Councillor workbook – The local path to net zero

image of local pathway to net zero booklet
Councils have a crucial role to play in achieving the UK’s 2050 Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target. We have produced this workbook to support councillors to strive for net zero locally.


This workbook has been designed as a distance learning aid for local councillors. It is intended to provide councillors with insight and assistance with the key skills which will help you to be most effective in your role. Some of the content may be of most use to more newly elected councillors, but nonetheless if you have been a councillor for some time, the workbook should serve as a useful reminder of some of the key skills, approaches and tactics that make for an effective ward councillor. It may even challenge you to reconsider how you have approached aspects of the role to date.

Those councillors who are new to local government will recognise that there are many aspects to being an effective ward or division councillor. The workbook will help you to get up to speed on the main areas that require focus and attention. In effect, it should provide you with some pointers on how to develop a style and approach that you are comfortable with, and that enables you to be most effective in your day to day duties.

The workbook can be used as a standalone learning aid or alongside other material you may cover such as e learning modules or sessions within your own council. It is recognised that each individual must decide how best to use and develop their community leadership skills, based on individual preference and confidence. As such, the workbook should serve more as a direction marker rather than a road map.

You do not need to complete it all in one session and may prefer to work through the material at your own pace. The key requirement is to think about your own approach in influencing other people – and how the material relates to your local situation, the people you serve and the council you represent.

 A list of useful additional information and support is set out in the Appendix to the workbook.

Throughout this workbook you will encounter different types of information, and suggested actions, indicated by the symbols shown below:

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– this icon indicates guidance such as definitions, quotations and research


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– this icon indicates questions asking you to reflect on your role or approach


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Case studies

– this icon indicates examples of approaches used in different settings


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Hints and tips

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Useful links

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Why local authorities are vital to tackling climate change

Figure 1: Local authority influence over greenhouse gas emissions in their area
Influence %
Direct control 2%
Strong influence 33%
Other 68%


Local authorities have a crucial role to play in achieving the UK’s 2050 Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target. Whilst local authorities are directly responsible for only 2-5 per cent of local emissions, through their policies and partnerships they have strong influence over more than a third of emissions in their area [i]. Work to cut these emissions is already underway; most UK councils are developing or have developed climate action plans, including the 300+ councils that have declared a Climate Emergency. This workbook sets out how councillors can play an active role in supporting their local authority and their communities in working towards the Net Zero target.

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Key opportunities for action

Local authority practice can directly shape emissions in many ways, such as through:

  • Ensuring new council-owned buildings are designed to be low carbon and through retrofitting the council’s existing building stock.
  • Minimising the need for transport and ensuring that low carbon methods of transport are encouraged and enabled.

Local authority policy can have far reaching impacts. For example:

  • One of the most powerful levers that local authorities have to cut carbon is through their role in place shaping. Many local authorities are using their powers in relation to buildings, transport systems, waste services and the natural environment to help deliver their decarbonisation ambitions.
  • Councils can exert significant influence on the supply chain by requiring their suppliers and contractors to be working towards Net Zero.

Local authorities can exert significant influence over others to encourage and enable emissions reduction, for example through:

  • Convening a local climate change partnership that brings organisations from the public, private and third sectors together to work towards reducing emissions.
  • Supporting community groups that wish to take climate action, for example through development of renewable energy schemes or active travel initiatives.
Hints and tips icon

Overarching action to cut carbon – key questions to ask

  1. Has your council created a Cabinet position (or equivalent) with responsibility for climate action / Net Zero?
  2. Has your council measured its carbon emissions and developed a Climate Action Plan?
  3. Has a policy and service review been conducted to align policy, spending and functions with Net Zero
  4. Has a Net Zero training and capacity building programme been carried out within the council?
  5. Has your council adopted a decision-making process that considers the carbon impact of any decision?


1. 1 The importance of climate action

Climate change is happening. There has been a 1°C global warming from pre-industrial levels and we are already seeing the devastating impacts this is having on people’s lives and the infrastructure and ecosystems that we all depend on [ii]. In the UK, we have seen around 1.2°C global warming from pre-industrial levels [iii] and you may already have seen some of the impacts of this in the communities you serve, such as increased incidents of flooding due to heavier rainfall.

There is a legally binding international treaty on climate change in place, which was adopted by 196 Parties (including the UK) at the United Nations (UN)’s Climate Change Conference, COP 21, in Paris in 2015. This is known as The Paris Agreement and entered into force in November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels [iv] .

Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate . It is likely that there will be at least another 0.5°C of warming in the UK by 2050 even if there is immediate, rapid, sustained action taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and it is expected that this will lead to increased sea levels, incidents of heavier rainfall and hotter summers. 

Urgent action is necessary to bring global greenhouse gas emissions to zero as, whilst we will see some continued increase in global and UK temperatures, this could keep UK temperatures and rainfall close to their 2050 level and avoid further, potentially more catastrophic, impacts. 

1.2 COP 26 – the United Nations’ climate change conference

COP26 is the UN climate change conference planned to be held from 1-12 November 2021 in Glasgow. It aims to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [vi].   Action taken by councils to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, both directly and through their partnership and influencing roles, is essential for the UK to achieve its Net Zero 2050 target and the 68 per cent reduction by 2030 target announced by the Prime Minister in December 2020 [vii].

1.3 What are the main sources of greenhouse gases?

The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapour (which all occur naturally), and fluorinated gases (which are synthetic). Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas produced by human activity and hence it is the focus for most climate action targets. UK net CO2 emissions in 2019 are estimated to be around 352 million tonnes. Emissions of other greenhouse gases added the equivalent of a further 84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide [viii].

Emissions of CO2 come from the energy supply system; burning of fuels in homes and businesses; use of fuels in the transport system; agriculture; industrial processes, waste management and land use. 

  • Fuel use in the transport sector is the largest single source, resulting in almost 120 million tonnes of CO2. 
  • The energy supply system was responsible for 90 million tonnes of CO2, whilst fuel use in homes and businesses resulted in 65 million tonnes each. 
  • Industrial processes emitted just under 10 million tonnes, fuel use in the public sector 8 million tonnes, and agriculture was responsible for nearly 6 million tonnes. 
  • Waste management resulted in emissions of 0.2 million tonnes. 
  • Land use, land use change and forestry led to a net decrease in emissions of almost 12 million tonnes, because removals of CO2 by the sector were greater than its emissions.
Figure 2: UK 2019 carbon dioxide emissions by source
Source Emissions tonnes CO2
Transport 120
Energy supply 90
Homes 65
Businesses 65
Industrial 10
Public sector 8
Agriculture 6
Waste 0.2
Land use (increased) -12


1.4 What do we mean by Net Zero?

The Climate Change Committee produced a report in 2019 setting out a new Net Zero target for the UK to achieve by 2050 [i]. This target applies to all greenhouse gases; not just carbon dioxide. Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions means that while some greenhouse gas emissions (not only CO2) are still being generated by our activities, these emissions are being balanced by forestry or technologies that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, making the overall net emissions zero.

It is, however, recommended that local authorities should prioritise reducing emissions over using emission offsets (such as through tree planting); ultimately offsets should only be used for areas where emissions are not avoidable due to a lack of technical alternatives. 

1.5 The vital role of local authorities

Local authorities have a key role to play in achieving this Net Zero target. Actions taken now, locally, will grow the pipeline of projects, jobs and skills to scale-up delivery of zero carbon buildings and transport, waste reduction and low-carbon land use. Local authorities are directly responsible for 2-5 per cent of local emissions, but can influence around a third of emissions in their area through leadership and place making . Local authorities are well placed to drive and influence action on climate change through the services they deliver, their regulatory and strategic functions, and their roles as community leaders, major employers, large-scale procurers and social landlords. They also provide a vitally important leadership role, setting an example for others to follow.

Figure 3: Local authority influence over greenhouse gas emissions in their area
Influence %
Direct control 2%
Strong influence 33%
Other 68%


Work is already underway, with more than 300 councils in the UK that have declared a Climate Emergency and others delivering climate change plans even without having done this. This workbook sets out how Councillors can play an active role in supporting their council and their communities in working towards the Net Zero target.

1.6 Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

When measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas or carbon emissions, people talk about Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions:

  • Scope 1 is direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by the local authority, for example emissions from boilers and vehicles. Councils have direct control over these emissions.
  • Scope 2 accounts for emissions of purchased electricity consumed by the local authority. Councils can impact their Scope 2 emissions by choosing to purchase low carbon electricity, noting that ‘green tariffs’ do not necessarily support increased renewable energy provision. To check if the energy is low carbon, you can check the Government’s greenhouse gas conversion factors for company reporting.
  • Scope 3 includes indirect emissions from wider supply chains (often reaching international jurisdictions), emissions from the use of local authority services, contracted out services and investments. Councils will have a strong influence over some of these emissions (eg contracted out services and investments) and less over others. (See Cheshire East case study in the Procurement & Commissioning section for more details.) 

1.7 A green COVID-19 recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on the UK economy. In planning for a post COVID-19 economic recovery, there is an opportunity to provide assistance to sectors and projects that will support the transition to Net Zero. The UK Government has produced a ten point plan that sets out the approach government will take to ‘build back better’, support green jobs, and accelerate our path to Net Zero. This looks to speed up action in a number of key areas, including the shift to zero emission vehicles, green public transport and greener buildings and to support these through government investment . It is intended to provide opportunities to develop a green industrial revolution at a local level. 

1.8 Resilience

At a strategic level, councils also need to think about the resilience of their communities, both in terms of the impacts of climate change and also the changing energy system.  This is quite different to taking action to cut greenhouse gases, but there are areas of overlap. For example:

  • Making buildings more energy efficient can also reduce their risk of overheating; an increasing risk as heatwaves are forecast to become more frequent. Reduced energy demand also improves the UK’s energy security and reduces reliance on imported energy.
  • Development of local, decentralised energy schemes involving community owned renewable generation similarly improves the UK’s energy security and reduces the likelihood of future energy shocks.
  • Ensuring new development is designed to be able to accommodate likely changes such as increased uptake of electric vehicles and heat pumps will ensure it is well placed to adapt to future changes in our energy system.
  • Action to encourage sustainable transport, which may involve reducing the space taken up by cars, can provide potential for more tree planting and green space. This can increase the resilience of urban areas to heatwaves and also increase absorption of heavy rainfall, thus reducing flooding.  

1.9 The importance of community engagement

As described above, councils can influence around a third of emissions in their local area, and are well placed to understand local needs and opportunities through local networks and partnerships. One of the priorities in doing this should be to communicate, engage and consult with local communities on Net Zero ambitions in order to develop and sustain a mandate for action [vi], but also to encourage individuals and communities to take action on reducing emissions. 

By engaging people through structures like citizens’ panels, assemblies and juries, and connecting climate policy to the needs of everyone, councils can demonstrate that the consequences of climate action improves lives, and does not diminish them. Details of the ‘co-benefits’ of climate action are provided in the next section.

Wider benefits of action

Action on climate change, reducing emissions and increasing resilience, can deliver many local benefits including lower energy bills, economic regeneration and creation of local jobs, reductions in fuel poverty and improved health, avoidance of flood damage costs, enhanced green spaces and improved air quality. 

By looking at these wider benefits, councils can address climate and social issues at the same time and use housing, transport, infrastructure or economic development budgets to deliver climate action. They can also be used to persuade other funders to partner with the council on climate action: local NHS organisations may we willing to part fund investments that will improve health as well as reducing carbon emissions, for example.

2.1 Health

A wide range of climate action, from decarbonising the transport sector to improving energy efficiency in homes, can have substantial benefits for public health and wellbeing.

Homes that have poor energy efficiency directly impact the physical and mental health of those living in them. Improving the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock provides an opportunity to reduce costs to the NHS and tackle inequality. In the winter of 2018/19, there were an estimated 28,300 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, a large share of which were attributable to living in a cold home [xi]. The cost to the NHS of ill health from cold homes is estimated at £2.5 billion per year, whilst children living in inadequately heated households are more than twice as likely to suffer from conditions such as asthma and bronchitis than those living in warm homes [xiv]. 

Decarbonising the transport sector has the potential to make considerable improvements to air quality and public health. Poor air quality, caused largely by combustion engine vehicles, contributes to up to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK [xiii}. And active travel promotes good health: an increase in physical activity in the UK has been estimated to generate a potential saving to the NHS of £17 billion within 20 years [xiv]. 

Access to good quality green space and nature is a significant contributory factor for mental and physical wellbeing, particularly in urban areas, where those living closer to green space have been found to experience lower rates of anxiety. Parks and public gardens, as well as ‘blue spaces’ such as rivers and lakes, are associated with higher levels of satisfaction with ‘place’, increased social cohesion and interaction, increases in volunteering, and opportunities for more creative play among children, as well as better educational performance. Green spaces also help to regulate temperature and water flow, reduce noise and air pollution. Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and flooding, have significant health impacts; UK heatwaves in summer 2016 resulted in 908 excess deaths [xv]. The integration of green space into urban areas can play an important role in helping to reduce extremes of temperature and associated admissions to the NHS, whilst also removing a small amount of CO2 from the atmosphere and indirectly further reducing carbon emissions by reducing the need for space cooling in buildings. Tree planting and de-paving can reduce flood risk whilst also enhancing biodiversity.

Whist local authorities have no direct role in relation to diet, there is also the potential to exert influence in this area, particularly in relation to school pupils and the meals they eat at school. Reducing consumption of meat and dairy, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from food by 17 per cent  whilst increasing average life expectancy by over 8 months [xvii]. 

2.2 Economy and equity: a just transition

Investing in initiatives to reduce carbon emissions can create significant economic opportunities and jobs in the low carbon economy. As councils seek to steer the economic recovery of their communities following the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be more important than ever. Action on climate change can also help to address inequalities and improve social cohesion. Vulnerable people and those on lower incomes are often those who are most disadvantaged in relation to issues like poor air quality, mobility, energy costs, and access to green space.  Joined up thinking can ensure that climate change and social justice can be addressed at the same time.

Clean growth – ie growing the UK’s national income while cutting greenhouse gas emissions – will increase productivity, create good jobs, and boost earning power for people right across the country. Over the last ten years, annual growth of the UK Gross Domestic Product has been between 1.5 per cent and 3.1 per cent while the green economy has consistently grown at around 5 per cent. Analysis for the Climate Change Committee estimated that the low carbon economy has the potential to grow by 11 per cent per year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy [xviii]. Research conducted for the LGA suggests that by 2030, there could be almost 700,000 direct jobs employed in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy, a rise from 185,000 in 2018. This could grow to 1.8 million by 2050 [xix]. 

Promoting local investment, growth, jobs and skills are key priorities for most local authorities, particularly as they seek to rebuild their economies following the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on opportunities in relation to clean growth will help to make the local economy fit for the future

Enabling local people to access the necessary skills to meet the future needs of a low carbon economy can help to protect against unemployment as the economy changes, by increasing local labour market flexibility. Past economic transitions characterised by rapid technological change have had immense impacts on labour markets. Job displacement and loss of livelihoods are common during these periods, which can increase inequality and social discord. Local authorities have an important role to play in helping to ensure a ‘Just Transition’ to a low carbon economy by working with partners to ensure training and skills opportunities are provided to those whose jobs are at risk. 

Supporting local businesses in a changing economy can help protect them against future threats to their business (eg low emission zone charges for diesel vehicles). 

Making homes more efficient and supporting people to reduce their energy bills can help some of the most vulnerable in our society, and there is considerable potential for local employment in the retrofit of energy efficiency measures.

Focusing on sustainable transport and tackling congestion can create a better place to do business. The UK is the world’s 10th most congested country: UK drivers wasted an average of 115 hours in congested traffic in 2019, costing each motorist £894 and the UK economy almost £7 billion [xx]. Reducing traffic congestion will improve air quality and reduce these costs which helps to create a more attractive place to do business [xxi]. 

Decarbonising the transport sector will provide health benefits that save the NHS money while simultaneously addressing health inequalities. 

  • Those most affected by air pollution in the UK are often those least responsible for producing it: vehicles passing through lower income neighbourhoods are primarily responsible for causing the pollution rather than travel by those living within the area, as low-income communities are more likely to use public transport than private vehicles.  
  • Access to low carbon transport is patchy, with some groups having little option to make a low carbon choice. Cycling is a very low-cost low carbon transport option. But certain groups are much less likely to cycle than others. Working at a grassroots level to teach those with little or no cycling experience to ride confidently can lay the foundations for a cycling culture. Another low carbon transport option is car sharing. This can be particularly valuable for equity and social cohesion in areas where there is little option for public transport or in cases where people are no longer able to drive, eg through illness.

Local energy schemes offer the potential to save both councils and their communities money and/or generate revenue. Community renewables schemes can deliver a range of social and economic benefits to local communities, including reduced fuel poverty, increased autonomy, empowerment and resilience, by providing a long-term income and local control over finances, often in areas where there are few options for generating wealth. Other benefits include opportunities for education, jobs in a growing sector, a strengthened sense of place and, potentially, an increase in visitors to the area.

2.3 Nature and biodiversity

Action to remove carbon from the atmosphere and increase resilience by increasing green space or tree cover in an area can also be designed to increase biodiversity.

Green and blue infrastructure’ (trees, parks and green spaces) can increase life expectancy and reduce health inequalities. If you live in a deprived inner-city area you have access to five times fewer public parks and good-quality general green space than people in more affluent areas.

2.4 Considering costs and benefits

Councils will need to consider the overall costs and benefits (including co-benefits) of action to cut carbon. The climate action charity Ashden has produced a simple spreadsheet to help councils prioritise the most appropriate climate actions for them, taking into account cost, carbon savings and co-benefits.

  • Some actions can save the council money or even generate income – for example staff behaviour change to cut energy use; or the creation of a carbon offset fund linked to new developments.
  • Some actions have no cost to the council but can have an enormous impact on carbon emissions, for example by creating the potential for low carbon communities through planning requirements. 
  • Some actions can be funded through public sector grants or zero interest loan schemes – such as energy efficiency and low carbon heating in public buildings. 
  • Some actions are more expensive but have substantial health benefits, such as replacing diesel buses with electric ones. 
  • Some have substantial equity benefits, for example schemes that reduce private car use on highly polluted roads. 
  • And some have the potential to generate substantial economic benefit, for example investing in domestic retrofit.

Opportunities for action

3.1 Introduction

Emissions of CO2 for your local authority area are published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) [xxii]. In addition, the LGA has teamed up with Local Partnerships to offer local authorities a free Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool to help local authorities establish their baseline greenhouse gas emissions over a single reporting year. 

Local authorities are responsible for only a very small proportion of emissions: the entire public sector is directly responsible for only two percent of CO2. But this headline figure does not tell the whole story. The Climate Change Committee estimates that around a third of the UK’s emissions are dependent on sectors that are directly shaped or influenced by local authority practice, policy or partnerships [xxiii].

Local authority practice can shape emissions in many ways, such as:

  • Whether or not local authority buildings are operated in an energy efficient way;
  • Whether or not local authority fleet vehicles use low carbon fuels; and
  • Whether or not waste management routes are optimised.

Local authority policy can have far reaching impacts:

  • Does local planning policy require Net Zero carbon new developments?
  • Do procurement policies include carbon emissions within their Social Value Framework?
  • Does the local authority have a biodiversity strategy that sets a target for increasing the number of trees in the local area?

And local authority partnerships can encourage and empower others to reduce the emissions that they have control over:

  • Is there a local climate change partnership that helps local businesses to work together to reduce their emissions?
  • Does the local authority support community groups who want to run local renewable energy schemes?
  • Has the council designed streets to encourage walking and cycling rather than car use?

Reaching Net Zero will require a new approach to managing, funding, procuring, commissioning and devising services across local authorities. It will mean taking action to help people and businesses take up low-carbon solutions. Underpinning a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be skills training, job creation and support to grow the local supply chains to install home energy efficiency measures and low-carbon heating, low-carbon farming skills, sustainable food production, tree planting and land-based jobs.

The sections below consider in more detail the ways that a council can affect emissions.

3.2 Opportunities by sphere of influence

The Climate Change Committee has identified six ‘spheres of influence' that councils have over carbon emissions, as illustrated in the adjacent diagram. We explore opportunities for action in each of these spheres, plus a section on overarching opportunities, providing links to guidance, inspiration and ideas on wider engagement for each section.

Diagram showing Climate Change Committee has identified six spheres of influence
How local authorities control and influence emissions
Influence Detail
A Direct control buildings, operations, travel
B Procurement and commissioning commercialisation
C Place shaping using powers to control development and transport
D Showcasing innovating, piloting, demonstrating and shaping good practice, scaling and replicating
E Partnerships leading, bringing people and organisations together, co-ordinating and supporting others' partnerships
F Involving, engaging, and communicating translating global and national climate change targets for local relevance, with stakeholders to raise awareness, involving people and ideas for local solutions


3.2.1 Overarching issues Political leadership

Strong political leadership that underpins a council’s ambition and supports action will be critical to meeting councils’ Net Zero ambitions. Where relevant, this should be supported by the wider Cabinet, examined in scrutiny committees, or for councils without a Cabinet, through the committee system. Action Plans

To achieve carbon emissions reductions, councils will need a Net Zero or Climate Action Plan that sets out the required delivery projects. This should be aligned with climate adaptation, biodiversity and other key local strategies. The key challenge is to turn the good intentions of a climate emergency declaration and/or carbon emissions reduction target into a plan and then to deliver it. 

Climate Emergency UK and mySociety have created an open, searchable database of council climate action plans which supports browsing and comparison of different councils’ plans, and search over the text of all the plans in one place. 

Community engagement and involvement will be critical to achieving Net Zero; involving the community in the development of this plan will facilitate their involvement in delivering it. Some local authority Net Zero plans have been co-designed with the wider community, businesses, public sector and universities as well as statutory bodies operating in the region such as Natural England and the Environment Agency. Others simply invite feedback through a consultation process. 

Currently, local authority reporting on emissions is voluntary. However, consistent and easy calculation of an annual carbon baseline is an important part of managing the carbon in our organisations. Staff training and capacity building 

Climate, energy, sustainability and carbon understanding needs to be embedded in the whole authority, across staff and systems. Carbon literacy is defined as, “An awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis” [xxiv]. All Elected Members and staff will have a role to play in delivering Net Zero, including Building Control, Planning and Conservation teams, Housing officers and Housing partnerships. Providing them with carbon literacy will ensure they understand their role in achieving the council’s targets. As technologies develop, regulation emerges and plans progress, regular updates will be helpful to keep people up to date. Decision making and funding

For councils to decarbonise, it is vital that consideration of carbon impact forms part of every decision the council makes. Some local authorities are developing tools and methods for decision-making and financial appraisal that consider the climate impact of each decision and also the impact on social justice.

Incorporating climate indicators in the corporate performance framework makes action on climate visible and accountable within the everyday business of the local authority and allows performance to be tracked consistently and transparently. Embedding climate-related indicators in this way makes it less likely that climate actions slip off the agenda in light of other inevitable pressures from statutory duties. There is a growing consensus that climate action needs to be as embedded as health and safety or equality considerations.

If you are an opposition councillor, you can use your council’s scrutiny process to challenge the council if you do not think it is doing what it should to tackle climate change.  The LGA has produced a workbook on scrutiny (PDF) that explains this element of council governance in more detail. You can also consider becoming involved in the work of the council’s most relevant committee or task and finish group (for example the Environment Committee or a Climate Change task and finish group), either through membership of the committee or group or by raising your concerns with fellow councillors who are members of the committee or group.

Identifying and securing the right funding for an array of green projects is key to delivering real change, in what is otherwise a difficult economic climate for local authorities. The successful introduction of the first community municipal bond represents a potential turning point for financing sustainable public projects. In addition, a combination of Brexit, economic stimulus in response to COVID-19 and the run up to COP26 has led to significant sums of grant funding for green projects becoming available. Scaling up action

The Association for Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) has adopted climate as a priority for their members, providing webinars and materials. They have worked with a range of partners to produce a Blueprint for delivery outlining to government the additional policies, powers and funding needed to scale up action. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting (CIPFA) is now beginning to include carbon and climate as an issue in its professional training programme [xxv].

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Overarching action to cut carbon - questions to ask

1. Has your council created a Cabinet position (or equivalent) with responsibility for climate action/Net Zero?

Case study icon

As a result of declaring their Climate Emergency in January 2019, Calderdale Council  created a new cabinet post for Climate Change & Resilience. The post holder meets all Service Directors every two weeks to keep climate delivery on track. Senior directors are taking a stronger role in embedding emissions reductions across their services areas. 

2. Has your council measured its carbon emissions and developed a Climate Action Plan?

Does this link into climate adaptation, biodiversity net gain and other key local strategies? Does it set out plans for monitoring and updating? 

Guidance icon

The Carbon Trust has produced a Local Climate Action Planning framework. The LGA and Local Partnerships have recently launched a free Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool for Scope 1 and 2 emissions and basic Scope 3 emissions. The tool produces summary tables and charts to help councils understand their most significant sources of emissions, which can then be used to prioritise actions to reduce carbon emissions. Submissions made annually by 31 October will be benchmarked and available on LG Inform.

Climate Emergency UK provides links to the many councils that have declared climate emergencies and to their strategies and plans.

Has the wider community been involved in the development of the action plan? Is there a mechanism for ongoing engagement and involvement?

3. Has a policy and service review been conducted to align policy, spending and functions with Net Zero?

Case study icon

Lancaster Council formally adopted its Local Plan in July 2020. This shapes the future of the Lancaster district up until 2031, and plans for more housing, new employment, open spaces, shops and community facilities, all of which are necessary to create places in which people want to live, work and do business.  In January 2019, the council declared a climate emergency. Whilst the newly adopted Local Plan does seek to address climate change, it was too far advanced in the plan preparation process to incorporate some of the actions and directions of the climate emergency declaration. The council has therefore entered into an immediate Local Plan review to ensure that the aspects of this agenda are adequately considered. Staff should be closely involved in these reviews.

4. Has a training and capacity building programme been carried out within the council?

Guidance icon

The organisation Carbon Literacy has received government funding to develop carbon literacy training courses for councils. Development of The Local Authorities CL Toolkit has been funded by The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) via The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and has involved contribution and donation of materials and testing and piloting by 13 different local authorities across England and Wales.
Stockport Council has rolled out the carbon literacy training for senior managers and then all of its staff. Michael Cullen, Borough Treasurer at Stockport Council, the world’s first Carbon Literate local government Treasurer, discusses his experience of undertaking a Carbon Literacy course.

5. Has your council adopted a decision-making process that considers the carbon impact of any decision?

Cornwall Council has developed a decision-making wheel, based on the concept of Doughnut Economics developed by Kate Raworth, that addresses climate action and social justice. It has been used in all Cabinet decisions since September 2019 and work is underway to embed the tool across a broader range of processes including investment boards, budget setting, commissioning and lower-level decision-making committees.

Calderdale Council has introduced climate and biodiversity key performance indicators (PDF) to its mainstream performance framework. It will help establish mechanisms for accountability and will be published quarterly on the website, and reported formally twice-annually to councillors. This reflects the climate emergency as a core corporate priority. The indicators will evolve as more data becomes available.

3.2.2 Direct control

Councils only have direct control over 1-2 per cent of their area’s emissions – those that relate to their own estate and the delivery of services. These are the areas that are the easiest for councils to change and it is important that the council sets an example for the wider area by demonstrating what it is doing to achieve Net Zero. 


Almost half of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the energy used to generate heat, with the vast majority of our homes still relying on fossil fuel powered gas boilers and with much of our building stock still poorly insulated and inefficient [xxvi]. 

Non-domestic estate

Your local authority will probably have a carbon reduction plan for the council estate. This should include plans to maximise energy efficiency in buildings as well as for decarbonising heat. Any new buildings should be designed to be zero carbon. Public buildings can form anchor loads for heat network investments or to trial and demonstrate new technologies. Government grants and loans are available to fund much of this work. 

Domestic estate

Where your authority owns its own housing stock, there should similarly be a plan in place for cutting carbon from these homes. This will have the added benefit of cutting fuel poverty by making homes more efficient and cheaper to heat. 

Any new buildings that form part of the council estate or which are built on council owned land should be built to the highest standards. Local authorities can require that new homes are built to Passivhaus or equivalent low emissions standards. Transport

Councils can take a number of actions to reduce their transport emissions and those of customers using council services. Staff travel policies should be reviewed to ensure that the travel hierarchy (avoid travel; walk or cycle; use public transport; use electric cars; use other cars) is reflected throughout and, for those roles that require a vehicle, electric (EV) pool cars and e-bikes provided. Transport needs of service provision (eg home carers) should also be reviewed alongside the location of customer facing services to identify opportunities to reduce staff commuting and business travel. Waste

Most of the greenhouse gas impact from waste is from methane from the decomposition of biodegradable waste in landfill. Reducing waste and increasing recycling are key to cutting this source of emissions. Waste disposal should follow the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion ahead of incineration or finally landfill. 

Waste contracts have a long lead-in time, and 10-year contracts with renewal options are in place in many local authorities. This means thinking ahead to ensure emissions are locked out rather than locked in at procurement. The introduction of deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility (EPR) in 2023 will have implications for council waste collections, and could reduce some materials going into household recycling and see new materials and funds appearing due to EPR. You can also consider setting up anaerobic digestion and composting facilities.

To reduce emissions from waste collection, you can procure electric or hydrogen fuelled vehicles when the fleet needs renewing. Land-use

Local authorities own 4 per cent of England’s land, 1 per cent of which is held in County Farms (operated by 44 local authorities), the rest in parks, nature reserves, highways, moorland, foreshore, downland, golf courses, allotments, Green Belt land and council buildings, schools and council housing. Peatland restoration, planting trees and low-carbon farming methods can all help reduce emissions.  Funding and investments 

Local authorities will need to access private sector investment and green finance to deliver the scale of the change needed. It is important that local authority legal and finance teams, and project delivery teams develop their knowledge of the finance industry. 

In 2020, it was found that many councils that had declared climate emergencies still had substantial investments in fossil fuel industries through their pension funds; nearly £10billion in total [xxvii]. Local authority pension funds should disclose their approach to assessing and managing climate risks and should consider investing in Net Zero aligned schemes within their legal duties.

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Direct control – questions to ask

1. Council estate (non-domestic): are there plans for ensuring new and existing buildings are built or retrofitted to zero carbon standards within the necessary timeframe? Are there plans to develop heat networks?

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Energy Systems Catapult has produced a range of guidance under its Modern Partners programme which aims to demonstrate that it is possible for the public estate to achieve at least 50 per cent direct carbon emission reduction by 2032.
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Doncaster Council used an £8.6M interest-free loan (filter for Doncaster council) to convert 45,000 street lights to LED and install a smart Central Management to cut their energy bills and reduce carbon emissions.

Stroud District Council is replacing gas boilers with heat pumps at two of its biggest buildings, including its headquarters, with an estimated annual saving of up to 156 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions across the two sites.
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Buildings and facilities managers will need support and training to ensure they know how to manage buildings to ensure carbon emissions are minimized. 

2. Social housing: are there plans to retrofit council-owned homes to bring them up to the highest energy efficiency standards; and to replace heating with low carbon options?

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The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has produced a Retrofit Policy Playbook designed to guide local authorities through setting up plans and programmes for housing retrofit.
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The London Borough of Enfield (PDF) is retrofitting eight tower blocks with the installation of low carbon ground source heat pumps in 400 flats. The heating upgrade is expected to result in residents’ energy bills reducing by 30-50 per cent.
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Tenants should be involved in decisions about changes to their home and should be provided with information and support in the use of any new heating systems and controls. 

3. Social housing: are new council homes (or homes built on council land) being built to be Net Zero?

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LETI (the London Energy Transformation Initiative) has produced a design guide [21] which outlines the requirements of new buildings to ensure our climate change targets are met.
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An ultra-low energy, award winning social housing scheme of almost 100 houses was developed to Passivhaus standards for Norwich City Council. This has the double benefits of massively reducing carbon emissions from heating and delivering significant savings on heating bills for residents. (See also the Exeter example in section 3.2.5.)
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The council teams commissioning the design and construction of the new council housing need to engage with the procurement teams at an early stage to build Net Zero carbon requirements into the design and construction briefs.

4. Transport: are there plans for decarbonising the council’s own transport, for example by minimising the need to travel and by switching vehicles to EVs?

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The LGA has produced a series of guides on decarbonising transport.
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Leeds’ Fleet Replacement programme [25] is designed to identify the lowest emission vehicle available when existing fleet vehicles need to be replaced. Where possible, this means electric vehicles (EVs) as the default option.
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Ensure staff understand and following a hierarchy of transport modes, ranked in order of carbon impact (eg zero carbon – walking and cycling; very low carbon – public transport; low carbon – electric vehicle; high carbon – private combustion engine vehicle). 

5. Land use: is the council managing its land in a carbon-friendly way?

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The countryside charity CPRE has produced a report on Reviving County Farms (PDF) [26] which includes some information on opportunities relating to the climate emergency.
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Dorset Council’s costed climate action plan includes 187 actions to make the council’s own operations Net Zero by 2040 and those of the whole area by 2050. 95 actions will require additional funding of £127m over the next 20 – 30 years. Actions range from installing renewable energy to trialling hydrogen in heating, installing heat pumps, reducing fertiliser use, working with County Farm tenants to introduce low-carbon farming practices, requiring zero carbon buildings, considering sustainable transport for developments, conserving biodiversity, planting woodland and installing EV charge points. This plan will be consulted on with the community. A RAG system has been used to assess CO2 reduction/ecological enhancement, value for money £/tCO2, urgency and deliverability.
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Councils should consult widely in their community and with local bodies on the role county farms should play in addressing the climate and ecological emergencies and delivering benefits to the local community.

6. Waste; is the council taking action to minimize emissions from waste, including through observation of the waste hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle)?

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The charity WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has a range of guidance for local authorities.
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Cheshire West and Chester’s bulky waste collection service is managed by two key furniture reuse organisations, Changing Lives in Cheshire and Revive. With the aim of diverting up to 95 per cent of bulky items from landfill, its responsive collections allow residents to reuse and recycle bulky items.

Vale of White Horse District Council has achieved 63 per cent of household waste being sent for re-use, recycling and composting. The council has used innovative digital forms of education to engage with residents in lockdown to ensure these high levels are maintained, including collaborative videos and an online recycling quiz.

63.3 per cent of household waste was sent for re-use, recycling and composting
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Include waste minimisation messages in climate emergency, public health and resilient recovery communications.

7. Investments: is the council ensuring its investments are climate friendly?

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The LGA has produced a Green Guide for Finance.
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In 2016, the London Borough of Waltham Forest became the first UK local authority to announce it would divest its pension funds away from oil, gas, or coal stocks over the course of a five-year period. By 2019, this had resulted in a 44 per cent reduction in the estimated value of the fossil fuel stocks held by the council.
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Any change to a council’s pension scheme will require consultation with staff.

8. Finance: is the council looking at innovative ways of financing climate action?

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The LGA has produced a Green Guide for Finance.
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Bristol City LEAP will establish a joint venture between the City Council and a strategic partner to deliver more than £1 billion of investment towards Bristol becoming a zero-carbon, smart energy city by 2030.

West Berkshire Council issued the first Community Municipal Investment through a Bond offer raising over £1 million from 600 investors, a fifth from the local area, to finance solar, LED lighting, cycling routes and environmental investments.
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Councils can raise funding for and from their community through Community Municipal Bonds (as described above).  

3.2.3 Place shaping

One of the most powerful levers that local authorities have to cut carbon is through their role in place shaping. Local authorities have a range of statutory duties and powers that shape the local area through its buildings, transport systems, waste services and natural environment. Many local authorities are using their powers creatively to help deliver their decarbonisation programmes.

When your council is commissioning work relating to place making, such as to develop regeneration plans or development of a town-centre masterplan, there needs to be a requirement in the briefs for the plans that they will demonstrate how they will contribute to Net Zero targets. Many plans will have medium to long term delivery timescales, so it is essential that Net Zero is one of the key elements considered.

As well as having a crucial role to play in place shaping for Net Zero through their statutory processes, local authorities also have a key role to play through engaging with their businesses, communities and individuals on local placemaking plans, issues and delivery. Hence, sustainable place shaping should involve all of those in the local area with a professional or personal interest in the natural and built environment. Spatial planning

Local planning authorities have the potential to secure sustainable, well-adapted, low emissions developments that are well-connected to bus routes and walking and cycling networks. In an ideal world, energy planning and spatial planning would be integrated. In addition, Combined Authorities and County Councils can influence emissions through wider spatial planning policies and guidance. Planning new buildings

(Please note that council-owned buildings, including housing, are covered above under ‘direct control’). 

Local Planning Authorities set the policies that define the need for development and acceptable standards for new developments. Current powers in place mean they can set higher energy efficiency standards than the minimum required by current Building Regulations and requirements for renewable energy. Several local authorities require larger developments to meet conditions on energy consumption and emissions. 

Local authorities also have a duty to enforce the minimum standards required by the Building Regulations through Building Control. This is important, as it helps to ensure that the levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy in the plans for new buildings are actually delivered when they are built.

New buildings should only be built in locations which are accessible by low/zero carbon means. This can often be addressed through site allocations during local plan development.

Zero carbon design guides need to be built into the planning policy and approval processes. An example of this is the LETI Climate Emergency Design Guide, which provides guidance on five key areas (operational energy, embodied carbon, the future of heat, demand response and data disclosure) for four types of building (small scale residential, medium/large scale residential, commercial offices, and schools). Existing buildings

Reducing carbon emissions from existing buildings, and particularly homes, represents one of the biggest challenges facing the UK in the transition to Net Zero. Homes account for approximately 77 per cent of buildings’ heating emissions footprint and up to 85 per cent of today’s homes will still be in use in 2050 [xxviii]. Local authorities have limited influence over privately owned and rented homes but there is still considerable scope for action. 

  • Improving energy efficiency in private rented homes will be important in delivering Net Zero. Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards were introduced for this sector in 2018 as well as for commercial buildings; local authorities have a duty to enforce these. 
  • Local authorities also have duties to take action where there are risks within homes, as measured by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This includes health hazards relating to damp and excess cold. 
  • A number of local authorities have taken a proactive approach to encouraging and enabling retrofit and renewable energy in private housing. This includes promoting government grants (such as the Green Homes Grant) and other sources of funding such as Energy Company Obligation (ECO) schemes, and actively participating in scheme delivery, including through the Local Authority Flex element of ECO [xxix]. Transport

Changing transport infrastructure and travel habits can not only reduce emissions but also lead to other co-benefits such as improved air quality and health. The following are key considerations for action that can be taken to move towards Zero carbon:

  • Ensure that policies and plans support walking and cycling (also known as ‘active travel’) and public transport. Local Plans and Transport Plans should aim to encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport rather than to use cars. New developments should prioritise walking and cycling infrastructure at the master planning stage and should be well-linked to viable public transport routes. Planning policy can set maximum (rather than minimum) limits on car parking spaces for developments or even require car-free development.
  • Infrastructure should be developed to support active travel and improve the experience for active travellers. Green infrastructure should be incorporated, where it can improve air quality and reduce noise levels.
  • As mentioned above, development sites should be allocated only where access to these is by low/zero carbon emission means.
  • Low/zero carbon emission road transport should also be supported through measures such as the provision of electric vehicle charging points and ensuring there is equitable access to these, particularly for residents who are unable to charge an electric vehicle at home.
  • Mechanisms should also be put in place to support public transport to become low/ zero carbon emission.

There are a number of other policy levers that local authorities can introduce that will support a move to zero carbon, such as: introducing Air Quality Management Areas; introducing Clean Air Zones which require drivers of polluting vehicles to pay a charge; imposing speed limits (eg 20 mph zones); introducing parking charges including a workplace parking levy; restricting traffic in certain areas or at certain times (Traffic Regulation Orders); taxi licensing only for electric taxis and private hire vehicles; and the potential to re-regulate buses [vii]. Land use

Land use and land use change has a key role to play in reducing carbon emissions. Actions such as peatland restoration, tree planting and low carbon farming methods can help reduce carbon emissions and may also help reduce flooding.

Local authorities are a key stakeholder in the management of land, impacting emissions from land-use, land-use change, forestry and agriculture. Local authorities work closely with farming communities and landowners on a range of land management issues, whilst Local Planning Authority policy affects land-use related emissions encompassing development, public access to green space and tree-cover.

Examples of how local authorities can take action and influence land-use include:

  • Directly through carbon reduction measures on their own estate (covered under ‘Direct control’, above).
  • Through service delivery, such as Highways functions, relating to tree maintenance, verge cutting and street trees.
  • Through planning policy on land use and land-use change, green belt protection, tree cover, development and access to green space. It is important to consider biodiversity gains as part of habitat protection. Engagement with landowners and the farming community on these is key.
  • Local authorities’ also have a wide range of other powers and duties that can be deployed to support carbon reduction across environment and wildlife protection, public access and rights of way, heritage and archaeology.
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Place shaping - questions to ask

Spatial planning: is zero carbon a key consideration for new developments or for regeneration of existing sites/areas?

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The Town and Country Planning Association has produced guidance on Masterplanning for Net-zero Energy.
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West Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council are working together with the local community to develop a new Net Zero garden village. An Energy Plan (PDF) has been produced, which sets out principles and targets to achieve Net Zero. This will guide subsequent energy master-planning by addressing building energy use and energy supply from the outset. 
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The council team commissioning the place-based plans need to engage with the procurement teams at an early stage to build these requirements into the briefs. In two tier council areas the Transport Authority and Planning Authority teams need to be part of the project team at an early stage to ensure consideration of and co-ordination of travel planning for Net Zero.

2. New buildings: does the council require new buildings to be lower carbon than the level specified in the current Building Regulations?

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The UK Green Building Council has produced a New Homes Policy Playbook designed to help local authorities drive up standards in new homes.
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Milton Keynes Council policy SC1 includes a number of requirements relating to energy and requirement. This includes, for developments of >10 dwellings or >1000m2 non-residential, that development must achieve: a 19 per cent carbon reduction above Building Regulations requirements; renewable energy generation that contributes to a further 20 per cent reduction in the residual carbon emissions; and financial contributions to the council's carbon offset fund to enable any residual carbon emissions to be offset by other local initiatives.
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Local authorities should engage with key stakeholders including developers when introducing new planning policies.

3. Existing buildings: is the council working with others to develop plans to support retrofit and renewable energy measures in the private sector?

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UK Green Building Council has produced a Retrofit Playbook to support local authorities in the development of initiatives to enable retrofit in private housing. 
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Warmer Sussex is a not-for-profit organisation, partnering with Hastings Borough Council and a range of community organisations and fully vetted local tradespeople to help the people of Sussex make their homes more energy efficient.

Solar Together London is a group-buying programme involving a partnership between local authorities and iChoosr which enables households and small businesses to install solar panels on their homes at an affordable price. 
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Local authorities can set up partnerships with large landlords in the local area to encourage them to commit to Net Zero and improve the energy performance of their stock.

4. Is the council working with others to improve skills levels of building design and construction professionals for energy efficient retrofitting?

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Innovate UK has produced Retrofit for the Future guidance; the Building Research Establishment has produced a number of training resources on domestic energy retrofit.
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South Lakeland District Council have provided funding to Cumbria Action for Sustainability over a number of years to support the transition to zero carbon for businesses, residents and communities across the district. One element of this has been to develop the skills of building construction and design professionals in how to deliver energy efficient retrofitting.
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Involve local building construction and design industry membership bodies in training development and promotion.

5. Land use: is the council managing its service delivery in a carbon and nature-friendly way?

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The charity Plantlife has produced a verge management best practice guide for highways managers and road engineers.
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Shropshire County Council cut a limited width of most rural verges only once a year. By keeping the width of cutting to a minimum, the remaining verge area can provide an important habitat for wildflowers and wildlife.

3.2.4 Procurement and commissioning

The commissioning, procuring and managing of contracts by local authorities offers considerable scope for achieving carbon reduction. Local government third party expenditure totals around £60 billion a year (revenue alone). By encouraging and enabling their supply chains to become more carbon efficient, councils will be helping their suppliers to become better placed to thrive in our future low carbon economy. Strategy

Councils’ procurement strategies should reflect their climate emergency declarations and targets. Carbon emissions that relate to goods and services procured by councils are classed as ‘Scope 3’ emissions. Councils have taken different approaches to whether they include Scope 3 emissions within their Net Zero targets. Some, like Cheshire East (below) are including emissions from their procured activities within their Net Zero targets. Waste hierarchy

Applying principles of the waste hierarchy and circular economy to procurement strategies will help to minimise carbon emissions whilst also cutting cost. This would include interrogating all procurement decisions to establish whether they are absolutely necessary. (If you don’t need to buy, you will save money and carbon.) Data

Most councils do not yet have comprehensive data on the carbon emissions arising from their procurement categories; a standardised methodology for capturing such data has not yet been developed. However, a fairly simple qualitative assessment can be undertaken to identify carbon ‘hotspots’. This will help councils focus effort where it will deliver the most positive outcomes and helps to prioritise practical actions and engagement with colleagues and the council’s supply chain. For example, in many councils, hotspots may include building developments, waste, facilities, highways investments and IT contracts. Incorporating Net Zero pathways into any new contracts in these areas will avoid locking in carbon emissions in the medium and long term. Councils can work in collaboration with prioritised suppliers to identify how emissions could be reduced, whether this can be measured and opportunities for innovation (which will be necessary to achieve ‘Net Zero’). Social value measurement

Local authorities are using The Social Value Act 2012 to deliver emissions reductions through procurement. This Act requires councils to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of contracts and how they can best benefit the local community. A National Social Value Measurement Framework, overseen by the National Social Value Taskforce, offers a flexible, option-based framework for procurement. It is designed to offer a consistent measurement solution supported by evidence and allows for benchmarking across and between sectors. A set of carbon reduction measures has recently been introduced as part of the framework, alongside other measures relating to other environmental benefits as well as jobs and skills. Councils can select the elements of the framework that match their priorities. Communication and engagement

Cutting carbon through procurement and commissioning will take time, but councils can signal their intent to their supply chain and thus help them prepare for new carbon reduction requirements that might form part of future tendering processes. It’s important that any carbon reduction requirements don’t make it difficult for local Small and Medium Enterprises to bid for contracts. Councils can work in partnership with Local Economic Partnerships and others to offer support and advice to SMEs on how to cut their carbon footprint, thus helping to put them into a strong position for future contracts. Work with local suppliers to help them decarbonise their businesses can form a central element of the green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councils can then use their contract management processes to ensure that suppliers are delivering against their commitments in relation to carbon reduction and other social value.

Providing climate literacy training to all staff working in procurement, commissioning and contract management will help to embed carbon reduction priorities and enable staff to identify and capitalise on carbon reduction opportunities. Offering this training to key partners within the supply chain will support suppliers to respond to requirements for them to become more carbon efficient.

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Procurement and commissioning - questions to ask

1. Has the council’s procurement strategy been updated to reflect the council’s carbon reduction/climate emergency objectives? Does the strategy refer to following the waste management hierarchy? 

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The LGA has published a guide to green procurement for councils.
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Hackney published its sustainable procurement strategy in 2018. This includes a key objective of cutting carbon alongside a host of other social values.

Cheshire East Council (PDF) has defined its own carbon footprint by scope and by the level of control the council has over the emissions. Direct control relates to the council’s Scope 1 & 2 emissions (<1 per cent of the area’s emissions). Stronger and medium control includes a portion of Scope 3 emissions and includes schools, waste, business travel, employee commuting and procurement activities. Together this makes up 3 per cent of the area’s emissions, of which 93 per cent is from procurement. Council members agreed that emissions caused by such procured activities should be included in their targets with action taken to cut these emissions.
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Have the council’s procurement, commissioning and contract management staff received ‘carbon literacy’ training so that they understand their role in helping the council meet its Net Zero targets? The Carbon Literacy Trust has received funding from BEIS to produce carbon literacy training materials designed for different functions within local authorities. 

2. Have procurement ‘hotspots’ been identified in terms of carbon emissions?

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The Government has published a set of sustainable procurement guidance including a prioritisation tool which can help identify which areas offer the greatest potential in terms of carbon reduction. 
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Hull City Council has set a 2030 target for being carbon neutral target. The Council’s consumption emissions are responsible for 6 per cent of the city’s total carbon emissions. The top six categories of expenditure are responsible for 85 per cent of these emissions, with ‘Works’ accounting for 26 per cent. Enabling and supporting the business sector is a priority for the council and the procurement team is working with suppliers to embed social value into procurement [xxx].
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Has your council extended its carbon literacy programme to key contractors and suppliers within these hotspots?

3. Is the council engaging with its current and potential supply chain on its carbon reduction ambitions?

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The LGA has produced guidance on green procurement.
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The leader of Sutton Council wrote to all its key stakeholders soon after the council declared a climate emergency: “I am writing to urge you to join us and play your part in reducing carbon emissions. I invite your organisation to join us in declaring a climate emergency and to set out the actions you will take to reduce your organisation’s carbon emissions.”

A coalition of local authorities in the North East are delivering the ‘BEST’ project to help SMEs in their area to reduce energy use and costs, making them better placed to win contracts that required evidence of carbon reduction activity.

3.2.5 Showcasing

Councils can act as a powerful role-model for their area, leading the way to Net Zero. They can demonstrate how an organisation can transition towards net-zero and can also test out and demonstrate innovative approaches.

Through the Net Zero Innovation Programme [xxxi], the LGA is working with universities to not only introduce them to their local councils, but to expand partnership networks across the whole country. This brings together partnerships of researchers and climate change officers from councils across England for an initial period of twelve months. The cohort is supported and facilitated by University College London and the Local Government Association to work collaboratively as a group and in smaller teams to define and co-create challenges and develop projects that could begin to address these.

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Showcasing – questions to ask

1. Is the council leading on or involved in piloting new approaches to achieving Net Zero? Do these cover renewable energy, transport, new build, retrofit; and smart energy?

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Renewable energy: Warrington Borough Council has invested £60m to build 60MW of solar generation (enough to supply around 10,000 homes) and a 27MW battery in the Warrington Solar (PDF) project. This is an ambitious subsidy free renewable project which demonstrates what can be achieved in a no-subsidy environment by a local authority with ambition and the correct partners. The investment is forecast to produce significant returns to the council over the project lifetime.
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Transport: Transport for Norwich, a partnership between the County Council and City Council plus local authorities within Greater Norwich, is a programme of work to encourage the use of more sustainable forms of transport. Projects include a new bike share scheme with the use of parklets – small landscaped areas with seating and planting which contribute to the greening of the city and create a more enjoyable outdoor space for the whole community.

Battery storage: South Somerset District Council owns the largest council-owned battery storage installation, 40MW. The batteries store excess renewable energy production at low usage periods, that would otherwise be wasted, and resupply it to the grid when needed at peak times. Working with Kiwi Power, the batteries provide balancing services to National Grid thus generating revenue for the council.

Retrofit: Councils can play an important role in demonstrating new approaches to whole-house retrofit by running pilot projects on their housing stock. Nottingham City Homes (an ALMO of the Council) was the first social housing provider to undertake whole house ‘energiesprong’ retrofits of some of their properties. This pilot project helped identify ways to speed up time on site and reduce costs for the rollout of this approach to more housing.

New build: Exeter City Council has developed new homes built to the exceptionally low-energy Passivhaus standard, helping to cut carbon emissions in the city while reducing fuel poverty for residents. The homes, have been built by the council’s own development company Exeter City Living.

District energy: Gateshead Energy Company is the operator of the Gateshead District Energy Scheme, both of which are owned by Gateshead Council. The scheme provides low-cost, low-carbon heat and power to homes, public buildings and businesses across the centre of Gateshead. Becoming part of Flexitricity’s demand response network means the project will receive in excess of £60,000 per year over the next 15 years, simply by using its flexibility to smooth out peaks and troughs in national electricity demand.

3.2.6 Partnerships The benefits of partnership working

The most effective way for local authorities to tackle climate change is in partnership with a range of other organisations. Benefits of partnership working can include:

  • Sharing resources to deliver all the work that needs to be done.
  • Sharing ideas and expertise.
  • Access to different funding streams.
  • Effective routes to communicate with the people you are trying to reach. Types of partnership

Partnerships may be strategic or may be formed simply to deliver a specific project. A project partnership has value if it helps you to achieve project aims that would otherwise be impossible  if it increases the cost-effectiveness of project delivery. Such partnerships may be relatively short-lived and can require relatively little effort to set up. Strategic partnerships tend to last longer and take more effort to establish and maintain. But they usually can provide greater support for the achievement of long-term goals. Types of partner

One often overlooked source of partners is within the council itself. For example, planners and sustainability officers can work together to ensure that proposals from developers meet Net Zero carbon planning policies to the maximum degree possible.

Partnerships between local authorities have driven some of the most successful initiatives to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable and low carbon technologies. These partnerships can be within one tier of local government and also across tiers. For some climate related issues, like increasing the sustainability of the transport system or waste strategies, cross-tier partnerships – involving county and district councils - can be vital. Local energy planning is also an area where collaboration between neighbouring authorities will lead to more coherent solutions. Multi-authority partnerships can devote more staff time to developing funding bids and to managing projects than a single authority working alone. Partnerships can also share costs of things like training sessions or information campaigns.

Partnerships between more than one local authority will often require working across party political as well as geographical boundaries.  This may be easier and more effective if the council already works cross-party internally on climate change.

Other local public sector organisations, including the health service, fire and police services, can be vital partners for activities that need engagement with individual citizens if they are to succeed. These organisations are often already trusted by people in the local area and therefore can be very effective in communicating the key messages that the council needs people to hear. They often come into contact with some of the most vulnerable local residents and so can help to make sure that everyone is aware of local projects.

There are voluntary and community groups operating in most local areas that are focused on tackling climate change. They are likely to be interested in working with a local authority on local projects. They can provide expertise and a trusted communication route between the local authority and their members.

Commercial partners have a role to play in many climate actions. At the simplest level, they can supply funding for an initiative, for example as part of a wider scheme or in the form of bulk discounts for technologies being installed through a local project. Local businesses may be keen to take part in local awareness-raising programmes to help their employees take action on energy use and carbon emissions. Larger businesses in the local area may want to work on climate action as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility activity.

One option for engaging with commercial partners is via your Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). These bring together local businesses, academic organisations and councils, and focus on economic development in the local area.  Working through LEPs to green the local economy can help to ensure that climate action brings economic benefits for the local community. It can also help bring local authorities under different political control together to exert greater influence at the national level.

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Partnerships – questions to ask

1. Does your council encourage officers from different departments or teams to work together to deliver cross-cutting aims? Does it have a cross-party working group of Councillors to ensure action to cut carbon is considered across all council functions?

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This ‘Services in Government’ blog offers some interesting insights into how to work across silos.

In Brighton and Hove Council, Councillors are formalising a cross-party working group to deliver actions which will tackle the climate crisis and ensure the climate emergency is at the heart of the council’s agenda and influences all other policies.
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Do you include appropriate cross-department working as a Performance Indicator for senior managers in the council?

2. Has your council considered working with neighbouring authorities and other local partners on climate action?

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council worked together to establish a Zero Emissions Zone in Oxford; this sets a path to zero transport emissions in the city by 2035.

The Suffolk Climate Change Partnership brings together Suffolk’s local authorities, the Environment Agency, Groundwork Suffolk, the University of Suffolk and a range of other local organisations. The aim is to help Suffolk’s residents and businesses to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the future impacts of climate change. In 2019 all the local authorities in the partnership declared a ‘climate emergency’, and the partners are now working together with the aspiration of making the county of Suffolk carbon neutral by 2030.
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Are council officers involved in cross council networks that help to make connections between authorities (for example the Association of Local Energy Officers).

3. Does your council work with local health sector organisations to make sure that projects are reaching everyone?

The Health Protection Agency’s evaluation of the Warm Homes, Healthy People Fund includes a range of case studies showing how local authorities have worked with the health sector and others to improve energy efficiency in the homes of vulnerable people.

London’s SHINE network brings together local authorities, the NHS, the London Fire Brigade, charities and the private sector to identify and help households who are struggling to heat their homes. The scheme grew from a partnership between the council and frontline health professional in Islington.
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Have you considered running training courses for health professionals to help them identify patients who could benefit from referral to home energy efficiency schemes?

4. Is your council working in partnership with others to ensure that training is provided in the growing low carbon economy?

The LGA has produced a range of resources for local authorities related to Local Green Jobs to support them in planning a green recovery following the COVID-19 crisis.

Norfolk County Council, Suffolk local authorities and the Education and Skills Funding Agency have jointly funded the East of England Offshore Wind Skills Centre, which opened in Great Yarmouth in 2018. It’s a collaborative regional training and competence facility that will support local people wishing to reskill and gain sustainable employment in the offshore wind industry on the New Anglia Energy Coast.

4. Has your council considered setting up a local climate change partnership, involving a wide range of public and private sector organisations from the local area, to help drive local climate action?

The Place-Based Climate Action Network (PCAN) offers guidance on how to set up a local Climate Commission.

Bristol has established a series of ‘One City’ Boards to work together to deliver the city’s plan. This includes an Environment Board, which has responsibility for oversight of climate change aims, and includes representatives from the council, the NHS, statutory public bodies, local community organisations, utilities and other businesses with interests in the city. The Board is supported by the work of a local Climate Change Commission.
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Have you considered involving key local stakeholders in co-designing your climate action plan, involving them from the start of the process to encourage them to support its delivery? 

Further information and guidance

3.2.7 Involving, engaging, communicating, influencing

A large proportion of the impact that local authorities can have on carbon emissions is through their ability to influence the actions that others take. Setting the standard

A pre-requisite for successfully encouraging others to take action is setting a standard for them to follow. Councils can do this by demonstrating their own corporate commitment (for example, by declaring a climate emergency); by taking action on emissions from the council’s own estate and operations; by developing and implementing supporting polices that enable others to act (for example through local land use and transport policies), and by offering exemplars (council buildings, schools and community buildings can all be used here). These actions are discussed in more detail in previous sections on ‘Direct Control’ and ‘Showcasing’. Engaging the wider community

There are many different ways that a council can communicate with and engage the local community. Councils have traditionally provided information (for example through messages in regular council communications) and consulted with local residents and businesses (through statutory consultations on proposals and plans that the council has developed).

Councils are increasingly working more directly with people to understand their views and ideas on climate action, through the partnerships discussed in the previous section. Co-design, where the council works with local people and interest groups to design programmes and projects, is also being used by some local authorities. Councils may also decide to empower the community, handing over the power to others to design and deliver solutions.

Communicating and engaging with local communities, businesses and partners on Net Zero will maintain a mandate for action and will also help to mobilise the community to get involved in carbon reduction initiatives.

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Involving, engaging, communicating, influencing – questions to ask

1. Is your council using its own actions as an example to others?

The LGA knowledge hub offers a platform for councils to share their work with others.

The LGA has produced guidance on behaviour change and the environment and separate guidance on climate change communications.  


Nottingham City Council is working with Energiesprong to refurbish social housing in the city to a very high level of energy performance. The programme won a 2019 Ashden award, leading to publicity that spread information about the innovative scheme to a wide audience, in the local area and beyond.
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Have you considered running a competition for council departments on the best communication of effective climate actions? Entries could form the basis of exemplars to communicate to the wider community.

2. Is your council communicating and engaging with local communities, businesses and partners on Net Zero?

C40 Cities has produced a guide for cities on inclusive community engagement on climate action. Though aimed at cities, there is useful content for all councils.

C40 Cities have suggested that climate action plans should include engagement with the community and stakeholders. They have included videos of mayors of Bogota, Cape Town, New York City, Paris, Portland and Seoul, explaining why climate change and social inequality should be tackled together.

2. Have you considered convening a Citizens Climate Assembly?

The RSA’s Innovation in Democracy Programme offers a handbook for local authorities on How to run a citizens’ assembly (PDF).

Brent Council convened a Climate Assembly (PDF), made up of 50 citizens from the Borough who were selected by independent experts to reflect the diversity within the borough. Residents who were not part of the Assembly were able to submit their views on relevant issues via an online survey. A series of workshops involving the assembly resulted in a series of recommendations for the council, which will be considered as the Council develops its sustainability strategy. 

3. Does the council have a new development or regeneration project that it could co-design with local residents to be carbon neutral?

The European Atelier Positive Energy Districts programme is developing guidance and examples of how local authorities can work with their communities to co-design urban transformation projects that deliver carbon neutral districts.

Copenhagen council is creating a Positive Energy District as it redevelops a disused area in its North Harbour. A key focus will be on involving citizens and businesses in the development of the area. An association is being formed, which any citizen can become a member of, to help to shape and influence what happens in the area.

Further information and guidance

  • The LGA offers resources to support effective communications by councils, via their Comms Hub
  • Climate Outreach has published a series of reports and guides on communicating various aspects of climate action, including explaining the science of climate change and its likely impacts, talking about low carbon lifestyles, and climate justice. 
  • Ashden’s LetsGoZero campaign for schools includes resources to help schools spread the word about the action they are taking on carbon emissions 
  • The C40 Cities Thriving Cities (PDF) programme has developed a new method for co-designing with residents a transition to a sustainable city, one that can help foster an economic recovery from COVID-19 that not only secures jobs but also builds resilient communities in sustainable and socially just cities.


Carbon offsets

NB The Climate Change Committee suggests that all local authorities should prioritise emissions reductions over the use of emissions offsets so that by 2030, offsets should only be used for areas where emissions are not avoidable due to a lack of technical alternatives.

Climate action co-benefits

Co-benefits refer to beneficial outcomes of action to cut carbon that are in addition to the carbon reduction. They may include health improvements, increased equity or social cohesion, economic opportunities, resilience, and increased biodiversity.

Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources.

Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting organisation.

Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in an organisation’s value chain.

Zero carbon, Net Zero and carbon neutral

Zero carbon means that no carbon dioxide emissions are being produced from a product/service eg zero-carbon electricity could be provided by a 100 per cent renewable energy supplier.

Carbon neutral means that while some carbon dioxide emissions are still being generated by a building/process these emissions are being offset somewhere else making the overall net carbon dioxide emissions zero. This is also termed net-zero carbon dioxide emissions.

Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions means that while some greenhouse gas emissions (not only CO2) are still being generated by a process, these emissions are being balanced by forestry or removed by technologies making the overall net emissions zero.


[i] Climate Change Committee, 2020, Local Authorities and the Sixth Carbon Budget

[ii] Committee on Climate Change 2019; Net Zero The UK's contribution to stopping global warming

[iii] Committee on Climate Change 2020. How much more climate change is inevitable for the UK?

[iv] The Paris Agreement

[v] IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5oC. Summary for Policymakers

[vi] COP26 UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021

[vii] 68% UK emission reduction target

[viii] Provisional UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics

[ix] Committee on Climate Change 2020; Local Authorities and the Sixth Carbon Budget

[x] The ten point plan for a green industrial revolution

[xi] Excess winter mortality in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics (

[xii] The cost of unhealthy housing to the NHS, House of Commons, 26 February 2019

[xiii] Public Health England publishes air pollution evidence review

[xiv] Jarrett, James & Woodcock, James & Griffiths, Ulla & Chalabi, Zaid & Edwards, Phil & Roberts, Ian & Haines, Andy. (2012). Effect of increasing active travel in urban England and Wales on costs to the National Health Service. Lancet. 379. 2198-205. 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60766-1.

[xv] Public Health England Heatwave Mortality Monitoring Summer 2016 (PDF)

[xvi] UK could cut food emissions by 17% by sticking to a healthy diet

[xvii] J. Milner, R. Green, A.D. Dangour, A. Haines, Z. Chalabi, J. Spadaro, A. Markandya and P. Wilkinson, “Health effects of adopting low greenhouse gas emission diets in the UK,” BMJ Open, no. 5, p. e007364, 2015.

[xviii] UK business opportunities of moving to a low carbon economy (PDF)

[xix] Local green jobs - accelerating a sustainable economic recovery

[xx] [xxi] Congestion cost UK economy £6.9 billion in 2019

[xxii] Emissions of carbon dioxide for Local Authority areas

[xxiii] Climate Change Committee, 2020, Local Authorities and the Sixth Carbon Budget

[xxiv] Carbon Literacy Project

[xxv] Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy -training

[xxvi] HM Government Carbon Plan (PDF)

[xxvii] Guardian: UK councils still invest in fossil fuels despite declaring climate emergency

[xxviii] UKGBC: The Retrofit Playbook (PDF)

[xxix] Energy Company Obligation (ECO): Help to Heat scheme - flexible eligibility

[xxx] LGA webinar: Greening Procurement (PDF)

[xxxi] The LGA runs a LinkedIn Net Zero Innovation Network. If you are a council officer or university professional working on climate change and would like to join the network please connect with Olivia Lancaster (Adviser, LGA) who will add you to the group – [email protected]