Local authorities ‘need more government support to deliver net-zero visions’

Pictured: Leeds. Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency in March 2019

The think-tank’s latest report, released today (4 December), reveals that the support offered for local authorities at last week’s spending review is nowhere near the level of funding that has been cut in recent years. Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed a £4bn levelling up scheme, among other supports, but revenues available to councils from the Government are down 18% in total or 24% compared to a decade ago.

Given that transport is the UK’s most-emitting sector, and that the built environment accounts for more than one-third of annual national energy consumption, the report urges central government to give councils both more ‘teeth’ and more funding to achieve deep decarbonisation. It also recommends that central government offers assistance with mapping emissions, as many councils will not have the in-house expertise to do so.

Aside from funding, Green Alliance sees skills as a major barrier to regional net-zero transitions. Some of the less well-resourced councils interviewed told the organisation that they struggle to win funding bids relevant to climate action because they do not have in-house sustainability or carbon experts and are not able to hire consultants. Interviewees also expressed concerns about their local skills pipeline for sectors like retrofitting, low-carbon mobility and renewable energy.

Overall, the report calls for ministers to ensure that the Devolution White Paper, due out next year, provides the foundations for a “joint approach” to the net-zero transition between the central government and local councils. The Paper should confirm more funding and greater devolved powers for local authorities looking to decarbonise faster than the nation, it recommends. This would have a social benefit as well as a climate benefit, the report argues, as the UK public typically trust their local council more than the central government.

Green Alliance is also keen to see a “more strategic” approach to the green skills pipeline. Following pressure from business groups and NGOs, the UK Government recently launched a Green Jobs Taskforce to help unemployed people and those in transitioning industries into new, skilled jobs. But the think-tank points to a historic lack of support for apprenticeships and those looking to reskill mid-career, and the need for a longer-term overarching plan. 

“The government is missing a trick when it comes to working with local authorities on climate-related issues,” Green Alliance policy adviser Philippa Borrowman summarised.

“Councils are close to the people, businesses and environments which they serve and our interviews have revealed just how passionate they are to address the climate emergency and do the best for their communities.”

Global and local

In related news, CDP and the Climate Group have this week published analysis of the 121 states and regions disclosing their climate and environmental data through CDP in 2020 – which has been a record year for disclosure, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The analysis revealed that 18 of the states and regions have formally set net-zero targets. Collectively, they have annual emissions equivalent to those of Brazil.

A further 21 have set long-term emissions reductions targets of between 75% and 90%. As such, they are primed to go one step further and announce net-zero targets in the near future.

Overall, more than half of the cities and regions have climate goals more ambitious than their respective national government. The Climate Group and the CDP believe, therefore, that national governments could be missing the opportunity to collaborate with them to share best-practice learnings.

“States and regions are again showing what can be achieved for our climate with a combination of ambition and political will,” the Climate Group’s director of the Under2 Coalition, Tim Ash Vie, said. “From strong emissions targets, to an increase in renewable energy and concrete steps on climate mitigation, we are seeing a real commitment to change. 

“But, of course, we need much, much more to stop the worst effects of climate change. This is the decade when we must collectively take action, and faster than ever before.”

Sarah George

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