Priorities for the Surrey Climate Commission in 2020: a summary report from two stakeholder workshops

Chris Shaw (Climate Outreach) and Peter Bryant (Shared Future)

22nd November 2019

Executive summary

  • Workshop participants want to take action on climate change and be part of Surrey County Council’s journey to net zero - “let’s get started!”
  • Participants expressed strong support for using a deliberative process such as ‘Citizen Juries’ to build engagement and awareness across the county.
  • There is a lot of work already underway, but much of this was begun prior to the declaration of a climate emergency.
  • The ability to act is being hampered by confusion about what to do, what net zero actually looks like.
  • There is a sense of being overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.
  • There is a wish to see a clear roadmap laid out, a clear and consistent message to act as a banner under which actions are being taken, and strong leadership.
  • Better communication between networks and outwards towards the people of Surrey is needed in order to be successful in achieving net zero.
  • Case studies and stories of success are needed. For example, there is little knowledge of just what Surrey has achieved in reducing waste going to landfill.
  • Costs, time and capacity are significant barriers.
  • Acting on the climate emergency will need a culture shift within organisations and across society more generally.


The Surrey Climate Commission contracted Climate Outreach and Shared Future to design and facilitate two workshops with stakeholders in Surrey. The half-day workshops were held at the University of Surrey on 11th November 2019 and Brooklands Museum on 12th November. A total of approximately 35 participants attended the workshops, drawn from civil society, councils and business networks. The workshop aims were for stakeholders to:

a) consider what organisations are doing in response to Surrey County Council’s declaration of a climate emergency, and what might be the priority areas for Surrey Climate Commission in working towards reaching net zero, 

b) discuss the role and structure of public engagement and in particular a Citizens Assembly / Jury in Surrey and the role of stakeholders in its delivery. 

Insights from this process are intended to go alongside a quantitative baseline survey being delivered by the University of Surrey to inform what next steps the Surrey Climate Commission should take in 2020.

This summary amalgamates responses from across the two workshops.


What are organisations and networks in Surrey already doing in response to the declaration of a climate emergency?

  • The actions and initiatives participants discussed were already underway prior to the declaration of a climate emergency by Surrey County Council in May 2019.
  • Overall, across all networks and organisations present, there was a sense of trying to work out what to do in response to the declaration of a climate emergency.
  • Participants spoke about how the work they were already doing could support delivery of a net zero Surrey, rather than describing any new work they had begun as a result of Surrey County Council declaring a climate emergency.
  • Many participants were there to understand what they should be doing to respond to the declaration of a climate emergency.

Working groups have been set up in a number of councils and authorities to establish frameworks for guiding emission reductions. Other workshop participants spoke of other efforts (see Appendix 1).

Barriers to taking action

The list of barriers to action was much longer than the list of actions already under way.

  • Creating a shared vision:  The size of the change needed, the abstract nature of ‘net zero by 2050’ targets and the complexity of the issue made it difficult for people to know what actions to take that were appropriate to the overall objective. There is no sense of a pathway or structured route through to the ultimate goal.
  • Lack of leadership:  There needs to be strong leadership at the county and the development of a clear message and strategy with cross-party support that everyone can get behind. There also needs to be better coordination by leading bodies of existing initiatives across the county, to prevent duplication and share best practice.
  •  The existing culture: Public awareness and mindset around the changes needed is a barrier. For example charity shops are seen as a sign of deprivation and a dying high street rather than a thriving circular economy. The climate emergency needs to move away from being the concern of the sustainability officer and become infused throughout the whole culture of the organisation.  At the moment economic growth is a defining characteristic of our culture but is in conflict with the changes needed to deliver net zero.
  • Confusion about what is already being done, what needs to be done and who has the authority to do it:  There is a low awareness at council level of what is implied by the declaration of a climate emergency. 
    • Local authority actors often do not know what they can do, where their authority lies, and how ambitious they can be. This is compounded by people often working in silos or lack of knowledge about technical issues relevant to the development and implementation of new processes or technologies.
    • Greenwash and organisations over claiming the environmental impact of their response to climate change and other environmental issues is adding to the confusion about what has been achieved and what remains to be done
    • There is a lack of clear and visible targets.
  • Costs and time: 
    • Participants reported a sense that the money wasn’t available to make the changes needed, e.g retrofitting – the cost of training a new skilled workforce is prohibitive.
    • There isn’t the time and capacity to get up to speed with the issue and implement the changes needed.
  • Legislation:
    • It will be difficult to encourage people to change behaviour without legislation.
    • Legislation can stand in the way of change – poorly written legislation (e.g. meat packaging and plastics).
    • Planning regulation is often confusing – what can we as a local authority do?


