UK’s net-zero progress ‘too city-focused’, councils warn

A group of 36 county councils has called on the UK Government to provide more funding that enables areas outside of cities to reach net-zero emissions, warning the decarbonisation across key areas such as buildings and transport is slowing in these regions.

UK’s net-zero progress ‘too city-focused’, councils warn

The Network argues that cities have received “a disproportionate amount of funds for climate action”

The new warnings come from the County Councils Network (CCN), which is made up of all 23 county councils in England and 13 county unitary authorities. The CCN claims that efforts to reach net-zero by mid-century could be undermined if it continues to primarily focus on urban decarbonisation.

The CCN warns that emissions in England’s rural areas have decreased to their slowest rates since 2005 and more policies are required to accelerate carbon reductions. The 36 areas in CCN membership have reduced their carbon emissions by 30% between 2005 and 2020, compared to 39% for England’s largest cities and London, and 37% for urban areas in the rest of the country.

The Network argues that cities have received “a disproportionate amount of funds for climate action”, even though England’s eight largest cities (excluding London) would take more than seven years to create the same level of emissions in one year in counties.

CCN’s climate change spokesperson Cllr Sam Corcoran said: “To date, the government has disproportionately focused on the cities, and it has not adequately considered the specific issues in England’s rural and county areas. Our emissions are decreasing at a slower rate than anywhere else, and there is a real risk the government undermines its own net-zero target unless county areas receive funding that addresses the size of the challenge they face.

“It would be counterproductive to the country’s climate change efforts that funding should be taken from those areas and given to counties – instead the total pot should be increased. County areas can be proud of what they have achieved so far, but net-zero cannot be achieved on a shoestring. This report makes some key recommendations on how government can better define and equip councils to accelerate their efforts.”  

Specific challenges

The CCN warns that existing funding from the Government is insufficient to deliver nationwide decarbonisation. Council leaders are concerned that they will have their ability to ignite changes “seriously undermined” unless funding is ramped up.

Separate research from WWF also notes that committed spending from the Government is well below the required rates in order to meet its legally binding net-zero emissions target set for 2050.

The Climate Change Committee estimates that approximately 1% of GDP annually is required to help deliver the net-zero transition. However, WWF’s research warns that so far, policies add up to just 0.01% of GDP.

Councils claim they have specific issues that differ from urban efforts to decarbonise. More residents are reliant on cars, for example, as there are fewer public transport options. Indeed, transport emissions from counties have fallen by 5% compared to 10% for the rest of the country and just 38% of electric vehicle (EV) registrations occur in these areas, despite them being the home of almost half of England’s population.

Analysis from the IPPR, meeting net-zero should create universal access to public transport for all rural areas and a principle rule that everyday needs be accessible within a 20-minute walk, cycle or public transport trip. The IPPR estimates that investment in walking and cycling during this Parliament should be at least £6bn.

A recent poll of councillors also revealed that 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.

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.

Matt Mace

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