Give UK local authorities new powers to accelerate net-zero transition, Mayors urge Government

More than 30 mayors and council leaders from across the UK have co-signed a new communique urging the Government to grant them additional funding and powers to transition to net-zero across sectors including energy, transport and the built environment.

Give UK local authorities new powers to accelerate net-zero transition, Mayors urge Government

Pictured: Chamberlain Square in Birmingham. Mayor Andy Street is one of the communique's 32 signatories. 

Convened by UK100 and published today (13 July), the communique argues the case for a new ‘Net Zero Local Powers Bill’ that would require local authorities to report on their emissions and would provide them with new powers to roll out projects designed to reduce emissions in line with net-zero.

The document points to the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recent estimation that UK councils will be able to influence one-third of the emissions generated in their local areas through partnerships and place-shaping, arguing that local authorities will need more support to achieve this. It also argues that members of the general public typically trust their local council more than the central Government, meaning that new powers could boost public support for the net-zero transition.

A Net Zero Local Powers Bill, the communique stipulates, should “permit, oblige and resource relevant levels of authority to undertake climate change action to satisfy the Climate Change Act, meet carbon budgets and deliver an effective pathway to net-zero”. Focus areas include unified emissions reporting and better cross-departmental alignment across Whitehall.

Beyond this overarching call to action, there is a specific focus on decarbonising buildings, energy and transport, as these are the major sources of emissions for most councils.

Issues that councils are striving to grapple with include expanding electric vehicle (EV) charging networks and ensuring they are affordable to access; scaling up energy innovation zones and retrofitting existing buildings with energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies in mind.

To this latter point, UK100 is calling for a long-term plan that delivers on the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto commitment of £9bn for improved building energy efficiency. While the £1bn Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme is running as planned, the Green Homes Grant, which was initially allocated a £2bn pot, issued less than £200m in vouchers before its premature closure.

“It is cities and local leaders that are pushing to not only address the climate emergency; but reshape our economy to put people and the sustainability of their jobs, homes and communities first,” Glasgow City Council leader Cllr Susan Aitken said. “We’re happy to play that role but, to succeed, we need the right tools – powers and resources that, right now, are held too far away from where they can be effective.”

The CCC’s recent annual progress report to Parliament stated that the Government has “no coherent plans” for reducing the nation’s emissions this decade. Buildings and transport were flagged as sectors suffering from policy gaps.  

Nature and finance

Also included in the communique are measures to properly finance local transitions to net-zero and to scale up nature-based solutions.

On the former, signatories are urging the Treasury to add a mandate for the new National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) that would require it to prioritise local investment. The communique states: “The NIB will have the capacity to work with local, city and regional authorities to develop investable proposals for place-based net-zero projects and programmes; it should provide development capital and leverage additional private investment to kick-start local energy schemes that are at too early a stage for private finance”.

On nature-based solutions, the communique calls for “progressive incentives and investment models” to scale up projects, as well as “the appropriate resourcing” of the Local Nature Recovery Strategies championed through the Environment Bill. It also echoes concerns voiced by nature charities over the “weak wording” of a commitment to reverse the decline of species and habitats this decade, calling for assurances that the finalised Bill will go beyond simply slowing the decline.

The Environment Bill is currently progressing through the House of Lords. 

Sarah George

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