Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Back Local Climate Action: further information

Find out more about why we're asking Government to back local climate action.

Why local climate action?

Government must empower local climate action that can hit targets, mobilise support, and save taxpayers hundreds of billions. It can do this by:

  1. Accelerating local climate action on ten missions: public trust, adaptation, social and fuel poor homes, public buildings, local energy generation and use, whole place transport, jobs and growth, the natural world, placemaking, and finance.
  2. Putting in place a national climate action framework with policy, regulatory, and investment certainty up to 2050, with set milestones and a clear role and the core funding for councils leading local climate action.
  3. Translating missions to reality through local climate action agreements underpinned by multi-year place-based funding allocations, reviewed, and adapted across the several spending review periods up to 2050.
  4. Introducing a local climate action test ensuring all government policy and funding decisions – from housing to skills - contribute to local climate action.
  5. Building capability and capacity in councils by working with councils and the LGA on the comprehensive support helping all councils lead, innovate and act on climate change.

Decorative banner

The opportunity

Local climate action is real world delivery

Climate change is creating a new era of opportunity, as the mission for safeguarding a habitable future brings about the best in innovation and creativity. Countries and companies are scrambling to lead the greatest growth opportunity since the industrial revolution.

Human ingenuity has created technologies that harness abundant, free, clean energy within the wind, water, and sun to power every aspect of our way of life. Technology will continue to get better and cheaper. But having technology is one thing, deploying it everywhere is another. On this councils are critical.

National action is essential in setting the framework and taking the big decisions. But the complexity of transition in our 51 cities, 935 towns and 6,000 villages cannot be managed from a Whitehall desk. The transition will be different in each place, for instance:

  • How we move about – densely populated cities can support walking, cycling and public transport but face EV charging barriers; rural areas often allow for charging at home, but have public transport challenges.
  • How we heat homes and water – no street is the same; mixing tenure, ability to pay, and more. Houses more suited to heat pumps can have retrofit challenges, while tower blocks might need district heating schemes.
  • How we generate and connect to power – every neighbourhood holds a unique mix of local energy opportunity from water, wind, solar, and secondary sources from sewer systems to underground trains to data centres.

Only councils working locally with partners can embed and connect this creativity and ingenuity into the everyday lives of people in the real world. 

Decorative banner

The challenge

Net zero has momentum. But climate action requires a programme management approach of the type that built Crossrail, with the clarity and support for public engagement that existed for much of the covid-19 pandemic.

Every sector is united in its call for clarity, certainty, and a long-term plan up to 2050. But currently our approach is fragmented and uncertain. Around 60 percent of UK emissions still require a tangible decarbonisation plan.

For councils, it is unclear how their effort fits into a national plan. They receive no core funding for climate activity, instead, against a backdrop of spending cuts councils are forced into competing for small pots from a labyrinth of schemes that come and go over time.

Take heat networks for instance, there are four schemes. For retrofitting homes and buildings, there are six schemes. For decarbonising transport, there are nine schemes.

For woodland and trees, there are eight schemes.

The model has not worked. Too many centrally controlled programmes remain underspent and underwhelming. Some interventions even contradict others, for instance spending on social housing decarbonisation fund undermined by cuts via the social housing rent cap.

The approach burdens councils. It fuels uncertainty, and reduces flexibility, many places getting no funding at all. Crucially it is an unattractive context to private finance. 

Decorative banner

The offer

The offer from councils is enormous, as leaders, enablers, conveners, asset holders, service deliverers, and problem solvers. Councils have direct influence over a third of emissions from an area, some impact on over 80 per cent, and are leading some of the most innovative and transformative projects in the world.

But it is only the start. Empowered local action would be game-changing, for instance:

Local climate action is more efficient and more profitable. Innovate UK found targeted local action is more efficient at deploying technologies and leading behaviour change.

In modelling interventions in heat, buildings, and travel, they concluded local action would hit net zero by 2050 while saving taxpayers around £140 billion when compared to national approaches and returning an additional £400 billion in wider co-benefits.

A finding reflected by relative success of more local schemes; the Green Homes Grant local authority delivery scheme achieved more than the national voucher scheme.

