measure the impact of projects, and lastly, limited connections and communication with other groups and stakeholders.

In response to each of these themes, a number of solutions were suggested as to how the hubs can address these specific issues.

1) Lack of knowledge

Lack of knowledge was one of the themes that came up most frequently in responses and referred both to a lack of knowledge related to climate change itself as well as a lack of knowledge around how to run an effective programme and the skills that are required to do this. The sub-themes within the ‘lack of knowledge themes’ were a lack of knowledge around:

  • climate change science and the severity of climate change,
  • climate action, including:
    • other climate groups doing similar work,
    • existing services, resources, and funding,
    • how to access these services, resources, and funding,
    • project planning, early stage project support, and impact measuring,
    • how to effectively encourage climate action and behaviour change.

In response to the second part of the question which seeks to understand how hubs can help address these barriers, responses to issues related to a lack of knowledge centred primarily around providing additional support for groups. The main theme for what respondents expect hubs to offer is a resource to ‘fill experience and skills gaps’. Specifically, suggested solutions included:

  • providing an administrative core to provide ongoing project coordination and support,
  • provide skills training courses and climate literacy courses,
  • create ‘off the shelf’ project models that groups and communities can use as blueprints to replicate projects in their local areas,
  • provide a library of successful project case studies, as well as approaches and messaging that have worked in past projects,
  • provide a mentoring service to match communities and groups with mentors for the duration of their projects,
  • provide a library of project planning and management tools like checklists, templates, and guidance on things like GDPR and professional indemnity,
  • provide post-project support to preserve project legacies.

“People won’t change their behaviour if they don’t understand what they should be changing to and why. Hubs could address this by improving climate literacy through training, events and online campaigns.”

2) Lack of time

Lack of time was another common barrier that was highlighted by respondents as many climate action groups rely on volunteer staff for their day-to-day operations. Because volunteers and staff are often limited, there is also limited time capacity for them to be as effective as would be desired. Respondents noted that on a day-to-day basis, other aspects of operating an organisation might take priority over climate change action so volunteers and staff are forced to juggle operating responsibilities with running projects. Specifically, these appear to be limited time for groups to seek funding for projects, apply for funding (which was highlighted as an overly complicated and arduous process), plan out projects, and create a meaningful online presence where projects and groups can attract attention for their projects.

The solutions that hubs can offer to help address these barriers were to advocate for a change in the competitive processes for funding application which ‘eat up time’ and don’t always result in a successful outcome for the groups, reduce the administrative and reporting burden for grants on groups, and lastly to offer examples and illustrations of activities that can both contribute to local needs as well as climate change as these can help groups focus on projects that tick multiple boxes.

3) Lack of funding

Lack of funding was a barrier noted by nearly all of the respondents. But while the sub-themes that came out of this particular barrier illustrated a range of issues, the proposed list of solutions was equally substantial which shows that this is one area in which hubs could potentially have the greatest impact. The sub-themes were as follows:

  • limited funding resources available,
  • restrictions on funding,
  • available funding favours disadvantaged areas which means higher income (and higher emitting) areas don’t receive as much,
  • funders focus on a narrow range of activities that match their priorities which creates gaps in project objectives,
  • funding is short-term so communities can’t explore legacy or income generation projects and have to continuously apply for more funding,
  • there are many funding and resource cuts at local and national levels,
  • expensive projects are generally first to have their funding cut even though they can have more significant impacts than smaller, less expensive projects (i.e. energy efficiency measures),
  • lack of funding means that groups can’t afford staff so they are forced to rely on volunteers,
  • there is not enough flexibility for what approved funding can be used for and having funding tied to specific outcomes often means that projects can’t be flexible as public opinion, national mood, or other variables change.

The solutions that respondents felt that hubs could support were largely reliant on the role of the hubs - as in, are hubs going to be facilitators for groups to access funding or are hubs going to be the source of funds, distributing funds directly to groups? With this question in mind, the solutions have been divided into two groups, firstly, solutions based on the premise of hubs as facilitators and secondly, solutions based on the premise of hubs as funders:

Hubs as facilitators:

  • help identify available funding opportunities,
  • align funding sources with local authority priorities,
  • collate feedback to funders so that they can make the process easier for applicants,
  • provide more information about projects that require less funding (ie. setting up re-use and sharing hubs, swap-shops, community growing projects, etc.),
  • empower projects to be adaptive over funding periods.

