Newham Council's Just Transition Plan

Newham Council launched the UK’s first Just Transition Plan to support its local net zero targets. The plan shifts focus from a purely decarbonisation approach to a wider stance embedding core principles of increasing equity for residents and adapting to the worsening impacts of climate change.

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Newham Council launched the UK’s first Just Transition Plan to support its local net zero targets. The plan shifts focus from a purely decarbonisation approach to a wider stance embedding core principles of increasing equity for residents and adapting to the worsening impacts of climate change. The result comes as a collaborative effort from internal and external stakeholders, in partnership with global sustainability consultants Dark Matter Labs and ARUP.

The challenge

In July 2021, Newham was hit by heavy, torrential rain that flooded more than half the borough. 22 areas of Newham had multi-day road closures with hospitals unable to accept A&E patients due to being left underwater. The recent increase in extreme weathers have led to around 3,000 deaths across the UK. Amongst these, people of colour and those from low socio-economic backgrounds were the ones most affected due to deep inequalities embedded in our systems. Newham represents one of the UK’s most ethnically diverse and young boroughs putting it at a unique intersection of climate and socioeconomic risks for any UK local authority. These events highlighted the urgent need of addressing the climate emergency whilst taking into account residents’ critical needs, improving their lived experiences, and preparing for the extreme weathers that are already here.

Police and residents wading through flooding in Newham 2021, where a white van is semi-submerged in the water

Image credits: Jack Dredd/Rex/Shutterstock via the Guardian

The solution

In 2019, Newham Council was amongst the first local authority to declare a climate emergency. The council released its first Climate Emergency Action Plan in 2020 outlining key environmental measures and targets. However, the existing plan, like many others, primarily focused on ways to reduce carbon emissions. This left a big gap in addressing the full scope of interconnected challenges that Newham and its residents face. Therefore, a new plan was needed to target intersectionality by shifting away from a ‘carbon emission tunnel vision’ and looking at climate action from a broader lens for a just transition to net zero.

A diagram depicting the need to move away from a carbon tunnel vision

In 2023, the council began work to address these issues effectively from a strategic, system-change perspective. A multi-disciplinary partnership was formed by the newly appointed climate action directorate involving internal council departments and leading sustainability consultants, Dark Matter Labs and ARUP. The idea of a next-generation document that was ambitious, informed, and oriented towards the potential of collective action was developed. 

The plan is the UK’s first local authority Just Transition Plan and creates a new 365 framework, including the following key factors. 

Three principles – our guiding beliefs to inform actions, based on: 

  • increasing equity 
  • reducing emissions 
  • building long-term resilience.

Six futures – our focus areas to deliver ambitious and equitable benefits that are specific to our borough’s needs, including: 

  • Our homes, workplaces and schools are comfortable, healthy, and efficient. 
  • Our energy system is resilient, equitable and not dependent on fossil fuels. 
  • We prefer to walk, cycle, or use public transport and goods are safely moved without polluting our streets. 
  • We increase sharing and reduce waste, building a sharing and circular economy. 
  • We eat well and sustainably. 
  • Our neighbourhoods are resilient, connected, and green. 

Five enablers – our methods to ensure transparency and efficient delivery on our principles, featuring: 

  • Growing the Council’s Climate Action capacity and effectiveness. 
  • Targeting and increasing investment. 
  • Partnering with Newham’s Anchor Institutions 
  • Enabling civic and place-based action. 
  • Working beyond Newham’s borders. 

The impact

Although the full impact of the plan is still to be seen as it has just been launched, it sets the scene for deep collaboration across our council, whole borough, and beyond, taking an innovative approach that interconnects the different strands of climate action across all service areas. This ensures that climate implications are considered across all council directorates and are key determinants in decision making for the council’s internal and external operations. 

How is the new approach being sustained?

The council remains committed to implementing the Just Transition Plan as the overarching framework for all activities. Collaboration with partners, including our internal Climate Action Working Group, is ongoing to embed sustainability across our practices and policies. As part of this plan, Newham Council continues to deliver projects keeping equity, resilience, and decarbonisation at its core. Last year, the council partnered with SUGi, a non-for-profit organisation specialising in accelerating biodiversity in urban environments. Through this project, around 15 schools will have their own pocket forests creating wildlife-rich environments for children whilst also providing health benefits and community fostering. The council has also published a new visual poster delineating key health areas significantly affected by climate change, a product of comprehensive research and expertise. This initiative aims to deepen our understanding of the intricate relationship between climate and health, particularly focusing on health equity within Newham.

Lessons learned

The development of our plan showed deep engagement on the climate emergency across our service areas, which significantly helped with getting buy-in for the plan. Its co-creation also showed the strength and importance of adopting a collaborative approach, rather than acting in silo. This has also allowed us to introduce and engage more departments on climate action due to our new inclusive framing focused on education, skills, and opportunities. 

One of our challenges continues to be the lack of funding needed to deliver our plan, which acknowledges the need for further financial support from national government to make sure we can successfully reach our targets. That’s why, to coincide with the launch of our Just Transition Plan, our mayor has also written a letter to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, asking the Government to provide much needed funding to deliver social housing retrofits which are at an estimated cost of over £800m for Newham’s council housing stock alone.

More information

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Just Transition Plan – Executive Summary

Just Transition Plan – Full Report

Dark Medium case study article