Council Climate Action Scorecards help councillor to get a sustainability motion passed

We were more than delighted when this news story crossed our radar, showing in detail how Cllr Andrew Murray, of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, used the Council Climate Action Scorecards to gain support from his fellow councillors for climate action.

Cllr Murray’s proposed motion even referred to the Scorecards themselves:

“This Council acknowledges the work done to date to help address the climate emergency; reaffirms previous motions regarding the degenerating global situation; and again, reiterates that the crisis is the biggest threat posed to our constituents, our district, and our planet.

“Further acknowledges, however, that recent data collated by Climate Emergency UK ranks NMDDC 8th out of the 11 Councils within NI; and thus, pledges to include ambitious targets in the forthcoming Sustainability and Climate Strategies and Action Plans to expedite implementation.

Cllr Murray went on to explain that the council was below the averages for Northern Ireland in five sections of the Scorecards, albeit that in two — Building & Heating and Waste Reduction & Food – they had scored better than most of their NI fellow councils. Finally, he pointed out that their scores may have suffered from a lack of communication around the council’s recent activity.

We admired this intervention for its use of the Scorecards to do several things: point out where the council was lagging behind others in the country; give recognition to the areas where Scorecard rankings were above average; and to point out that some action they were taking may not be visible enough to outside observers.

All of these points were given further legitimacy by the fact that the Scorecards are an independent project, providing an objective set of benchmarks.

We got in touch with Cllr Murray to ask him more. He was a strong advocate for his local area, happy to describe its many charms:

“I am an elected representative for the Slieve Croob DEA,” he told us, “which lies within Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. I live in a wee town called Castlewellan. We’ve lots of forests, hills and coast within my area, and the council area as a whole.”

Sounds like an area where it’s well worth protecting the natural environment then! So, how did the Scorecards help?

Cllr Murray explains: “The Scorecards were very useful. I used them as an impetus to draw up a motion asking our council to attribute targets to actions they are taking, or will take in the future, regarding climate change and the environment. 

“Because the Scorecards were collated as well as being subdivided into relevant sections, I was able to curate my speaking notes appropriately.

“But they were also useful for a number of other reasons: firstly, they averaged out what other councils in Northern Ireland were attaining. In Northern Ireland, we have different responsibilities to our English, Scottish and Welsh counterparts. So to have them separated out regionally meant that Council Officers could not simply bat away the motion by saying the cards were not relevant – there are demonstrable things that other councils within Northern Ireland are doing that we are not. 

“That is not to say that they were simply used as a stick with which to beat Officers! There were aspects in which our council was above average, so this allowed praise to be allocated to the areas in which it was deserved. 

“Likewise, there were areas in which, from my reading of them and my understanding of the council, I think that there are some functions we are actually already performing but haven’t communicated – ergo, we could easily improve our score. 

“The Scorecards enabled me to lay things out succinctly and clearly, and I was able to get the motion passed. The hope is that sections of them can be incorporated into the targets for the council, and we can ultimately improve on our climatic and environmental impact. 

“Obviously if that means we improve our position amongst other Northern Ireland councils, then happy days. But, as the saying goes, an incoming tide raises all boats – so if our position remains the same, but councils everywhere become more sustainable and mitigate our impact on the environment, then that’s a good thing all round. But ultimately, we have to control the things that we affect here in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.”

That is exactly what we like to hear, and goes a long way to exemplifying exactly why Climate Emergency UK and mySociety came together to produce the Scorecards project. 

We are very glad that Councillor Murray was able to use them for furthering climate action in his beautiful corner of Northern Ireland — and we hope councillors everywhere will take inspiration from his method for doing so.

Image: Shan Marsh Bubashan