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Citizens, environmental sustainability and local democracy: Putting people’s voices at the centre of Nottingham’s Carbon Neutral 2028 Action Plan

Research theme: Sustainable Futures

School: School of Social Sciences

Setting the Context

The world is facing a growing climate emergency and there is a pressing need for shared responsibility and for dialogue across and within all countries to find solutions to the crisis. This has recently been emphasised by Sir Robert Watson in the 2021 UN report 'Making Peace with Nature’, where it is noted that the climate emergency requires collaboration between, and behavioural changes by, governments, businesses and also individual citizens.

Although such citizen/elite engagement is evident at national and international levels, we know relatively little about local level interactions between individual citizens and powerholders concerning the climate emergency.

The importance of this project is that it will capture and articulate the environmental concerns of ordinary citizens and show how best to factor these into local government policymaking. Working closely with Nottingham City Council, it will contribute to the shaping of Nottingham’s Carbon Neutral 2028 Charter and its associated Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028 Action Plan.  With this in mind, the project has three key aims to:

  1. provide the means by which citizens (aged 16 and older) can be encouraged to engage with the local democratic process on environmental sustainability issues;
  2. identify how their views can be input into local government climate policy processes and solutions;
  3. test ideas designed to inspire citizens to adopt practices and behaviours that are environmentally sustainable.

Addressing the Challenge

The NTU team is working closely with Nottingham City Council’s Carbon Neutral Policy Team to conduct the research project. We will run a series of online focus groups that will bring together Nottingham residents (aged 16 and older) to discuss their environmental concerns and policy preferences, including how best to promote and achieve carbon-reducing behavioural changes amongst local citizens to help address the climate emergency.

In total, eight online focus groups will be conducted in the Spring of 2022, each lasting 90 minutes. There will be approximately five to ten Nottingham citizens (aged 16 and over) participating in each focus group. In addition to mixed groups including people of all ages and varied socio-demographic profiles, we plan to also organise specific groups with shared characteristics (based for instance on gender, age and different city locations). The inclusion of such specific groups will enable us to capture any different environmental views and levels of awareness of different types of citizens.

This research will provide an opportunity for citizens to directly input into Nottingham City Council’s policies and strategy with respect to Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028. It will therefore help to develop robust and sustainable local climate policies in Nottingham that will have value for other local authority areas across the UK.

Making a Difference

This research will result in finding ways to involve local citizens in a dialogue with Nottingham City Council about how to find local carbon-reducing solutions that will contribute to the global effort to tackle the climate emergency.  It will help local citizens aged 16 and older from different backgrounds to feel confident that their views and priorities are important and are informing local climate policymaking in general, and the Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028 strategy in particular. In this way, it will also encourage citizens to engage in local democratic processes on climate change issues.

In all of these ways, the project will help to inspire local citizens that by adopting additional carbon-reducing behaviours, they will become part of the solution to the climate crisis.  It will also increase the resolve of local policymakers that by including citizens in their policy-making processes, their climate policies will become more effective and sustainable.

Research findings

The key findings from the research project can be found below:


The NTU team is led by Professor Matt Henn (email: who has expertise in conducting research in the field of citizens’ engagement in democratic life stretching-back to 1998 when he was commissioned by Nottinghamshire County Council to complete two linked research projects on youth and civic engagement. Since then, he has conducted many projects and published many articles and books that consider this topic – including recent work on citizens and the climate emergency. He is supported by Dr Ana Nunes and Dena Arya.

Dr Nunes is a Lecturer in Politics at NTU’s Department of Social and Political Sciences. She has specialist knowledge of researching young people as ‘hard-to-reach’ and ‘lesser-heard’ voices, using a variety of both quantitative and qualitative methods in a number of recent projects. Dena Arya is an expert in conducting focus groups on climate change issues and who has worked with Professor Henn on recent projects for the Nottingham City Council.

The project involves collaboration with the Carbon Neutral Policy Team (CNPT) based at Nottingham City Council. The CNPT will work with the NTU team to co-design the project, including the design of the questions to be asked within the focus groups. CNPT will lead on recruitment of citizens to the online focus groups to ensure that a variety and diversity of Nottingham citizens participate – this will maximise opportunities to amplify the voices of a broad range of local citizens in the development of the Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028 strategy.