Priorities for Surrey Climate Commission

  • Build trust
    • There needs to be a transparent process for the development and delivery of net zero policies. An effective and proactive communication strategy about what is happening (built on the back of a deliberative process such as Citizen Juries) why and who will be accountable for implementing the policies will help build trust.
    • Rigorous and fair enforcement of standards, perhaps overseen by a new independent ‘net zero’ body, is required to build trust, if this body can distance the climate emergency programme from politicians, who will be seen by many to be acting in their own, or party political, interests.
  • Start showing leadership by taking action: 
    • Quick wins by the Surrey climate commission are important.
    • These quick wins should be turned into case studies, success stories which can show what net zero looks like and how it can be done, e.g. transport: mapping what is the present situation. Bringing authorities and the public together to work on integrated low carbon transport for Surrey. Act as an ACAS for climate change – an arbitrator for climate change locally.
    • Waste: Surrey County Council has a strong story to tell about reducing the waste going to landfill, and one participant told how inspired she felt once she knew about how Surrey County Council had got to grips with the waste issue.
    • Make position statements on key issues to show the sense of direction of travel that Surrey is on.
    • Oppose airport expansion.
    • Switch energy supplier to a low carbon choice and help other authorities club together to negotiate a cheaper low carbon energy price.
    • Become an energy supplier to the county.
  • Be strategic in net zero messaging and communication:
    • Be clear about how quickly we have to take action – the impact/the cost of doing nothing.
    • Develop a consistent message that appeals beyond just the already converted.
    • Engage with business more effectively.
    • Give reassurance – e.g. what will happen to jobs?
    • Work with stakeholders and public to create a big vision, a roadmap for Surrey.
    • Surrey can’t do it all on its own and should work with other authorities to demand radical action at a national level.
    • Provide a central point of information for sharing best practice.
    • Show how Surrey Climate Commission is different from other organisations in Surrey - create a unique identity.
  • Coordinate:
    • Bring the right people together to create buy-in from across the board on Surrey’s vision for net zero.
    • Support collaboration- across the county – to ensure the work is coordinated and coherent.
    • Avoid duplication of effort and reinventing the wheel.
    • Extend the involved stakeholders beyond just local authorities - diversify the make-up of the Commission.
    • Coordinate the transport network across the county.
  • Measure:
    • Complete a thorough audit of emissions to create a baseline of where Surrey is currently on the path to net zero, and what remains to be done to create a baseline.


Appendix 1: Actions already underway in Surrey

  • Epsom and Ewell have established a working group of members and a separate working group of officers who will write a coordinated strategy (for January 2020) with connected action points. A baseline for their own activities will be produced in the near future and a sustainability officer has been appointed for the next two years. No target date for reducing emissions has yet been set.
  • Runnymede climate change working group is made up of officers.
  • Spelthorne has also established a working group and has had a sustainability officer in post since 2013.
  • Waverley Borough Council has declared a climate emergency and is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030. Currently a baseline for emissions is being measured and plans being drawn as to how carbon neutrality can be realised.
  • Guildford Borough Council is presently establishing its existing emissions footprint (transport, buildings, waste, energy etc.) and planning how to take action to reach a 2030 deadline.
  • Tandridge District Council is data gathering and examining different options for action. No target date has been set as of yet.
  • Surrey County Council Highways Department talked about their efforts to measure carbon, to revamp previous targets and to form a County Council wide task group.
  • Surrey Wildlife Trust spoke of how their experiences of engaging with children, their exemplar low carbon building and future work with developers on net gain were all examples of their core focus on sustainability.
  • The University of Surrey; some 300 buildings equivalent size of a small town with a large carbon footprint. Opportunities exist through pockets of expertise and the appointment of a new head of sustainability. The challenge is how to join up all these different elements.
  • CPRE spoke of the challenges of engaging 3500 members in Surrey and how 90% of their historic role has been around protecting the green belt. Educating members can be seen as an opportunity but also as a barrier.
  • Surrey Hills Enterprises has accredited 125 businesses to a sustainability trademark and will run events on sustainable initiatives for businesses with plans for a future showcase event for households.
  • Eco-church awards that measure footprint and recognise efforts to reduce emissions in churches.
  • Construction logistics toolkits and sustainability toolkits (local engineering firm).



Appendix 2: Additional survey question

If you know of any networks in Surrey working on climate change related issues in any of the following fields please list them below.



Buildings (business and residential)

Biodiversity and natural environment




Workshop programme

Each three hour workshop was facilitated by Chris Shaw of Climate Outreach and Peter Bryant of Shared Future and comprised of the following sessions:

9:30 Introductions and welcome.

9:55 What are organisations already doing? Small group work to try to answer the question ‘What are your organisations doing to respond to the emergency of climate change?’ and ‘What if anything is your organisation doing to measure and manage its carbon footprint?’

10:30 Barriers to taking action. Further small group work to try to answer the question ‘What are the challenges and barriers to achieving net zero across Surrey?’

10:55 Priorities for the Surrey climate commission. Having spent some time considering the challenges and barriers to progress identified in the previous activity participants discussed what might be the priorities for the Commission.

11:45 What is a Citizens’ Assembly/Jury? Facilitators offered a presentation on the essential elements of a deliberative process using the case study of the Leeds Climate Change Citizens’ Jury, before a brief discussion on their possible role in Surrey.

12:30 Close