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Covid-19 recovery must address climate change – report calls on the Government to invest in indispensable role of local authorities

23 June 2020

A new coalition is calling on the Government to support local authorities in delivering climate action. They argue that the UK’s net zero by 2050 target, set by the Government in 2019, can only be reached with the contribution of councils working at the local level.  

A blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level, examining how government can speed up climate action and implement a green recovery from coronavirus, has been published by the coalition of local government, environmental and research organisations.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), Ashden, Friends of the Earth, the Grantham Institute at Imperial College, Greenpeace UK, the London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet), the Place-Based Climate Action Network at LSE and Solace have written to the Prime Minister to highlight the vital role of local authorities in addressing the impacts of climate change.

It argues that high carbon activities are not fit for the future and that public money should not be used to go back to business as usual. Instead, the fundamental role of local councils in tackling the climate and ecological crises must be recognised and supported nationally. 

Councils’ unique knowledge of local communities, businesses and places, their service delivery and regulatory functions combined with their partnership and procurement power, enables them to drive carbon emissions reductions across their whole area. Local authority programmes and interventions can also deliver better public health, reduced inequalities, a healthier environment, encourage sustainable consumption and thriving local economies. 

The coalition is calling on government to work with councils to implement their five immediate priorities for a green recovery, and to create a roadmap for tackling the climate and ecological crises:

  1. Create a joined-up, multi-billion pound place-based clean infrastructure fund to enable local authorities to develop low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure.
  2. Join up the National Skills Fund, the National Retraining Scheme and the Apprenticeship Levy at local level to support reskilling, retraining and research for a net-zero well-adapted economy.
  3. Establish a programme to retrofit the UK’s building stock with energy and water efficiency and low carbon heating, as one of our national infrastructure investment priorities.
  4. Enable local authorities to significantly increase home working, cycling and walking provision – they have a special role to play in recovery from coronavirus, and will continue to play an important role in decarbonising transport.
  5. Speed up delivery of the £800m Nature for Climate Fund to restore nature for all and enable community health and wellbeing through accelerating tree planting and peatland restoration. Support green spaces and other green infrastructure by properly funding local authorities to manage parks, open spaces and public rights of way.

The wide-ranging report sets out proposals for how government can support councils to scale up action on climate locally. It includes proposals for public transport and active travel, planning, retrofitting housing stock, education and skills, business support, green infrastructure and nature restoration, waste reduction and sustainable consumption.

It was compiled after extensive consultation with local authorities across the country through conferences and seminars organised by ADEPT, Ashden, LEDNet, London Councils and the Local Government Association.

Nigel Riglar, ADEPT President said:

“The impact of Covid-19 has already seen councils move rapidly to reallocate road space, prioritise cycling and walking and implement measures to support social distancing. The role of place, with its focus on transport, planning, housing, environment and economy, is fundamental to addressing the climate emergency. If we are to reach the Government’s national net zero ambition and support economic renewal, local authorities and their communities must have the support and resources they need to deliver. Together people and places up and down the country will achieve extraordinary things and Government must help them go further and faster.”

Harriet Lamb, CEO, Ashden said:

"This year has shown us the power of communities to take on enormous challenges. Councils across the country have the skills and vision to lead a green recovery - but only with investment from central Government. Westminster can tackle inequality and provide better jobs, homes and transport by supporting local authorities now."

Sandra Bell, Policy Analyst, Friends of the Earth said:

“While we grapple with the fallout from COVID-19 the climate crisis has not gone away, neither has the urgent need to restore nature. It is not possible to deal with these issues without the full involvement of local communities and councils. But councils don’t have the powers and resources they need, and are having to operate with one arm tied behind their back. This report identifies the immediate changes needed to unleash the energy and creativity that exists at a local level to begin rebuilding our economy and fixing our pushed-to-the-limit planet.”

Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist and Policy Director, Greenpeace UK said:

“To succeed in tackling the climate emergency we need action from both local and central government. Many sources of carbon emissions can only be tackled at a local level by creating things like cycle lanes, clean heating systems supplying multiple households, and green spaces. This is why it's vital that councils are given the money and the powers to make the changes needed so the UK can live up to its promises of cutting all carbon emissions in only a few decades' time.”

Dan Jones, Chair, LEDNet Network said:

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic local councils have shown they have a unique relationship with their communities which cannot be ignored in the fight against climate change. In London, empowering and resourcing communities to tackle issues such as poor air quality and congestion is vital to achieving our climate goals. This blueprint shows how central government and local councils can accelerate progress on meeting national carbon emissions targets and make a difference to the lives of millions of people by taking action to secure a green recovery and future for us all.”

Sharon Kemp, Solace Spokesperson for Environment & Climate Change and Chief Executive of Rotherham MBC said:

“The climate emergency is a global issue that requires a local response so councils must be given the powers and funding they need in order to deliver meaningful change across all of our communities. The themes and recommendations set out in this report offer a blueprint for how our commitment to tackling the climate emergency is not lost while we rebuild our communities in the wake of Covid-19. This is a priority for Solace. “As our sector plans for a future beyond Covid-19, it is vital that chief executives continue to engage closely with colleagues across local and central government to ensure a sustainable, climate-conscious recovery.”

Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London said:

"Various research studies, including by colleagues from Imperial College London, have shown the impacts of the COVID-19 and climate change crises fall disproportionately on BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] people – for example via exposure to higher levels of air pollution. Global warming is exacerbating such health, social and economic inequalities, so our recovery plans must be aligned with action to tackle climate change. Local authorities are uniquely placed to address all these challenges, but resources are stretched. It is now essential that they are provided with the power and means to fund the transition to a cleaner, greener, fairer future for all.”

Prof Sam Fankhauser, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, LSE and Principal Investigator, PCAN said:

“Covid 19 struck at a time of unprecedented, locally-driven climate action in all parts of the UK. As we recover from the pandemic. It is important to rekindle this momentum. A post-Covid recovery that is not geared towards net-zero would sow the seeds for the next crisis, and many of the interventions we need to pivot toward a zero-carbon economy will also boost the recovery.”