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Climate Change blog: Councils' inspirational climate change action - guest blog from Friends of the Earth

28 April 2022

This month’s guest blog comes from Sandra Bell, Senior Sustainability Analyst at Friends of the Earth, who gives us a flavour of the 40 inspirational local authority climate projects they recently published with Ashden.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Ashden are two of ADEPT’s partners in the Blueprint Coalition. Over the last two years, the Coalition has been lobbying for greater powers and resources for councils to help them deliver their climate action plans.

The Climate Change Committee has recognised that we can only achieve Net Zero if national government, regional organisations and local councils work together (see ADEPT’s blog from Louise Marix Evans here), and the Coalition has taken up the mantle.

We have said many times before, and will continue to argue loudly that the only way the country will reach its net zero targets is with the vital contribution of local authorities. We wanted to show that even while we continue to push government to properly support local action there is much that councils can do, and are doing, with existing powers and resources.  

These case studies demonstrate how councils are not only providing leadership to tackle the climate crisis, but also in nature restoration - boosting biodiversity, addressing habitat loss and providing accessible urban green spaces.  

Transitioning to a greener cleaner future has to take place at the local level, recognising that many of the actions now needed will require changes for individuals and communities that need local delivery. The pandemic has shown us how intrinsically we are part of the fabric of our local areas, our need for open spaces and to have a closer more enduring relationship with the world around us.

The current energy crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, has already increased the number of households struggling to pay their fuel bills, with warnings that more than four in ten people could be in fuel poverty by the end of the year. The main focus for government should be rapidly reducing the country’s reliance on expensive, volatile gas. This has to mean an increase in clean, renewable energy and a greater diversity in how it is produced and used.  Boosting home energy efficiency is an essential step to address the climate and energy crisis in the short term.

Local authorities are taking different approaches to diversifying energy production at the local level and using Community Municipal Bonds to investing in community energy. Warrington has invested in solar farms using Community Municipal Bonds to raise money locally. Despite the lack of backing in national policy Stroud District Council is positively encouraging onshore wind in its local plan.

I think we have all been disappointed by the government’s muted response to the need for housing retrofit, insulating homes and critical investment in domestic energy efficiency. This would not only help the increasing number of households in fuel poverty, but support everyone in reducing energy usage and having homes that can be more resilient to our changing climate. The case studies show how local councils are once again, taking a lead, whether through upgrading council homes like North East Derbyshire or Reading using local planning policy to deliver new zero-carbon homes. 

We know that the public appetite for climate action is increasing, but we also know that there will be some difficult and unpopular decisions ahead of us. Councils will need to take their communities with them to succeed with more contentious actions. Waltham Forest has undertaken a thorough programme of engagement which has seen local people involved in surveys, design feedback, workshops and a full public consultation resulting in strong support for road closures and new road layouts. Both changes, for which it can be notoriously difficult to gain public support, resulted in reductions of nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5, by 15-25% and 6-13% respectively as well as increased active travel.

There are a whole range of case studies covering transport, waste, energy, buildings and the natural environment as well as how to raise money and align decision making with climate ambitions. I hope you will agree that they make for fascinating reading and that the insight into how these programmes were funded, resourced and delivered, as well as the outcomes are helpful to other councils.

These case studies also show that we need these brilliant actions to be the norm in every locality and that’s not going to be the case until Government puts in place proper, long-term, stable funding and the right policy framework highlighting the need for the ongoing work of the Blueprint coalition.

We are holding a short launch event for the case studies on 24th May, 10.00-11.30 for councils where there will be a speaker from ADEPT. We also hope to run a longer webinar in July to explore some of the case studies in more detail. If you are a local authority wishing to attend the launch event, please register here.

Find out more about the Blueprint Coalition and its publications here.

The full set of case studies are available here.