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Climate change blog - ADEPT's review of the year

ADEPT Policy Officer David Dale, provides his traditional look back at ADEPT's climate action in 2023 and forward to 2024

Well, what a year that was – very warm and very wet. 2023 was the second hottest year ever in the UK, and only fractionally less than 2022. Rainfall was also up, by 11% across the UK but by more than 20% in England and Northern Ireland. Persistent rain and a series of storms in December meant that many places started 2024 with serious flooding, causing evacuations, transport disruptions and seeing farmers call for more investment in flood defences in rural areas to protect food production. The National Trust warned that shifting weather patterns are causing chaos for nature.

The record temperatures in the UK were also seen across the world. There were wildfires in Greece, Canada and Hawaii, and historically high sea temperatures and low levels of sea-ice.

There were many key moments nationally. Chris Skidmore MP the former Energy Minister published his Net Zero Review which included nine recommendations affecting local government, these were generally very helpful and we were happy to support most of them. Chris shared his thinking with us at the ADEPT Spring Conference in May, and subsequently published (with Ben Houchen) The Future is Local report arguing for frameworks and funding to enable local authorities accelerate their own climate action plans.

Less positively, in the wake of the Uxbridge by-election in the summer, where it was reported that some opposition to the extension of the ULEZ played a part in the result, the Prime Minister rolled back some climate actions that had been set out in the Net Zero Strategy less than two years before. In one of his biggest policy changes since taking office, Rishi Sunak confirmed the UK would push back the deadline for selling new petrol and diesel cars and the phasing out of gas boilers. There was widespread criticism of this, including from parts of the automobile and energy industries. It was, to say the least, dismaying to see climate and environment ambitions being portrayed as being opposed to growth and cost of living objectives.

Elsewhere, the government published the third National Adaptation Programme. There was little engagement with local government in the development of NAP3 and its contents were generally underwhelming.

Lord Deben stood down after 11 years as Chair of the Climate Change Committee and in his final letter to the Prime Minister said that the failure to act decisively in 2023 after hosting COP26 the previous year means that the UK has lost its clear global climate leadership – “inaction has been compounded by continuing support for further unnecessary investment in fossil fuels” he wrote. Although it was reported in the summer that more than 60 applications had been submitted to become the new Chair of the CCC no appointment has yet been announced.

It was a busy year for us at ADEPT. In April we ran another successful Green Finance training day with great speakers – some returning, some new. We published a monthly climate change blog  with a variety of contributors covering subjects from schools energy efficiency retrofit, through woodland creation and nature recovery, carbon reporting for highways, and evidence on the government’s resources and waste strategy. We set up a Climate Change Board in April to provide a forum for Place Directors and ADEPT’s other subject and regional Boards to raise issues and lobby to influence national climate policy and delivery. The Board meets monthly and engages with the Local Net Zero Forum (LNZF), the Local Adaptation Advisory Panel (LAAP), and the LGA.

We launched ADEPT Live Labs 2: Decarbonising Local Roads in the UK, a three-year, UK-wide £30 million programme funded by the Department for Transport that aims to decarbonise the local highway network. We worked with the Forestry Commission and Defra, to launch the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund, a new fund to accelerate local authorities’ tree planting ambitions. And we worked with the Environment Agency on the adaptation pathways programme and produced an introductory ten minute video, which aims to assist local authorities in understanding and implementing the adaptation pathways approach to manage flood and coastal risk and create resilient, thriving places.

We have continued to be active members of the Blueprint Coalition which has raised its profile during 2023 and now has an active presence on social media. As well as setting out its manifesto asks (see below) the Coalition is busy lobbying key politicians and advisers to keep climate change high on the agenda in the run up to the General Election.

The main international event was of course COP28 in Dubai in December. The headline outcome – that countries should ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels – was a disappointment compared to the commitment to ‘phasing out’ of fossil fuels that had been in an earlier draft. Overall it was a significant step forward but not the leap that had been needed and hoped for.

Looking ahead in 2024 the domestic agenda will be dominated by the run up to the General Election expected in the second half of the year. We are working hard to have our voice heard as the political parties set out their stalls as they compete to become the next government. ADEPT’s Manifesto for Stronger Places calls on all political parties to take a place-based approach to meeting the challenges of net zero and climate adaptation. We set out specific asks around strengthening the planning system to help create low carbon places, facilitating renewable energy generation, giving councils a clear remit to develop Local Area Energy Plans, and accelerating the decarbonisation of transport. We call for new Local Climate Action Agreements, where councils and central government can work together at pace and scale, and help unlock private investment for net zero and resilience.

We are also signatories to the Blueprint Coalition’s Manifesto asks which echo the call for a place-based approach with adequate funding and support, a more effective central-local partnership, reformed and devolved funding, and ambitious devolution deals. The Coalition sets out more specific asks for greater investment in low carbon and climate resilient transport and energy infrastructure, in training and skills for a green economy, in upgrading our existing homes to ensure they are fit for the future and making all new housing zero carbon.

The UK is not alone in gearing up for important elections this year – India, the EU, and of course the US are too. These are some of the world’s highest emitters of greenhouse gases, but it is likely that they will all have parties and candidates trying to win votes by rowing back on existing commitments to climate action. And it’s not easy to stay focussed on the climate agenda with so many pressing domestic issues and the international instability due to tragic wars in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

A challenging year ahead.


David Dale, ADEPT Policy Officer

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