COP26 underlined councils’ importance in tackling the climate emergency.
Last month, we saw world leaders set out their commitment to tackle the climate emergency, with a headline-grabbing mix of ambitious targets and multi-billion global funding announcements at COP26. Countries signed up to reduce emissions, safeguard forests and tackle methane, as part of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
For councils, the conference was also an invaluable opportunity to share learning and experience with our counterparts around the world.
I was delighted to be part of the LGA’s delegation in Glasgow, alongside our Chief Executive Mark Lloyd and other local leaders.
The LGA had representation in both the Blue Zone, where the negotiations took place, and the public-facing Green Zone.
In the Blue Zone, we hosted a series of important discussions and events focusing on the vital role of councils in delivering net zero and the potential for local government to make this happen further and faster.
In the Green Zone we had an interactive exhibition stand, in partnership with Northern Ireland LGA, where we showcased the important work councils have been doing to address the climate emergency.
Throughout COP26, we worked to make sure councils were at the forefront of the discussions – because it is only local government that holds the wide range of powers and tools needed to decarbonise transport, buildings, waste, energy, and growth.
And it will be local governments, in cities, towns and rural areas across the world, that will be mobilising and driving the collective action required to address climate change over the coming years.
Before the conference, the LGA had led calls for a dedicated local and regional government day, which took place on 11 November as the Cities, Regions and the Built Environment Day.
On that day, we joined local government representatives from across the globe to discuss an international framework for climate change and call for formal recognition of the contribution of sub-national governments to climate action.
The LGA also released new polling that found more people trust councils to act on climate change and reduce carbon emissions in their areas than government or world leaders.
We are very pleased the negotiators responded to these fantastic international efforts by securing recognition, in the COP26 text, of the urgent need for multi-level action, and of the role of local communities in addressing climate change.
This is an important achievement for us domestically, too, as it underlines local government’s role as a key delivery partner on climate change.
Meanwhile, we continue to call on government to empower local leaders with the right resources and powers to accelerate local climate change action.
Councils are a unique and powerful partner in achieving net zero, impacting on more than a third of all emissions from villages, towns and cities, such as through housing, transport and the natural environment.
But the influence councils can have on reducing carbon emissions has been underused.
We want the Government to deepen the climate change partnership between central and local government with a new approach focused on delivery, that gives councils the long-term funding to decarbonise building stock, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, deliver clean energy projects, and more.
For example, with the right investment and support, councils stand ready to embark on an ambitious programme of retrofitting more than 1,000 homes a day with low-carbon efficiency measures by 2030, reducing energy bills by nearly £700 million a year.
This would mean warmer and more comfortable homes and buildings, saving the NHS £1.9 billion a year, and supporting almost 31,000 new, skilled jobs in the construction and retrofitting industries.
We should also not be building new homes that will need retrofitting in the future.
Long before Glasgow, councils up and down the country have been declaring a climate emergency and taking local action in a variety of exciting ways to achieve net zero.
In Leeds, we have seen half of the organisations taking part in an electric vehicle trial scheme tell the city council they are now considering switching to zero-emission vehicles.
North Somerset has plans to rewild as much land as possible, creating new habitats and enabling wildlife to thrive.
In York, the council is delivering a new-build housing programme with all homes built to achieve zero carbon.
It is the action taken in the places where people live and businesses do business that will determine how successful we are in tackling the climate emergency.
The LGA’s next Forget What You Think You Know podcast episode focuses on climate action and looks at the agreement that was made at COP26 in Glasgow (see www.local.gov.uk/podcast).
This episode explores what is needed to fulfil the agreement and what else could have been added so communities could go further and faster on climate action.
The podcast also explores the important need for diverse leadership when it comes to tackling climate change, and why it is so important every level of government plays a role in tackling climate change.
Speakers include: Corinne Le Quere, a Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change Science; Cllr Pippa Heylings, Deputy Chair of the LGA’s Environment, Housing and Transport Board; and Olivia Sweeney, from Black and Green Ambassadors.
Resources for councils
Spending more than £60 billion every year, council procurement teams are uniquely placed to use their collective purchasing power to drive the transition to net zero and deliver real change.
The choices that are made now can positively shape local supply chains for years to come, affecting our long-term ability to reduce carbon emissions, create green jobs, and deliver on affordable and social housing targets. The LGA toolkit, ‘Sustainable procurement: delivering local economic, social and environmental priorities’ (see www.local.gov.uk/publications), has been developed to support commissioners, procurement practitioners and contract managers to consider social value outcomes when delivering local priorities – including achieving net zero and reducing consumption and waste.
Meanwhile, we have created an e-learning module on biodiversity for council officers and members (www.local.gov.uk/biodiversity-e-learning-councils). It will offer an introduction to the subject and guidance on how councils can protect natural habitats.
Recognition for net zero programme
The Net Zero Innovation Programme, led jointly by the LGA and University College London, has won a ‘highly commended’ award in the first Climate Challenge Cup – a new international competition celebrating innovative local solutions to global climate issues.
The programme brings UK universities and English local authorities together for an intensive eight-month period to address a local challenge that can help councils achieve their net zero commitments, by sharing resources and knowledge, and working on real-life projects to test methodologies, gather data and deliver impact.
Current projects include Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Leeds Beckett University designing and overseeing the construction and evaluation of a new, low-energy housing estate in Barnsley using the latest research and innovation in insulation and renewable energy; and Hertfordshire County Council and the University of Hertfordshire working with care homes to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency. See www.local.gov.uk/NZIP