Priorities for COP26, House of Commons, 22 July 2021

Local government plays a leading role in accelerating the shift towards achieving net zero carbon. With nearly two thirds of councils in England aiming to be carbon neutral 20 years before the national target, councils are well placed to support Government to meet its net zero carbon ambitions by 2050.


Key messages

  • Local government plays a leading role in accelerating the shift towards achieving net zero carbon. With nearly two thirds of councils in England aiming to be carbon neutral 20 years before the national target, councils are well placed to support Government to meet its net zero carbon ambitions by 2050.
  • Since net-zero can only be achieved with decarbonisation happening in every place across the country – that’s every household, community and local economy – it will require local leadership, with councils best able to ensure that the benefits are felt by all. 
  • The LGA’s A local path to net zero work programme highlights the significant role of councils in advancing the UK’s net zero ambitions and our offer to work in partnership with government. The Pass the Planet campaign is showcasing local government good practice up and down the country in the lead up to COP26.
  • It has been confirmed that there will be a dedicated local government day at COP26. The Cities, Regions and Built Environment day will take place on November 11, the day before the closure of negotiations. Local government in the UK should have a role in designing and participating in that day.
  • The LGA is engaging with the COP26 process to ensure appropriate representation of local government. A Climate Change Task Group has been established to provide strategic oversight of the LGA’s political engagement on net zero and in the lead up to the summit in November. The LGA will also be looking to have a role in designing and participating in the dedicated local government day taking place on 11 November and will continue to make the case that local government must be empowered by updates to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
  • We would like to see a dedicated chapter for subnational governments in the official agreement reached at COP26, recognising the importance of subnational actors in co-designing and delivering climate action and seeking to ensure that local government is politically and financially empowered to meet that ambition.
  • A commitment to empowering local government should be reflected in the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We support the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency calls for a multilevel action COP.
  • The Government should work with councils and business to establish a national framework for addressing the climate emergency. This must set out a clear articulation of the national role and local roles, and an assessment of funding and financing opportunities through public and private sector means.
  • The LGA has been calling for a Ministerial/local government climate taskforce to be set up, led by MHCLG, to bring Ministers and local leaders together to drive co-ordinated and cross cutting action on climate change.
  • The LGA is also supporting councils to deliver on their climate ambitions through sector-led improvement work such as the climate change improvement and support programme.
  • Councils want to work as partners with government ahead of the COP26 conference to support and advance on the UK’s net zero target by 2050. By working in partnership with national government, councils are uniquely placed to shape their local areas and translate national climate ambitions into transformative action on the ground.

Further information

A local path to net zero

Councils have a significant role to play in tackling the climate emergency. They are well-placed to translate national climate ambitions into transformative action through their roles in:

  • Place shaping - places are intrinsically local and councils are the master planners. This can support government to embed carbon reduction measures in the housing and building sector, deliver on the energy transition including low carbon heat sources and ensure a just transition to net zero through unique knowledge of place and people.
  • Purchasing powers and market shaping – procurement is a key power that councils have to deliver net zero. Through commissioning, councils bring together public, private and voluntary partners that shape the market to best meet the needs of communities. This can support government to build capacity in the market for low carbon goods and services and develop local skills and supply chains, particularly in the construction industry.
  • Problem solving and direct delivery – every place is unique and different localities have different geographies, demographics, infrastructure and resources. This can support government to work out how to deliver net zero solutions on the ground and offer pilots for innovative projects that can de-risk, develop new business models, and test new technologies.
  • Assets – councils are landlords and significant asset-owners. This can support government to implement carbon reduction and energy efficiency projects in existing pipelines of infrastructure and buildings and in turn, develop low carbon skills, markets and supply chains. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator is a step in the right direction. However, the first 19 projects that are part of the initial investment are nearly identical and lacking any innovative approaches which is a missed opportunity.
  • Convenors and communicators – councils are convenors and communicators for civil society and businesses. This can support government to translate national climate messages locally and reach vulnerable groups, build public consent for disruptive change in the transition to net zero and empower communities to change their behaviour.