Hubs as funders:

  • give local councils, development and climate groups resources to act locally,
  • increase investment in green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,
  • allow funding to new groups without demonstrated experience of running larger programmes,
  • allow longer-term funding,
  • allow funding for higher impact, higher cost projects,
  • reserve funding specifically for larger capital projects.

4) Low levels of engagement

Tackling low levels of engagement is an area of particular interest to the Scottish Government as tackling climate change will require support and action from individuals, communities, and businesses across Scotland. Many of the barriers faced by respondents are obstacles that have been addressed in the Scottish Government’s Public Engagement Strategy on Climate Change, which hubs can utilise to continue to engage areas of historically low climate change action.

Specific reasons that respondents highlighted as being why they are unable to increase levels of engagement were that:

  • climate action in their local areas is ‘preaching to the converted’,
  • there is a lack of enthusiasm around climate action,
  • climate change is considered a middle-class cause and climate action messaging is often over-technical and ‘preachy’,
  • communication around climate change and climate action can be seen as disengaging, shaming or guilting, and doesn’t resolute with average peoples’ day-to-day concerns,
  • people feel overwhelmed by the climate emergency,
  • people are naturally resistant to changing their behaviour,
  • climate change is not individuals’ problem to fix,
  • climate change feels like a ‘far away’ problem (both in time and geography),
  • people feel powerlessness and like things are being ‘done to them’ rather than with them/ for them.

“Disadvantaged communities may consider they have more pressing concerns than ‘the environment’, perceived to be middle class, over technical, remote or ‘preachy’.”

Solutions to these barriers included:

  • linking climate action with co-benefits (including improved health and wellbeing, money saving advice)
  • stronger and more positive/ motivating climate change messaging,
  • stronger, clearer policy from government,
  • provide information about how climate change initiatives can also have a positive impact on other aspects of life including health and wellbeing or food and fuel poverty, especially for disadvantaged communities,
  • provide information about climate change is exacerbating existing problems and why it is important to mitigate future impacts,
  • create local positive visions for the future,
  • coordinate local advocacy and lobbying groups to give people more power,
  • focus on multiple age groups, not just the younger age groups who are typically more engaged,
  • increase room for innovation and engagement, don’t just focus on experts,
  • encourage people to take small steps,
  • incentivise engagement, action, and behaviour change,
  • tailor climate action to local areas,
  • involve communities in decision-making to increase the feeling of local ownership and buy-in,
  • organise events that engage the community like litter-picks and beach cleans,
  • focus messaging on converting smaller numbers of disinterested people rather than just engaging larger numbers of already engaged people.

“We very much find that if running a project or an event which is specifically labelled as ‘Climate Action’ we will attract only people who are interested in ‘Climate Action’ this has certainly been the case of the conversation events we have held under both the Big Climate Conversation and through CCF funding. Yet, when the event or project fulfils another need such as learning a skill, saving money or has entertainment value, we secure much greater engagement levels.”

5) Insufficient or non-existent infrastructure

While only mentioned by a few respondents, issues related to infrastructure presented a significant barrier where hubs could potentially lend support and create a more effective backbone for climate action. Specific issues centred around insufficient infrastructure at a regional level to make change, private sectors having significantly more power so climate change action can feel like a one-sided, uphill battle against large corporations, and the misuse of vacant and derelict land which should be made available to groups for projects like food growing.

There was only one suggested solution for this issue which was that community climate action needs to be supported by regional and national infrastructure, although there was no detail as to how this could be done.

6) Cluttered funding landscape and issues with governance

While this theme was related to issues of funding, it was important to draw out as a separate theme as respondents highlighted that there was a significant and specific barrier caused by the funding landscape being cluttered and confusing. This barrier was strengthened by issues presented by bureaucracy and governance structures. Specific barriers within this theme include:

  • low trust in statutory services and complacency in these services,
  • lack of transparency from government and funders,
  • government sending to mixed messages related to climate change,
  • the required risk assessments for projects make even simple projects difficult to get started,
  • the bureaucratic process stifles ideas and initiatives,
  • young peoples’ voices are not included in development services,
  • there is a systematic neglect of community voices,
  • funding applications are determined by remote and unreachable bureaucratic measures,
  • there are too many consultations which don’t lead to meaningful action,
  • there is a lack of respect for communities which results in people coming into local areas to start projects that the communities themselves have not fed into,
  • the continued support from the government for high emitting industries (i.e. oil and gas) which undercut community climate action.

