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Government must recognise the key role of local authorities in tackling climate crisis, says coalition

1 July 2021

Ahead of the publication of the government’s Net Zero Strategy, which sets out where carbon emissions savings will be made, a coalition of local government, environmental and research organisations have called for urgent powers and resources for local authorities.

Recognising local authorities as key partners in the Net Zero Strategy sets out how local authorities have developed plans and can rapidly scale up actions to meet climate targets, but only if they are supported by government. The coalition believes that the Net Zero Strategy must include a clear commitment to a mutually agreed central framework.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), Ashden, Friends of the Earth, Grantham Institute at Imperial College, Green Alliance, Greenpeace UK, London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet), Place-Based Climate Action Network (PCAN) and Solace are seeking recognition of local government as key partners in achieving net zero. The paper is supported by the Local Government Association and London Councils.

The coalition recognises that significant reductions in carbon emissions have been made by the power sector, in particular, but argues that government must now focus on sectors such as housing and transport which are far harder to decarbonise. Tackling these requires behavioural change as well as the delivery of low carbon solutions, which is why the coalition is advocating that local government is best placed to influence due to having a closer relationship with local communities.

Local authorities also have control over key sectors in the push to decarbonise. Transport planning, waste management, economic regeneration, land use planning and regulation of energy efficiency standards are all managed by local government. They also have huge influence over emissions through their procurement, which was worth at least £63 billion in 2019/20 and accounts for 70-80% of an individual council’s carbon footprint. But in some of these areas – like planning - national policy and regulations can hinder not help local climate action.

The coalition says that empowering local authorities is not a ‘nice to have’, but essential not just in decarbonisation, but also in contributing to other government priorities, including levelling up, reducing inequality, health and wellbeing, and delivering a green economic recovery.

The organisations have called on the government to adopt four key priorities to ensure the success of the Net Zero Strategy:

  1. A clear commitment to a mutually agreed central framework to embed local authorities as delivery partners in decarbonisation policies. Local government needs long-term, stable funding, realistic timeframes and sufficient support to deliver at both pace and scale.
  2. A clear message that a place-based solution is the best approach for several sectors to ensure that local infrastructure, behaviour and partnership activities are aligned to net zero. National policies will only be delivered when supported by local decision making and behavioural changes.
  3. A cross-departmental approach to working with local authorities. The current siloed approach is a continuous struggle for local authorities and without a collaborative approach, there is a risk that national net zero goals will not be met. Any contradictions in policies and funding programmes must be removed. 
  4. Acknowledgement of the wider co-benefits of delivering on decarbonisation policies, and how local authorities can support these in a way that will also deliver better public health, reduce inequalities, restore nature and build thriving local economies.

Paula Hewitt, ADEPT President said: “The government will not meet its targets without the work of local authorities, and we want to ensure the transition to a low carbon society is just. As leaders in our areas, we bring together partnerships from across different sectors, as well as our communities, businesses, suppliers, strategic bodies and the voluntary sector. No-one else has the reach, the levels of trust or ability to provide the targeted support that will encourage and enable behavioural change. We have already started this work as our case studies show. What we need now is the recognition and resource to go further, faster.”

Harriet Lamb, CEO, Ashden said: "Local authorities have demonstrated the ambition and delivery capabilities to act on net zero - whether it's Enfield's innovative shared ground loop array heat pump system that is slashing energy bills for residents in 400 homes, or Cambridgeshire's major investment programme in large-scale renewables.  With consistent long-term national policy and a coordinated approach across government, local councils can work alongside their communities to take bold climate action, and deliver wider benefits such as warmer homes, better health and secure green jobs."

Sandra Bell, Senior Sustainability Analyst, Friends of the Earth said: “The government’s own targets for cutting carbon won’t be met without action at the local level.  Councils are also best placed to ensure that no one is left behind as we transition to a low carbon future.  But even the most ambitious councils are being hampered by the lack of strategic long term funding and national policies that too often hamper rather than help them deliver on their local climate action plans.  With the right powers and resources councils can help to make sure that everyone benefits from a safer climate, comfortable homes, good quality green jobs, and better access to nature”.

Philippa Borrowman, policy adviser at Green Alliance, said: “Insulating the nations’ homes and switching at scale to clean public transport can’t be achieved unless the government works hand in hand with local authorities. The upcoming Net Zero Strategy should set out how the government can support local leaders to deliver a green recovery that benefits communities and businesses across the country.”

Victoria Lawson, Chair, London Environment Directors’ Network said: “Covid-19 pandemic showed how important local action is and how rapidly local authorities can respond to major challenges. For the climate crisis, the role of local authorities and their relationship with local communities is vital and we have the opportunity to galvanise our communities to respond to the climate challenges ahead.  We have demonstrated our collective ambition to respond to the climate emergency and it is important we are given the opportunities to deliver change for our communities.”