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Climate Change blog 2021: David Dale looks at how the new year has started and what we can look forward to

1 February 2021

In December, Nigel Riglar looked back at 2020 and reflected on all the blogs, reports and policy positions that ADEPT had produced as part of its thought leadership on climate change. Foremost amongst those was the Blueprint that was refreshed and relaunched in December. This is notable for a number of reasons – the breadth of the partnership that produced it, the emphasis on local leadership and local action, and the clarity of the call for adequate powers and resources for councils if we are to deliver our potential for tackling climate change and helping achieve net zero. 

We weren’t the only ones busy at that time. The year ended with a flurry of important reports and events, and it was difficult to keep up with and digest everything that was coming out. There was output from Government, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the National Audit Office (NAO), and green groups.

The Treasury published its interim Net Zero report to inform the next steps towards the 2050 target for households, businesses and government. A review of the Green Book guidance for policy and project appraisal proposed significant changes to give greater weight to climate and environmental impacts, ‘levelling-up’, and place-based impacts. 

The Government published its long-awaited Energy White Paper, confirming commitments from the Green Industrial Revolution 10 point plan policy paper and the National Infrastructure Strategy. They also announced an ambitious new target to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This coincided with the UK co-hosting the Climate Ambition Summit, which encouraged other countries to submit similarly ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs). And MHCLG opened consultation on the Future Buildings Standard that will require all new homes built after 2025 to be ‘zero carbon ready’. 

The CCC’s sixth carbon budget recommended that the UK cut its emissions by at least 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, to be on a credible pathway towards net zero emissions by 2050. This will require significant infrastructure investment across the economy over the next 15 years, with annual low carbon investment needs estimated at £50bn from 2030 onwards – much of which will need to be met by the private sector. A supplementary report from the CCC om local action was written by Louise Marix Evans who had contributed to the ADEPT climate change webinar back in the summer.

The NAO published three important studies on flood risk management, achieving net zero, and achieving the Government’s wider environmental aims. We were pleased to welcome colleagues from the NAO to the January meeting of the Environment Board where they presented the conclusions of these studies and also talked about the early stages of their next project – local government and net zero. We look forward to working with the NAO and contributing to this study as much as we can in the coming months.

Green Alliance published The Local Climate Challenge based on work in a number of local authorities (including Birmingham, Kent and South Gloucestershire) which argued for argued for a new framework in which councils are seen by government as crucial partners in the drive for net zero. UK100 launched its new campaign The Local Pathway to COP26, asking local political leaders to sign up to a net zero pledge. Friends of the Earth published a report calling on local authorities to work towards doubling the proportion of journeys made by public transport, cycling and walking, and setting out actions that can be taken to reduce car use. And Ashden had a piece in the MJ about the work of Cornwall Council applying the ‘doughnut economics’ decision-making tool.

January saw a new President inaugurated in Washington and a renewed US commitment to climate action, starting with rejoining the UN’s Paris Agreement. At home the news was that Alok Sharma had been moved from his job as Secretary of State for BEIS to concentrate on his role as President of COP26. He was replaced as Secretary of State by Kwasi Kwarteng (previously Minister for Business, Energy & Clean Growth), and the Coalition lost no time in writing to him to press the case made in the Blueprint. A week later there was criticism of the government’s green credentials after Robert Jenrick declined to call in Cumbria County Council’s planning approval for the first new deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years. This prompted a letter from the Chair of the Climate Change Committee saying that the decision would increase global emissions, impact on the UK’s carbon budgets, and give a negative impression of climate priorities. According to some media reports, Sharma was said to be “apoplectic” about the decision to permit new fossil fuel extraction just months before the UK hosts COP26.

So what have we got to look forward to for the rest of the year?

  • February – we are resuming the programme of ADEPT regional workshops on climate change, following the four we held in early 2020 and Cumbria are hosting the North West event on 8th February. Paula Hewitt is a keynote speaker at the LGA’s green recovery event on the 22nd. The CCC continues its series of events around the Sixth Carbon Budget with one on the 24th on the role of local action, looking at the role of local authorities in delivering the net zero transition.
  • March – ADEPT and CIPFA will be holding the second of the joint webinars on climate change, this one will focus on green procurement. Defra’s five pilots of the Local Nature Recovery Strategies – due to become a new statutory duty when the Environment Bill is eventually passed – will finish.
  • Treasury – final Net Zero report.
  • Other Government sectoral decarbonisation strategy documents are awaited for heat and buildings, transport, and industry.
  • May – ADEPT Spring Conference  & awards (27th May).
  • June – we are planning to publish and updated version of the ADEPT/Defra adaptation best practice guidance for local authorities.
  • July – the NAO is due to publish its study of local government and net zero.
  • Net Zero Strategy.
  • Autumn – the Environment Bill is expected to become law.

We live in interesting – and challenging – times.