As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson established net-zero carbon as the quickest route to ending our reliance on Russian oil and gas, reducing household bills, and boosting local jobs and skills across the country.
To us at UK100, as a network of climate-ambitious local authorities, it was clear that the net-zero priorities championed by local leaders across the country were now a mainstream UK Government priority.
Now, though, the future of the recently introduced Energy Bill is unclear.
And, rather than helping accelerate progress down the road to net zero, the Climate Change Committee’s recent progress report to Parliament – and our own, newly published local delivery progress report – are, instead, vital tools for ensuring an incoming prime minister isn’t tempted to take a wrong turn off the road altogether.
Taken together, they assess how far we have come since the UK’s 2050 net-zero target became legally binding, and how far we have yet to go, and illustrate why net zero is an indispensable goal for people and the planet.
Our report – made in consultation and collaboration with our more than 100-strong, local authority membership – shows that the Government has made laudable progress in empowering councils to take climate action. But not enough.
“Too often, the ambition of councils is not captured by the Government”
It finds that, too often, the ambition of councils is not captured by the Government – a failure that presents a significant risk to the 2050 deadline – and that councils need more support from, and collaboration with, national government. Government can’t achieve net zero without local authorities, and vice versa: we need to work together.
Not all councils are the same. District, county, unitary and combined authorities have varying powers and funding deals.
Local net zero should not be a postcode lottery dependent on the type of council you have representing you, and the level of devolution and funding they have at their disposal.
The recently established Local Net Zero Forum is a way forward, but a new prime minister needs to give the body a clear direction and the power to deliver.
It is also vital that the forum has strong local, regional, and devolved government representation and direct ministerial collaboration, and that it works with local leaders to provide clear and consistent guidance on net-zero monitoring and reporting, to track local progress.
Fundamentally, though, the most important thing is that a new prime minister continues to recognise the importance of net zero and its reach across government departments.
If it was up to me, the next occupant of Number 10 would take a copy of Innovate UK’s ‘Accelerating net-zero delivery’ to bed with them every night.
This key report finds local and regional leaders are best placed to reduce bills and improve lives through net zero; and that for every £1 invested in local net zero, energy costs are slashed by almost £2 and communities reap £14 of wider social benefits.
It concludes that local net-zero action “will lead not just to energy savings, but also to wider social benefits that have potential to advance the levelling-up agenda”.
As UK100 has long argued, levelling up and net zero are inexorably linked – and both agendas are too precious a baton to be dropped by Boris Johnson’s successor.