Steering a path to net zero

The LGA has published a new workbook to help councillors tackle climate change.

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in achieving the UK’s 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target. 

While local authorities are directly responsible for only 2 to 5 per cent of local emissions, through their policies and partnerships they have strong influence over more than a third of emissions in their area. 

Work to cut these emissions is already under way; most UK councils are developing or have developed climate action plans, including the 300-plus councils that have declared a climate emergency. 

To help councillors play an active role in supporting their local authority and their communities in working towards the net zero target, the LGA has produced a workbook providing insight and assistance with the key skills they will need to work effectively in this area.

The workbook sets out why tackling climate change is important, outlines the main sources of greenhouse gases, explains what ‘net zero’ is, looks at some of the wider benefits of taking action – for example, improving health, increasing the energy efficiency of homes, and creating ‘green’ jobs – and looks at the vital role of local authorities.

Local authority practice can directly shape emissions in many ways, such as through ensuring new council-owned buildings are designed to be low carbon, retrofitting existing building stock, minimising the need for transport, and ensuring that low-carbon methods of transport are encouraged and enabled.

Policy-making can also have far-reaching impacts. For example, one of the most powerful levers that local authorities have to cut carbon is through their role in place shaping. Many local authorities are using their powers in relation to buildings, transport systems, waste services and the natural environment to help deliver their decarbonisation ambitions.

Councils can exert significant influence on the supply chain by requiring their suppliers and contractors to be working towards net zero.

They can also encourage and enable emissions reduction by others – for example, through convening a local climate change partnership that brings organisations from the public, private and third sectors together to work towards reducing emissions; and supporting community groups that wish to take climate action, through development of renewable energy schemes or active travel initiatives.

The workbook suggests key questions councillors can ask (see box, left), considers the costs and benefits of climate change action, and includes a series of council case studies and examples.

Councillors have an active role to play in supporting their local authority and communities on climate change. Strong political leadership that underpins a council’s ambition and supports action will be critical to meeting councils’ net zero ambitions.

Overarching action to cut carbon – key questions to ask

  • Has your council created a cabinet position (or equivalent) with responsibility for climate action/net zero?
  • Has your council measured its carbon emissions and developed a climate action plan?
  • Has a policy and service review been conducted to align policy, spending and functions with net zero?
  • Has a net zero training and capacity-building programme been carried out within the council?
  • Has your council adopted a decision-making process that considers the carbon impact of any decision?

Download ‘A councillor’s workbook on the local path to net zero’, and for more information about the LGA’s wider work on climate change, please visit their climate change hub.

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