4 maps that show why we need local approaches to achieve Net Zero

July 28, 2021  

The causes and effects of climate change are different in every part of the UK. If we want to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions, we need local solutions to this national problem. Luca Tiratelli maps the case for local action.

Climate change policy thinking at the national level is uninspiring.

The ambition of current plans lags far behind the severity of the situation. Record breaking temperatures in places like Canada barely register in our media. Despite ‘accepting the science’ of climate change, our political class remain in a state of collective denial.

But if the national picture looks bleak, there are more promising signs locally. Over 300 local authorities have declared climate emergencies. And most of those have also committed to reaching net zero ahead of the government’s 2050 target (according to this list).

If we are going to achieve net zero then local leadership and local solutions will be crucial. These maps show why – the sources of carbon emissions vary from area to area, and the impact of climate change will be different in every part of the UK.

Every local area will have a different journey to net zero. Top down policy won’t get them there.

The causes of climate change differ from locality to locality

If we look at emissions even across neighbouring local authorities, we can see that their causes vary to a great extent.

The maps below show, some parts of the country that have relatively low rates of per capita domestic emissions (from houses and personal cars etc.), have relatively high rates of industrial and commercial emissions (from factories and construction etc.) – and vice versa.

This means that different local areas are going to have very different journeys to achieving net zero. They will need to focus on different things to get there.

The effects of climate change will also be different in different places

It’s not just reducing emissions that will need different solutions in different areas. Dealing with the impact of climate change locally will depend on the local effects.

In low lying and coastal areas, as the map below illustrates, the physical challenge of flooding is going to become ever more pressing. (As I write, parts of my own city are under water.) Indeed, it is likely that this will be the most expensive and deadly effect of climate change that the UK is likely to face.

Conversely, dealing with increasing rates of migration (both from within the country and without) will be a likely effect of climate change that mostly affects urban centres.

Sayers, P.B., Horritt, M., Penning Rowsell, E., and Fieth, J. (2017). Present and future flood vulnerability, risk and disadvantage: A UK scale assessment. A report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published by Sayers and Partners LLP.’ via Climate Just

Flooding and migration are issues that can both be placed under the banner of ‘climate change’, but they are incredibly different challenges. They’ll need different kinds of planning, different kinds of expertise and different kinds of investment from local decision makers. What they don’t need is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ national approach.

Net Zero is a local challenge

Our national aim of net zero emissions is inherently a local one.

Climate change is not a single issue and it is not one challenge. It means different things for different places, and strategies for both the prevention of and adaption to damage need to reflect that.

While national policy fails to deliver, local action can show us the way forward – indeed, it will have to.

New research from New Local will explore exactly how we can make this happen.

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