Get it right first time
In the 1998 film Sliding Doors, the same scenario is played out twice, but with two completely different endings, dependent on how each scene develops – in that case, actress Gwyneth Paltrow missing the Tube home as the sliding doors close.
A similar analogy could be used for climate change, and the role of local government. We start with the first scenario. It is summer 2009, and local authorities are being slow to react to new climate change requirements and remain distracted by other pressing commitments, such as efficiency savings, housing and the economy.
They do not prepare fully enough for the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) in 2010, and struggle with the compilation of the necessary data for their carbon footprints.
This leads to all local authorities being in the bottom quartile of the league table for CRC, and financially penalised by the Environment Agency.
Damaged reputations follow, and a lack of credibility in an agenda of growing importance.
But the CRC is only a small part of the wider climate change/sustainability agenda. As well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions, local authorities fail to invest in new technologies for energy generation from renewable sources, and miss opportunities for economic development and job creation.
They do not capitalise on the key partnerships and alliances on offer across both the public and private sectors. Chances to work together, make genuine efficiency improvements and drive a recovery from a deep recession are missed.
Then the picture reverts to summer 2009 again. This time, the local authority community is alive to the importance of the challenge. The CRC proves a spur for action with a wider climate change significance, and automatic meter-reading (AMR) improvements lead to effective ‘real-time’ data on energy use, which can be used as a springboard for improvements.
Achieving the Carbon Trust Standard also demonstrates a lasting commitment to generating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Good performance in the CRC avoids financial penalties, but also inspires local authorities to lead the way in this growing area of government policy. The CRC helps local authorities to lead by example, through improvements to their buildings and other assets, and re-engineering their services to reduce CO2.
The parallel focus on energy generation leads to schemes involving wind, solar, hydro and biomass power; CHP and district heating projects. The latter encourage joint working with other public bodies – health, education, quangos – and further enhance the Total Place concept.
By recognising the powerful driver that this agenda can be for job creation, local authorities create centres of excellence for new technological development; partnerships with universities and the academic sector; link with commerce and industry to help develop expertise in these new areas; promote growth in the local economy; and improve the financial position of the authorities directly, all at the same time.
In climate change, the term ‘tipping point’ is probably overused. We often hear that the world has reached such a point in its greenhouse gas emissions. But 2009 is indeed a tipping point for local government and its grip on the new climate change agenda.
Fail to act now, and the moment will be lost, leading to the other ending, marginalisation and obscurity. Those who do embrace this now will be at the centre of the hub, and held out as exemplars for years to come, reaping a number of benefits.
It is for this reason that I have agreed to join Cornwall Council – a new unitary authority created in 2009 – on secondment, in order to lead its green agenda. These are exciting times and there is much to do.
The infrastructure on which the climate change solutions rest will be built over the next couple of years by local authorities, in-house. And I want to play a part in that work.
Local authorities need to focus on the twin themes of carbon dioxide reduction and energy generation from renewable sources, but against a backcloth of wider sustainability.
They must develop credible, holistic plans considering the full extent of their aspirations on climate change and what can realistically be achieved.
Such plans must recognise the work already going on, and the other objectives of local authorities, and try and achieve harmony and alignment with other policy areas such as the LAA and Total Place.
I think climate change issues will, in future, assume a far greater importance generally, perhaps aspiring to a position similar to VFM – with every future decision in local government being taken in the light of the effect on the council’s carbon footprint.
This is too good an opportunity to miss, and Cornwall is the ideal place for rapid progress. It already has extensive experience in a range of green activities, and is fully committed to pushing forward this agenda.
I am, therefore, very much looking forward to being part of the team securing the right ending for local government.
Stephen Cirell is a partner with Eversheds and joins Cornwall on a year-long secondment as programme director for the Green Peninsula.
I look forward to working with Stephen in Cornwall. Individual and corporate behavioural change is the most difficult issue to overcome. Minimising use of resources whilst improving/maintaining quailty of life is the next step;generating energy from renewables (owned by the people of Cornwall - otherwise there is no economic benefit locally); producing more food; securing water supply;providing affordable homes and jobs will result in greater local economic resilience, be it hamlet or town.Bill Holliday, Rural Renaissance Advisor, Cornwall Council, Added: Tuesday, 18 August 2009 12:03 PM
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