Sector's stalled climate change response raises motives puzzle

The scientific evidence for climate change gets stronger by the week.

Like a supertanker doing an about-turn, world leaders are slowly coming round to the need for action. The UN is about to hold a summit on the issue, with all the diplomatic horse-trading that will entail. Elsewhere, global figures such as former World Bank economist Lord Stern highlight planning's key role in facing this mess.

Yet something is not right. Despite an Amazonian forest worth of reports, studies, documents, guidance, advice and media stories, the message is only partially getting through to many at the planning or development coalface. For some, it is not getting through at all. There is only so much that cheering from the sidelines can achieve. It is up to the players on the pitch.

The Coalition on Climate Change hit the nail on the head this week. In many places, it warns, embedding climate change in decision-making remains an airy concept. While the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming into publishing the PPS1 supplement on planning and climate change, at least it sets out the arguments for action.

Without diminishing the efforts of those who got with the programme by looking to establish best practice, the supplement has not galvanised the sector into an all-conquering force for revolution.

Why is this? Planning guidance, at national or local level, can always be tightened up. But that is only part of the answer. Some complain about competing demands. But is it too idealistic to remember that planning should be about getting the best outcome for all three pillars of economic, social and environmental factors?

A lack of skills is another familiar excuse. Yet in the same way that planners should not wait for politicians and policy-makers to catch up, a failure to plug skills gaps is a failure to prepare - and a failure to plan. This in turn raises the uncomfortable question of attitude. Is the profession too browbeaten by the heavy demands it faces? Or will it seize an opportunity to embed planning in the centre of public policy and affairs?

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