As place leaders, asset owners and significant purchasers, local leaders have the ability to impact on more than a third of emissions across villages, towns and cities.
- Climate change is a very real and immediate threat to our communities, with the UK already experiencing its impacts including heat waves, fire, drought, flash flooding, land slips. Councils are committed to tackling climate change and delivering net zero, with over 300 councils declaring a climate emergency.
- As place leaders, asset owners and significant purchasers, local leaders have the ability to impact on more than a third of emissions across villages, towns and cities – in areas such as housing, transport and the natural environment – and will be essential to delivering real, tangible change in the transition to net zero. Councils are already leading some of the most innovative and transformative projects in the world, illustrated in a wide range of examples on our climate change hub.
- While national action is essential in setting the framework and taking the big decisions, the complexity of transition in our 51 cities, 935 towns and 6,000 villages cannot be managed from a Whitehall desk as the transition will be different in each place. Local climate action is more efficient and profitable. Recent research shows that empowering councils to deliver on national targets 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.
- The current approach to delivering net zero in the climate action landscape is currently fragmented and lacking a clear direction, which breeds investment uncertainty and is not able to deliver at the pace needed. Currently it is unclear how councils’ efforts to deliver net zero fit into a national plan. Councils receive no core funding for climate activity and are forced to compete for funding pots that come and go over time, which is unable to provide the sustained support required for long-term change.
- To deliver on net zero, it is vital that Government empowers local climate action that can hit targets, mobilise support, and save taxpayers hundreds of billions. We are calling on Government to put in place a national climate action framework with policy, regulatory, and investment certainty up to 2050, with set milestones and a clear role for local government and core funding to deliver climate action. We also want to work with Government to introduce local climate agreements that translate action into reality and introduce a local climate action test, ensuring all government policy and funding decisions – from housing to skills - contribute to local climate action.
Role of local government in delivering net zero
Councils will be critical in delivering net zero. As leaders, enablers, conveners, asset holders, service deliverers, and problem solvers. Councils have direct influence over a third of emissions in their area, with some having an impact over to as much as 80 per cent of emissions and are leading the way in delivering transformative projects. These range from community retrofitting programmes in Leeds, which upgraded the energy efficiency of schools, leisure centres, civic buildings and 4,500 residential properties, to Hackney Borough Council which has switched the council to 100 per cent renewable energy usage and Sutton Council who have played a key role in building the country’s first passivhaus secondary and primary schools.
Local climate action is more efficient and more profitable. Innovate UK found that 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. Where councils have been given the opportunity to deliver schemes locally, they have been more successful, as was in the case of the Green Homes Grant local authority delivery scheme that achieved more than the national voucher scheme.
Local government is well-placed to work with their local businesses and economies to target public investment to enable private markets. This will be essential 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
- 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
Councils are also community champion rooted in their places, delivering over 800 services. They are uniquely able to target climate action to bring co-benefits to their communities, for example:
- Building public trust and inclusivity into the projects that people see where they live and work, and providing infrastructure supporting behaviour change
- Raising housing standards, lower energy costs, attract green growth, protect the environment, reduce travel congestion, connect talent to jobs, and so on.
- Enabling a just transition, promoting health, well-being, and financial security for all
The challenges local government is facing
While the desire and the need to act are apparent, the climate action landscape is currently fragmented and lacking a clear direction, which breeds investment uncertainty and is failing to deliver at the pace needed.
At present, it is unclear how local government fits into a national plan for delivering net zero. Councils receive no core funding for climate activity. 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, which is failing to provide the sustained support that is needed for long-term change. For instance, for heat networks there are four different national 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.
It is clear that this approach is not delivering. Too many centrally controlled programmes remain underspent and underwhelming. While some interventions even contradict others, for instance spending on the social housing decarbonisation fund was undermined by cuts via the social housing rent cap, which reduced the level of government funding into social housing via Housing Benefit. This lack of coordination burdens councils, fuels uncertainty, reduces flexibility, and crucially it is unattractive to private finance.
A national framework to accelerate local net zero action
Effective climate action is dependent on coordination of interventions at all levels. National action is essential in setting the framework and taking the big decisions and must enable councils to manage the complexity of transition in our 51 cities, 935 towns and 6,000 villages.
To empower councils to get on and deliver locally, councils urgently need:
1. A national framework for delivering net zero that backs local climate action. The framework should:
- provide clarity on roles and responsibilities between local and national government over time
- be backed with adequate and stable core funding for all councils to take forward climate action across their own services
- place a duty on public sector partners and relevant regulated private sector partners, such as utilities companies, to cooperate with local climate action
- support local delivery by pooling resource, capacity, and technical expertise, and creating comprehensive sector-led support offer with the LGA.
2. Local climate action agreements to translate climate action into reality. Government should agree these 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 all should:
- Allow councils to submit plans on how they will meet all climate change missions within their area
- Provide councils with multi-year place-based funding allocations to deliver on these
- aggregate projects into programmes to pool resources and attract private investment
Delivering on the 10 missions for local climate action
With the right government policy interventions and funding, councils could do more now to accelerate the 10 missions for local climate action in the Net Zero Review. These include:
Rapidly retrofitting social and fuel poor homes: Government should 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.
Place-making to reduce emissions and raise adaptation: Government should 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
One public estate retrofit: Government should 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.
Electric and people powered transport: Government should 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.
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.
Jobs, opportunity, workforce. Government should empower 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.