Councils must start to tackle climate change now

Local authorities must seriously begin to consider sustainable energy issues now and start tackling climate change, according to the Local Government Association.

Implementing regeneration schemes, which also address energy issues, would bring both social and environmental benefits to local communities, according to LGA environment board member Cllr Derek Bateman, speaking at a conference this week.

He said that as well as working to reduce carbon emissions, councils could actually save money, create more local employment and improve the local standard of health, particularly reducing cases of respiratory diseases such as asthma (see related story).

Despite this, the councillor was concerned that not enough local governments were pushing ahead with climate change issues, implementing effective programmes to reduce fuel poverty and promote sustainability in their local communities (see related story).

“Local authorities need to push these issues forward,” Cllr Bateman told delegates. “They need to get thinking, working and acting to tackle climate change issues.”

Signals from Brussels, such as the recent Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, will continue to encourage Member States to embrace more sustainable energy solutions, according to Andrew Warren, the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE).

Mr Warren said that it was encouraging that the Government had now raised their 16% target for reducing carbon emissions from buildings in the UK to 20%, which would amount to equivalent savings of around 5 million tonnes of carbon. Recent planning policies also encouraged developers to use more renewable energy (see related story).

“We are interested in achieving a genuine sustainable energy future and I am pleased that we have set ourselves back on that path,” he told the conference.

Now it was up to local authorities to start implementing measures for making energy savings, he said, by making changes such as improving local transport services and encouraging local residents to improve energy conservation and economy in their homes.

Vehicle fleets in the public sector should all now be energy efficient, he added, and incentives should be offered to help reduce the number of real “gas guzzling” cars on the road.

Brighton and Hove City Council are now running a variety of programmes to improve energy efficiency in homes, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and support businesses to become more environmentally aware, as well as encouraging developers to build more sustainable new buildings.

Council leader Ken Bodfish agreed that it was vital local authorities around the UK started to put climate change issues at the top of their agenda.

“Climate change is becoming a more immediate threat as CO2 levels are dangerously high and rising,” Mr Bodfish stated. “We must continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve opportunities to renewable energy generation, building a plan so that communities are aware of the risks of this perilous issue, and can work towards reducing them.”

Less enthusiastic or experienced councils must now look to the local authorities that already have successful schemes in place and use them as case studies, according to the LGA. Various pan-European and national databases are also now available to help authorities share ideas and suggestions with one another.

“Kyoto is now a reality and the process is absolutely cast. We will now have to move on to develop policies that deal with the threat of climate change,” Mr Warren pointed out. “The important thing is that we now begin to see evidence that local authorities are seeking to implement real changes.”

By Jane Kettle

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