Local action and empowerment key to achieving climate goals

Source: Map by Aether (2020) Progress towards UK local climate emergency targets based on Climate Emergencies declared as at October 2020.

The Sixth Carbon Budget will only be achieved if government, regional agencies and local authorities work seamlessly together, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned.

In December, when unveiling its work on the Sixth Carbon Budget, it also published a report into the role of local authorities in delivering net zero. Over half of the emissions cuts required are reliant on people and businesses taking up low carbon solutions, which are decisions that will be made at a local and individual level, and dependent on having supporting infrastructure and systems in place.

Over 300 local authorities have declared climate emergencies, a third have developed strategies and action plans to deliver ambitious targets by 2030 and 2050, with over half having a net zero target date of 2030. Despite this, local authorities only have powers or influence over around a third of emissions in their local areas. The levers they have are not be sufficient on their own to deliver on their net zero ambitions,

Top down policies can go some of the way to delivering change but, when focused through local knowledge and networks, they can deliver a far greater impact, with the report outlining four key components to achieve a vision of a collaborative delivery. These are an agreed framework for delivery of net zero, incorporating local and national climate action, long-term financing to support local authorities in delivering net zero, local operational flexibility around how local areas address climate change, and coherent policy and powers to facilitate delivery.

It made a series of recommendations for government to empower local authorities, including the development of a Net Zero Delivery Framework, aligning and clarifying national, sub-national, regional and local delivery roles, as well as areas for collaboration, as part of the forthcoming Net Zero Strategy.

It also called for the potential introduction of a Duty on local authorities to act in accordance with net zero; supporting area wide planning for regional delivery of energy, transport systems and building retrofit; and introducing significant, non-competitive long-term investment in retrofit, heat decarbonisation infrastructure and public transport, and giving flexibility to local authorities to blend budget to deliver multiple co-benefits.

With local authorities well placed to deliver climate action in the UK, provided they have the necessary support, the CCC outlined a set of overarching priorities for them to consider, including developing net zero or climate action plans with delivery projects that prepare the area to make the transition to net zero choices from 2030; monitoring and reporting on progress in reducing emissions to local communities and government; implementing training and capacity building to deliver net zero; and communicating and engaging with local communities, businesses and partners on net zero, ensuring that a mandate for action is maintained.