Mission to reality - accelerating local climate action

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

“The pace and scale of climate action are insufficient to tackle climate change. Accelerated action is required.” - IPCC 2023

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.

The warning – climate change is an escalating public priority

Climate ranks high in peoples’ priorities. Eight in 10 people are concerned by it, three quarters want to deliver net zero by 2050, and half want to bring that target forward. Councils recognise the urgency and scale, over 300 have declared climate emergencies.

Climate change is here, now. In the UK we have experienced heat waves, fire, drought, flash flooding, land slips. Extreme weather events will become more intense and frequent, hardening opinion as the changing climate rocks the foundations of livelihoods.

All polling consistently shows the public want to see rapid action, to be supported to take their own action, and to feel the benefits of that action. Change is not always easy; public trust and inclusivity are critical, and councils are better able to facilitate this locally.

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.

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.

Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health and the choices made today will reverberate for hundreds of years.

Councils are ready to play their full role in leading local climate action to hit net zero and adapt to change.

In words, all partners prioritise local climate action. In practice, there is a need to take that action.