Government is holding local areas back in quest for net zero

Councils lack the powers and resources they need to meet net-zero targets or adapt to the effects of climate change, says a new report urging the Government to devolve climate powers to local areas.

In the lead-up to COP26, think tank New Local’s Communities vs Climate Change argues that international and national agreements are incapable of addressing full consequences of climate change.

Instead, a locally led response is the “missing piece”, as shown by initiatives from tree-planting in the flood-affected Calder Valley, to a community-owned wind farm in Bristol, where local government and communities are joining together to tackle climate change and build green economies.

Local government has a direct influence over a third of emissions in their area, and each area is also responsible for meeting its own net-zero goals.

However, councils are being held back by “unclear and contradictory” government policy, argues the report. Local areas are left in the dark about what they can and should do to prevent climate change. Insufficient and short-term funding means councils are unable to invest in the kind of deep, systemic change needed to meet ambitious climate change goals.

The report argues that the Levelling Up and climate change agendas should be working hand-in-hand with each other.  Local areas should be empowered to build economies that are both green and inclusive, according to their distinct needs and opportunities.

Jessica Studdert, Deputy Chief Executive, New Local, says:

“The journey to net zero offers specific opportunities for each local area: new skills that could be developed; new green jobs in clean industries.”

“But Britain’s centralised nature is weakening our climate response. We are preventing local areas from grasping the opportunities of a new green economy, or adjusting to the impact of climate change.

“Climate change will make increasing demands on us to change how we work and live our lives. This transition cannot be imposed from the top down, it must be navigated and negotiated with communities directly.”

Luca Tiratelli, Senior Policy Researcher, New Local, says:

“The impact of climate change will be felt on a place-by-place basis – floods, job losses, population shifts. So shouldn’t our response be local too?

“We’ll soon be looking to COP to provide a magical solution to all of our climate-change woes. But a big international agreement – however ambitious – will miss the mark in different communities.”

“Councils can do what COP simply can’t. They can respond to the unique circumstances of each place, help people adapt to the serious changes already in motion, and join people and businesses together to create a tangible response to climate change.”

Among other recommendations, New Local is calling on the Government to put in place an ambitious programme of devolution to meet net-zero targets. It also calls for international frameworks – like those arrived at by COP – to deepen their commitment to local and community-led action.

The research was produced in partnership with Eden Project Communities, Groundwork UK and Grosvenor.

Graham Duxbury, CEO, Groundwork UK, says:

“We know that tackling the climate and nature emergencies will need action from the bottom-up as well as the top down. We also know that giving communities the power and resources they need to lead that change will support a just transition to a low-carbon society – reducing health and environmental inequalities.

“I hope the recommendations in this report help national policymakers understand the importance of supporting local delivery and provide new ideas and inspiration for those already supporting community action. Ultimately this is about ensuring more people get a say and are able to get involved in shaping the future they want.”


Communities vs Climate Change: The Power of Local Action will be available at www.newlocal.org.uk/research-projects/communities-vs-climate/ from 00.01 on 20 October 2021.    

For all media enquiries please contact Katy Oglethorpe on katy@newlocal.org.uk or 0791 2161 536.

New Local is an independent think tank and network of councils, with a mission to transform public services and unlock community power.

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