Accelerating net zero delivery, Innovate UK/ PwC, 2022 National Model Devolved Model
Total investment needed to deliver net zero by 2050 £195 billion £58 billion
Total financial returns from delivering net zero by 2050 £444 billion £825 billion


Local climate action is targeted to drive growth. All businesses, all households, everyone will need to take climate action. For the benefit of all, the public sector should target public effort to enable private markets. The national economy exists as a network of local economies, councils can target local action to:

Build local skills supply chains, pump priming market growth through targeting public investment in retrofitting social homes and public buildings Attract private finance by building a pipeline of energy, housing and transport projects with the scale and returns to crowd in private capital, such as tested by 3ci. Create confidence by signalling the technical solutions and infrastructure needs for different neighbourhoods, for instance through local area energy planning Enable consumer demand by supporting communities through advice, protections, collective purchasing (like solar together), to help people take their own climate action

Local climate action delivers win-win-wins. Councils are community champions rooted in their places, delivering over 800 services. They are uniquely able to target climate action to bring co-benefits to the public’s greatest concerns. They can target climate action to:

  • Build public trust and inclusivity into the projects that people see where they live and work, and providing infrastructure supporting behaviour change.
  • Raise housing standards, lower energy costs, attract green growth, protect the environment, reduce travel congestion, connect talent to jobs, and so on. 
  • Enable a just transition, promoting health, well-being, and financial security for all Unite climate mitigation and adaptation action in everything.

Decorative banner

The asks

National and local government should work to accelerate local climate action on 10 missions. This includes to:

Build public trust and inclusivity. Step up engagement on the community benefit of climate action, national clarity reinforced locally by programmes building trust, providing advice, confidence, and street-by-street help for households climate action journey.

Rapidly retrofit social and fuel poor homes. Bring forward all funding for retrofitting social and fuel poor homes, devolving the majority to councils to accelerate retrofit homes with purpose of pump-priming markets, hit fuel poverty targets, and reducing public spending.

One public estate retrofit. Bring forward investments into whole-place retrofitting of local public buildings – councils, schools, hospitals – into single scaled programmes, and in a way that helps stimulate market for commercial properties, from hotels to business parks.

Local energy revolution. Establish a pipeline of projects for local energy generation, capture and use – local grids - with councils; and bring about cooperation between councils and electricity system to target larger grid infrastructure investments.

Electric and people powered transport. Bring about a whole-place transport by devolving to councils the means to locally mix active travel, electric vehicles, and public transport. Support councils wanting demand management schemes such as workplace parking levy.

Grow the natural world everywhere. Ask all policy and programmes to protect and grow biodiversity, not just planning. Empower councils to drive nature recovery, anchoring local nature recovery strategies to shape and connect all public environment spending in places.

Place-making to reduce emissions and raise adaptation. Expand the Future Homes Standard into place-making on climate action – such as canopy cover, water efficiency, green infrastructure. Remove the viability loophole so councils can enforce higher standards.

Jobs, opportunity, workforce. Enable councils to link skills, careers advice and employment interventions with national reform and local climate action and job creation. Move now to grow qualification and skills needed across the workforce, including in councils.

Funding and finance. Reform public funding for local climate action, first by providing long-term core funding certainty to councils, and wider place-based allocations that focus on accelerating change, adding value, and enabling private and blended finance models.

Accelerating local adaptation. Prioritise adaptation alongside net zero in everything. Mobilise a five-year local adaptation accelerator programme, enabling councils to lay the foundations for long-term adaptation safeguarding people and places.

Decorative banner

The process

Clarity of purpose must be matched by clarity of process because different places are at different starting points, with different strengths, opportunities, and barriers. 

Central and local government should agree a way forward that gives every council what it needs to build on its own strengths today, to accelerate climate action everywhere into the future.  

There are less than ten spending reviews until 2050. A process centred around the spending review milestones should start as soon as possible. There are different ways to approach this, one option is given below:

National framework backing local action. Climate action is dependent on coordination of interventions at all levels. An approach should include:

  • empowering local climate action within a single national framework providing clarity on roles and responsibilities between local and national government over time
  • adequate and stable core funding for all councils to take forward climate action across their own services 
  • a local climate ‘test’ applied to all government decisions – from housing to skills - that guarantees support, rather than conflict, with local climate action
  • duties on public sector partners and relevant regulated private sector partners, such as utilities companies, to cooperate with local climate action
  • supporting delivery by pooling resource, capacity, and technical expertise, and creating comprehensive sector-led support offer with the LGA.

Local climate action accelerator agreements. Within a national framework the government should strike accelerator agreements with every council – or group of councils - as soon as possible, and no later than April 2025. They would each be unique, but should all:

  • accelerate local action on priorities determined by councils, building on existing experience and strengths
  • provide multi-year place-based funding allocations underpinning action with certainty for longer-term and explore fiscal freedoms
  • agree ambitious but deliverable outcomes, with a focus on maximising impact and flexibility for councils in how they are met
  • develop every council’s own capability and capability to lead action across all issues.

Local climate action agreements. Within the national framework, the government should then expand on accelerator agreements with wide-ranging deals with every council – or group of councils – as soon as areas are ready and no later than April 2030. They would each be unique, but should all:

  • deliver climate action across all key mission areas within an area, as determined by councils
  • provide multi-year place-based funding allocations with signals for longer-term commitments and appropriate fiscal freedoms
  • aggregate projects into programmes to pool resources and attract private investment
  • enter a process of regular review, refunding, and adaptation at every spending review up to 2050.

Decorative banner