“Activists are discouraged by bureaucratic hurdles and the slow pace of movement. A powerful, easily accessible, portal would enable connection to the bodies with the power to assist in making change.”

The solutions for the hubs to support include removing intermediate governing entities and instead using this funding for local climate action staff, facilitating discussions between communities and agencies about local issues, appoint dedicated leaders and facilitators with previous relevant experience to be contacts for projects, support local authorities who demonstrate good practice, and engage communities more in decision-making and planning.

7) Community-specific issues and obstacles

While climate change is a significant and pressing issue, many respondents highlighted that there are many other community-specific issues that are happening alongside the climate emergency. Issues like poverty, poor mental health and climate anxiety, and lack of a local focus for collective action were the most prominent issues. Additionally, more specific obstacles included the reluctance of estate owners to allow volunteers to participate in environmental projects on their land, the lack of available volunteers as people are taking on extra work or limiting interaction due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that deprived communities need more encouragement and support to participate in climate action than others might.

“Young people with pressing personal issues can feel detached from global issues. Ensuring that the work of the Hubs is relatable and meaningful to local communities along with the participation pathways and increasing engagement as discussed above will support engagement. The cost of participating in climate action is a particular barrier for young people. Travel costs, as well as public transport limitations, are frequently cited as a barrier by young people in rural areas.”

Some effective solutions that hubs could facilitate to address these issues include:

  • reflect the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised, ensuring inclusivity,
  • have an up-to-date assessment of which areas have community climate action groups already and establish where there are gaps,
  • give more resources and support to groups in poorly represented areas, or support the creation of groups in areas where they are none,
  • create opportunities for work within hubs for local people,
  • help communities take ownership of their places and the future of those places,
  • be proactive with deprived communities rather than just wait for these communities to get involved themselves,
  • create an easy-to-follow route map for action and engagement for communities with limited experience in climate action.

8) Limits to impact measuring

Respondents noted that limits to effective impact measuring have multiple knock-on effects including difficulty gaining future funding, issues with illustrating the success of projects where impacts are not as tangible, and the impact of the ‘stop-start’ nature of community climate action (due to short-term funding) on impact measuring. More specific barriers include:

  • lack of continuity and resilience of projects due to the stop-start nature of funding,
  • lack of feedback loops that can inform people what has been achieved,
  • only defining ‘impact’ in terms of carbon reduction,
  • difficulty measuring the impact of some projects (related to behaviour change, community engagement, learning, or nature returning).

“The CCF growing project we were involved in concentrated on producing potatoes rather than salad crops because potatoes were heavier and therefore gave higher carbon saving figures. Salad crops would have been more useful locally, healthier and better environmentally due to the packaging and wastage associated with commercial salad crops.”

Respondents suggested that hubs could help address these issues with impact measuring in the following ways:

  • provide clear and consistent measurement tools for groups to use,
  • create external recognition awards for hard-to-measure impacts,
  • encourage more people to think about the longer term impacts of projects rather than just focussing on the immediate results,
  • explore and share effective evaluation frameworks,
  • encourage a more holistic approach to impact measuring rather than just carbon saving,
  • create a thorough process for feedback whereby groups can articulate outcomes, receive recognition for efforts, communicate lessons learned, and share next steps.

9) Limited connection and communication with other groups and stakeholders

A final theme related to barriers faced by respondents was a lack of connection and communication between different climate and community groups as well as with stakeholders. The main barriers highlighted were poor links between social and environmental interest groups which hinders collaboration and results in duplication of efforts, a lack of strategic alignment between groups and key partners and local authorities, and a lack of understanding about what is happening across Scotland in other areas which again presents a risk of overlap and duplication as well as not being able to identify where there are gaps in action.

Respondents suggested that hubs can help address these issues in the following ways:

  • create diverse networks and signpost groups to them,
  • increase the publicity and visibility of projects to increase engagement and networking,
  • provide opportunities and space for collaboration,
  • create clear local net-zero action plans that align with other planning processes and strategies and help guide local climate action,
  • produce marketing materials such as factsheets, leaflets, engagement activities, etc. that communities can use for free,
  • create a contact database for other climate groups to facilitate communication.



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