Green jobs

  • Green job creation is critical to achieving the UK’s net zero obligations by 2050. The LGA published analysis in its local green jobs – accelerating a sustainable economic recovery report, developed by Ecuity Consulting LLP, which shows that nearly 700,000 jobs could be created in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030, rising to more than 1 million by 2050.
  • Nearly half will be in clean electricity generation and providing low-carbon heat for homes and businesses (manufacturing wind turbines, installing solar panels and installing heat pumps). Around 40 per cent of jobs will be involved in installing energy efficiency products, providing low-carbon services, including financial, legal and IT, and producing alternative fuels, such as bioenergy and hydrogen. The remainder will be directly involved in manufacturing low-emission vehicles and the associated infrastructure. Importantly, these jobs are projected to be generated across England’s local authorities and regions in the North, Midlands, East, South and London.
  • However, most employment and skills funding and programmes are nationally commissioned, which makes it difficult to meet, and respond to, local need and demand. Energy efficiency measures are often delivered by local SMEs and there is potential to target policies to create jobs in deprived areas, including those most impacted by COVID-19, supporting the Government’s levelling up agenda.
  • Work Local is the LGA’s positive proposal for change, providing a platform for supporting the shift needed for the green and sustainability sectors. It provides a framework for an integrated and devolved employment and skills system that is fit for the future and should be used as a blueprint for skills and employment devolution that works for all people and places. The Government should back and fund the trialling of the Work Local model.

Housing and planning

  • Any changes to the planning system need to have sustainability at the heart and must consider the improvements and strategic interventions needed to support our shift to a carbon neutral future. Local government plays a vital role in leading the way to address climate change, reduce carbon emissions, and create the sustainable places we need.  
  • One of the most effective areas of focus when it comes to addressing carbon emissions is the built environment, with more energy-efficient homes reducing reliance on fossil fuels. In addition to building energy efficient new homes, to achieve net zero by 2050, close to 28 million homes will need to change how they use energy through methods such as zero carbon heating systems.
  • The current projected funding shortfall across local government will limit councils’ ability to upskill staff and carry out additional work in this space. We welcome Government’s commitment to a £3.8 billion capital Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, and we are calling on Government to urgently bring forward the remaining funding. This is still unlikely to be sufficient to meet the scale of the challenge and capital funding will not enable the resourcing and upskilling required for councils to decarbonise homes and buildings.
  • A just transition will be required to ensure that any decarbonisation process is fair, especially for those who are vulnerable or already in fuel poverty. This means that the benefits from the shift to net zero are shared widely, while also supporting those who stand to lose economically.
  • Councils are committed to ensuring new, sustainable homes are built and communities have quality places to live. It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system with public participation at its heart, which gives communities the power to participate and engage in our national shift to a carbon neutral future. 

Transport

  • Councils have a strong track record of improving and decarbonising public transport. Councils have successfully introduced a range of measures to reduce emissions and tackle air pollution, such as Clean Air Zones, providing electric vehicle charging point infrastructure, promoting cycling and active travel and introducing safe, connected cycle infrastructure. They have also been investing in cleaner bus fleets, introducing borough-wide air pollution monitoring networks, planning for new places in ways that improve air quality, and engaging with businesses to increase awareness and reduce their environmental impact.  
  • The LGA has published a series of briefings on how local government can decarbonise transport, which sets out a framework of actions which local authorities can take today to reduce travel demand, reduce car mode share and accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.  Buses play an important role, as the bus is among the most carbon efficient modes of passenger transport. Even modest increases in passenger load would yield significant improvements in carbon performance. The National Bus Strategy is a step in the right direction in ensuring buses can play a full role in reducing transport carbon emissions.
  • Councils want to go further and there is more that they can do to reduce carbon emissions from their local transport networks. Longer term funding certainty, coupled with greater revenue funding to develop, maintain and promote capital schemes would help. Many councils are also investing and partnering with private companies on EV charging infrastructure, however they feel that their overall role in helping the country to transition to a fully electric vehicle fleet is unclear. They are reluctant to commit further given the current uncertainties in technologies, funding, commercial appetite and lack of modelling.
  • Over the coming years, there is likely to be a spotlight on councils and how they are managing their local networks to deliver a carbon reduction. There is a fixed amount of road space and councillors will need to make difficult decisions about how they allocate this to different modes, such as cycling and walking, e-scooters, electric vehicle charge points, shared transport and bus prioritisation. Councils would welcome greater political support and consistency of messaging from central government in delivering these difficult local decisions.   
  • Given that transport is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the UK, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is key to how the country will achieve its net-zero ambition. Councils are already doing a lot to reduce carbon and other harmful emissions to protect their communities and the environment. However, the scale of the challenge requires a collaborative approach between local and national government, industry and our communities.
  • In order to support local government in its role of leading places and providing a greener future, councils want to work with government and business to establish a national framework for addressing the climate emergency, supported by long-term funding, guidance for individuals and clarity on the practical steps that will be needed locally to help the public to transition to more sustainable forms of transport.

Contact

Jonah Munn, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

jonah.munn@local.gov.uk