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Local authorities hold key to addressing climate crisis

Words: Laura Edgar
Net zero / iStock-1175017795

A coalition of local government, environmental and research organisations have called for urgent powers and resources for local authorities so that they can help to address the climate crisis.

The call comes ahead of the government’s net-zero strategy.

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 all want local authorities to be recognised as key partners in the strategy.

The government should adopt four key priorities to ensure the success of the net-zero strategy:

  • 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 time frames and sufficient support to deliver at both pace and scale.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Their report, 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. To do this however, the government must back local authorities.

The coalition acknowledges that there have been reductions in carbon emissions by the power sector, in particular, but sets out that the government must now focus on the housing and transport sectors.

The coalition says tackling these requires behavioural change as well as the delivery of low-carbon solutions, which is why local government is “best placed to influence due to having a closer relationship with local communities”.

Local authorities have control over a number sectors, such as transport planning, waste management, economic regeneration, land use planning and regulation of energy efficiency standards. In some of these areas, such as planning, national policy and regulations “can hinder not help” local climate action, said the coalition.

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 per cent of an individual council’s carbon footprint. But in some of these areas – like planning – national policy and regulations can hinder rather than help local climate action.

Empowering local authorities is not a “nice to have”, the coalition maintains, but is essential to several government priorities such as decarbonisation, levelling up, reducing inequality, health and wellbeing and delivering a green economic recovery.

Paula Hewitt, president of ADEPT, 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 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.”

Image credit | iStock