Councils not confident of reaching net-zero commitments

More than a third of councils in the UK are not confident that they'll be able to meet public commitments to reaching net-zero emissions, with a "black hole" of data hindering efforts on energy efficiency plans.

Councils not confident of reaching net-zero commitments

A poll of 1,061 UK councillors, carried out in November 2020, by the independent non-profit Icebreaker One found that 36% are not confident that their council will meet public commitments to net-zero emissions.

In total, 89% of respondents had a net-zero target ambition in place, but more than one-third felt they did not have sufficient data and information to set out detailed and informed roadmaps to net-zero. Respondents cited a lack of data on retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient as a key barrier to net-zero, despite the Government launching a £65bn investment framework into the sector.

Icebreaker One’s founder Gavin Starks said: “Councils who want to deliver net zero and reboot the economy are struggling with a data black hole that makes it close to impossible to make decisions. We need to kick-start the post-Covid-19 economy, but net zero targets can’t get trampled in the rush to rebuild. Giving councils access to the right data means they can gain insights to do both. 

 “We’ll only reach net zero and rebuild local economies after Covid-19 if councils make bold decisions that create jobs and cut emissions. Looking at these numbers, no-one would envy councillors forced to make once-in-a-generation decisions with so little useful data to hand.” 

Net-zero aspirations

The news comes just weeks after it was revealed that English and Scottish local authorities representing one-third of the population have committed to reaching net-zero community emissions by 2045.

The commitment has been made as part of a new initiative coordinated by UK100. It requires local authorities to reach net-zero for their own direct emissions by 2030 and to deliver net-zero towns, cities or regions by 2045.

Cities including Edinburgh, Leeds, Leicester, Oxford, London, Bath, Bristol, Plymouth Newcastle and Nottingham have signed up, as well as the local authorities representing Cornwall, the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire and the West Midlands. In total, more than 100 local leaders are backing the initiative – mainly council leaders and mayors.

Many of the participants already have ambitions equivalent to, or more ambitious than, UK100’s requirements.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan brought the Greater London Authority’s net-zero deadline forward from 2050 to 2035 this year, for example. Nottingham City Council is targeting net-zero for its own operations by 2028. For Manchester, the aim is net-zero for the city-region by 2038. Bristol and Newcastle are both striving for net-zero communities within a decade.

And, just last week, Oxford City Council announced that it has helped the city-region to reduce absolute emissions by 40% since 2005, putting it on track to meet its own 2030 climate targets.

Cost appears to be the major barrier to pushing any national target forward, however. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has repeatedly claimed that it would recommend an earlier deadline if it believed this was feasible and desirable in terms of technology, the economy and politics. CCC Chief Chris Stark had previously claimed that meeting a 2045 deadline would be highly costly and could negatively impact other environmental issues like biodiversity.

But the Committee last week updated its cost forecasts for net-zero as part of its Sixth Carbon Budget recommendations. The CCC had previously forecast costs of between 1% and 2% of GDP but has adjusted calculations to 0.5% to 1%, in light of cost reductions in sectors like offshore wind.

Matt Mace

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