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5 ways to turn climate talk into action

COP27 was all about implementation. Here’s how to make that happen—and it starts at the local level.

5 ways to turn climate talk into action
[Source photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images]

Humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” So said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres during his opening speech at COP27 in Egypt, as he urged developing and developed countries to make a pact to work together to reduce greenhouse emissions.

While the aim for this year’s climate conference was to be “the implementation COP [Conference of the Parties],” it’s clear words are much easier than action. But if governments can focus on delivery and bring together the best and brightest from across government and the private sector to collaborate together, we might have a better chance of achieving the net-zero targets set at the last meeting in Glasgow.

The Glasgow Pact targets set at COP26 were for all 196 countries to reach net zero by 2050 and limit the rise of average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius through accelerating the phase-out of coal, speeding up the switch to electric vehicles, encouraging investment in renewables, and curbing deforestation. As delegates head home from Egypt, they would do well to consider a few key factors that could make implementation faster and more effective.


On a practical delivery level, there are challenges surrounding the targets set at Glasgow. In the U.K., one of the largest challenges is a disconnect between policy designed at the national level and delivery implemented and monitored locally. This lack of specific guidance creates the biggest challenge for local authorities across counties, boroughs, and cities who are designing local climate action plans, often without clear guidance on targets, measurement, support, incentives, financing, and resources to deliver, such as EV rollout or retrofitting old homes.

EV rollout is one of the Glasgow targets that is getting the most attention from governments around the world, but there are challenges with implementing even charging infrastructure across the country. As a result, “range anxiety” is a reason that many people are holding off buying electric vehicles until they can comfortably do three-hour trips.

Many governments have stepped in to kick-start the early-stage market, including in the U.K., but EV charging installation is a costly task, requiring capital, new skills, and complex coordination, and it’s technically difficult to get right.


Collaboration between the national government and the 333 local authorities in England who are responsible for delivering EV results will be crucial. At the moment, the onus for EV infrastructure falls onto local authorities. However, the lack of direction or agreement on the details means there’s no standard for EV charging plugs (there are four types that exist) or payment methods across the hundreds of separate regions in the U.K. Instead, there needs to be a central coordinated approach between central and local governments to set standards across the country.

This is already happening successfully in other areas, such as the national Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which fosters collaboration between local councils in regions that lack investment and opportunity with those in more affluent parts of the country.

But while standardization is crucial, working closely with local authorities to develop solutions that are place-based and reflect the possibilities and limitations of that region are important too. Considering where EV charging points should be placed and where they’ll be needed will require local knowledge and the collaboration between local businesses and energy suppliers.


Unlike other countries, U.K. delivery on the agreements set at COP26 will ultimately come down to the capabilities of local authorities. What this means in practice is that local regions will have to interpret environmental policy set by the national government, invent their own approach to implementation, and then compete for budget and resources at a national level. This is flawed.

Local authorities are under extreme strain, stretched thin by 12 years of austerity and two years of COVID-19, even before the latest cost-of-living crisis brings yet another round of funding cuts. Net-zero challenges can’t compete locally with resources for keeping essential services running and supporting vulnerable communities through the cold winter.

Central government bodies should not be afraid to take the lead. Engaging more with the private sector on technology and R&D and filling in the gaps where local authorities can’t will be indispensable for providing more support and innovation. Here, again, collaboration between local authorities and different government departments will be crucial.


While central governments realize the need to support households and local authorities, this support often takes the form of a tapestry of grants that aim to promote competition and innovation in a given area. Frequently though, grants are poorly designed, poorly written, poorly advertised, and excessively cumbersome to apply for, like the now-defunct Green Home Grants in the U.K.

Improving the design of funding is both possible and necessary. Doing so requires using every tool in the design book to consider all stages of the funding journey, including clarifying the policy intent of each fund and the purpose they serve; simplifying language, removing jargon (and with it, confusion), asking only for information the department truly needs to assess the application, and streamlining the funds so that requested data is consistent across the board and local authorities don’t have to relearn how to respond each time a new fund appears.


While local authorities should not be pitted against each other, having consistent and transparent data that shows how different areas are performing against net-zero targets might motivate action and also help councils learn from one another to see which strategies are paying off.

U.N. Special Climate Envoy Michael Bloomberg and French President Emmanuel Macron are designing an open-data public platform to collect net-zero transition data and make it more accessible. This is particularly targeted at helping the private sector tackle climate change, as Bloomberg says they “often find their hands tied by a lack of accurate data.”

In the U.K., we recently helped the Office for National Statistics (ONS) launch a climate data dashboard, which brings together climate change data at the national level for the first time. Going forward, we are working with ONS on the data platform and engineering that underpins this and other dashboards to help make complex data on important topics easier to find, understand, and use for policymakers, local authorities, businesses, and individuals.

In times like this, with looming tax hikes and spending cuts, it’s easy for those in charge to see sustainability as another expense and move to deprioritize it. More than ever, we need to remember that investing in climate and green energy is not just a moral good, it is the key to unlocking future industry and growth.

Global leaders at COP27 should remember that when they go home, the real—and less sexy—work will most likely be done locally by regional leaders, and they must give them more support if we are to collectively win the battle for net zero.

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Zung Nguyen Vu is a partner at TPXimpact. She is a designer, researcher, and urbanist helping the public sector build places, products, and services that are good for people and the planet. More