William Eichler 13 April 2022

Inspiring local councils to take further action on net zero

Inspiring local councils to take further action on net zero image
Image: J.M. Image Factory / Shutterstock.com

Most local authorities have declared a climate emergency and an estimated 85% have formulated climate action plans. ‘Decarbonisation’ is the buzzword of the moment. In reality, however, the journey to net zero is a mixed picture. As a recent report by the climate charities Friends of the Earth and Ashden put it ‘the quality and scale of ambition still varies greatly.’

Sandra Bell, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, spoke to LocalGov about how councils are tackling the climate emergency, what success stories there have been, and what the barriers are to making progress. A lot of councils are doing well, she points out, but there is a long way to go. ‘It’s great that most councils now have a climate action plan, but the real test is to put those plans into action and fully implement them.’

Many councils are coming up with innovative schemes. Friends of the Earth and Ashden have collected 40 new case studies celebrating local authority action on climate change. These examples of best practice cover areas such as nature restoration, energy efficiency, and transport. Wirral Council, for example, has adopted an ambitious tree strategy to protect existing trees and plant 210,000 by 2030. Waltham Forest Council has almost fulfilled its target to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels within five years. ‘We’re really hoping that will inspire other councils to start to act now because really we can’t afford to have councils delaying action,’ Ms Bell says.

Ms Bell is conscious that this is easier said than done. Local authorities are after all operating within a difficult environment. ‘After years and years of cuts to their budgets, and then on top of that dealing with the pandemic, we know that councils are struggling,’ she says. Local authorities need greater resources and more power needs to be devolved from central Government. But a lot can be done in the meantime.

On the question of finance, many local authorities have come up with innovative schemes to finance carbon saving initiatives. Warrington Borough Council, for example, has raised money from local climate bonds for low-carbon infrastructure. Bonds are issued by the council to members of the public, who can invest as little as £5 and get regular return payments on their investment. The local authority can then use these funds to deliver low carbon infrastructure and projects. A lot of councils have also been good at tapping into Government grants which have been put in place to support their net zero efforts.

While she applauds local innovation, Ms Bell argues that it is no substitute for a more comprehensive approach to helping local government reduce its carbon footprint. She warns that there are too many different funding pots that councils have to compete for. 'There’s such a plethora of different pots of funding and councils have had to invest quite a lot in terms of staff resources to benefit from those pots of money which are in the form of competitive grants. That’s quite a barrier to action.’ The Government needs to make more funding available over a longer period – and it has to be easy to access. ‘These case studies show there are some brilliant schemes going on but we need that 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.’

The policy framework that councils are operating in is also a problem. Ms Bell uses planning as an example. ‘The national planning policy framework is simply not strong enough in terms of supporting renewable energy but also making sure that high carbon developments are not allowed, whether that’s fossil fuel extraction or housing in places that are not accessible by walking or cycling or public transport.’

Some councils are being bold. Stroud, for example, has allocated space in its Local Plan for renewable energy. Reading Borough Council is also using planning to ensure new homes are built to zero-carbon standards. But again failure at the national level is holding back change on a mass scale, Ms Bell argues. ‘Some councils are being bold enough to really put strong policies in their local plans but others are still wary about that. National changes would mean that we could see more of the good practice that we’re seeing from the councils in our case studies.’

While many local authorities are innovative – as these case studies demonstrate – the Government needs to lead the way. It also needs to devolve more power to the local level. As Ms Bell concludes: ‘They need to keep up the fight for more powers and resources.’

SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Travel Information Data Technician

Essex County Council
Up to £25581 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity to work across all aspects of the Integrated Passenger Transport Unit (IPTU). Working with a passionate and dedicated England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Planning Strategy & Implementation Manager

Essex County Council
£57621 - £61410 per annum
Planning Strategy & Implementation Manager Permanent, Full Time £57,621 to £61,410 per annum Location
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Senior Accountant

Telford & Wrekin Council
£39,571 - £42,614
Are you a qualified Accountant looking to take the next step in your career? Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Family Assessment Worker

Telford & Wrekin Council
£25,419 to £27,514
We have a great opportunity for a full time Family Assessment Worker in the Parenting Assessment Team. Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Neighbourhood Enforcement Officer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£23,023 - £24,920
The post holder will tackle environmental crimes and unlawful parking. Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Partner Content

Circular highways is a necessity not an aspiration – and it’s within our grasp

Shell is helping power the journey towards a circular paving industry with Shell Bitumen LT R, a new product for roads that uses plastics destined for landfill as part of the additives to make the bitumen.

Support from Effective Energy Group for Local Authorities to Deliver £430m Sustainable Warmth Funded Energy Efficiency Projects

Effective Energy Group is now offering its support to the 40 Local Authorities who have received a share of the £430m to deliver their projects on the ground by surveying properties and installing measures.

Pay.UK – the next step in Bacs’ evolution

Dougie Belmore explains how one of the main interfaces between you and Bacs is about to change.