CCC: UK councils struggling to deliver net-zero plans without direction from Government

No local councils in England believe their climate plans are fully aligned with UK-wide legally binding net-zero targets, and are looking to Whitehall for reforms to decarbonise their energy, buildings and transport on a budget.

CCC: UK councils struggling to deliver net-zero plans without direction from Government

That is according to new research commissioned by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and published today (19 July). The research was undertaken by the Town and Country Planning Association and Centre for Sustainable Energy, polling local authorities on their climate-related strategizing and delivery.

None of the local authorities said their local climate plan was fully aligned with net-zero by, or ahead of, the UK-wide 2050 deadline. Only 8% said their plan was ‘mostly aligned’, meaning that more than nine in ten are grappling with significant gaps.

The report authors argue that this is to be expected when the councils are not receiving clear signals and practical guidance from the central Government. The CCC’s recent progress report to Parliament concluded that the UK is not on track to achieving its 2050 goal and has strayed further from an affordable, well-managed transition in the past year.

Guidance needed

Carbon measurement was identified as a common shared challenge. Almost one-third (29%) of the local authorities polled said they did not know their local area’s baseline carbon emissions. Knowing the baseline is crucial to developing a meaningful, science-based plan to reduce emissions.A similar proportion said they did not know how to forecast the emissions impact of their planning.

Another challenge was confusion around the planning system. Only a small minority of councils have a defined target to increase renewable energy generation, largely because they have not yet identified suitable areas for wind or solar. Planning was even further behind for energy storage.

Councils also cited confusion over how best to drive down emissions from buildings – both in operations and in terms of embodied carbon – without clearer Government guidance.

On operations, the Future Homes Standard does provide mandatory climate considerations for new builds erected post-2025, such as energy efficiency and electric vehicle charging. But there is no single national retrofit scheme for homes, and schemes for businesses, council homes and public sector buildings have been described as a patchwork.

On embodied carbon, only a quarter of councils are even measuring emissions upstream in the building value chain, from things like materials and construction processes.

Planning reform

The Centre for Sustainable Energy’s senior planner Neil Best said: “The planning system has huge potential as a solution to complex challenges around climate change. However, this report reveals a glaring disparity between what is actually climate-conscious planning and what is actually being implemented now.

“The cause of this lies not with the intrinsic capability of the planning system, but in a series of defined legal, policy, skills and resource issues, many of which stem from a lack of clarity at the national level on the priority that should be placed on climate change.”

Planning reforms are in the pipeline under a collaborative project between the Government and the National Infrastructure Commission. However, the focus to date has been on large pieces of critical infrastructure, such as new energy generation assets and water infrastructure.

We are also still awaiting a new Land Use Strategy from the Government. This will outline how the UK will balance demands for additional land for housebuilding with setting land aside for food production, fuel production, nature conservation and restoration, renewable energy and more.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie