Effective action at a local level needed to achieve net zero


A coalition of local government, environmental and research organisations has welcomed National Audit Office (NAO) support for increased resourcing to empower local authorities to scale up and coordinate their actions.

The NAO report Local government and net zero in England recognises the critical importance of local authorities in achieving net zero and their need for the skills, resource and funding to be able to work effectively. The report also recognises local authorities’ ability to drive and support the behavioural change within communities that is needed to reduce emissions.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), Ashden, Friends of the Earth, the Grantham Institute at Imperial College, Green Alliance, Greenpeace UK, the London Environment Directors’ Network, the Place-Based Climate Action Network at LSE and Solace have come together to highlight the vital role of local authorities in addressing the impacts of climate change. The coalition is supported by the Local Government Association and London Councils.

According to the NAO, 89% of local authorities have adopted at least one commitment to decarbonise their activities. In addition, a third of single and upper tier authorities have adopted a more ambitious commitment to accelerate the decarbonisation of  their local area by or before 2030. Despite this, the government has yet to consult with the sector on responsibilities and priorities in order to better support local action.

The coalition agrees with the NAO that because local authorities have responsibility for their local places – particularly in the critical areas of local transport, social housing and waste – their role is essential if we are to meet national decarbonisation targets.

In its recent report, Recognising local authorities as key partners in the Net Zero Strategy, the coalition called on the government to work with local authorities to create a mutually agreed central framework. It also set out four key priorities that the government should adopt to ensure the success of the forthcoming Net Zero Strategy:

  1. A clear commitment to a mutually agreed central framework to embed local authorities as delivery partners in decarbonisation policies. Local government needs long-term, stable funding, realistic timeframes and sufficient support to deliver at both pace and scale.
  2. A clear message that a place-based solution is the best approach for several sectors to ensure that local infrastructure, behaviour and partnership activities are aligned to net zero. National policies will only be delivered when supported by local decision making and behavioural changes.
  3. A cross-departmental approach to working with local authorities. The current siloed approach is a continuous struggle for local authorities and without a collaborative approach, there is a risk that national net zero goals will not be met. Any contradictions in policies and funding programmes must be removed.
  4. Acknowledgement of the wider co-benefits of delivering on decarbonisation policies, and how local authorities can support these in a way that will also deliver better public health, reduce inequalities, restore nature and build thriving local economies.

The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget report (December 2020), also recognised the importance of local authorities working together with government, stating that carbon targets can only be delivered if they: “work seamlessly together”.

Paula Hewitt, ADEPT President said, “We welcome the NAO’s recognition of the key role of local authorities in achieving net zero, and also for putting forward how government could work with us to create a more consistent, effective and efficient approach. Currently, funding for net zero work is fragmented and local authorities need certainty, resources and the ability to develop the necessary skills. We need government to engage with us to develop a common framework and to move to a system wide approach. We must have effective action at the local level.”

Sandra Bell, Senior Sustainability Analyst, Friends of the Earth said: “Without action at the local level, the government’s own targets for cutting carbon are not going to be met. Local authorities are working with their communities to set out plans for tackling climate change and achieving a green recovery.  But even the most ambitious local authorities can find themselves at a logjam, because they lack the long term funding and robust policies from national government which will help them deliver on their local climate action plans.

“Resourced properly, and with the right powers, local authorities can ensure that everyone benefits from a safer climate, comfortable homes, good quality green jobs and better access to nature.”


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