House of Commons debate, COP26 and limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, 21 October 2021

Local government plays a leading role in achieving net zero carbon, and therefore halting temperature rises. Almost two thirds of councils in England are aiming to be carbon neutral 20 years before the national target and 91 per cent of local authorities have adopted at least one net zero commitment, according to the National Audit Office.


Key messages

  • Local government plays a leading role in achieving net zero carbon, and therefore halting temperature rises. Almost two thirds of councils in England are aiming to be carbon neutral 20 years before the national target and 91 per cent of local authorities have adopted at least one net zero commitment, according to the National Audit Office.
  • During the pandemic, local government in all places vividly demonstrated its capacity to mobilise collective action and lead the public through change. This is testament to the ability of councils to tackle society’s most pressing and significant challenges.
  • We want to ensure lasting, positive impacts for the local government sector from COP26. We are supporting international calls for multilevel action and formal representation of regional and local government through a dedicated chapter for subnational governments in the official agreement reached at COP26. We have also been calling for a key role in designing and participating in the dedicated local government day on 11 November 2021, with the UK Government.
  • Councils want to work as partners with government, industry and communities to meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050 or earlier. The LGA’s A local path to net zero campaign sets out why councils should be trusted partners as place-shapers, convenors, delivery agents, commissioners and owners of assets.
  • Climate change requires significant international, national, and sector leadership, but only local government can mobilise and join-up the collective action of all partners, businesses, and people in places.
  • Local authorities are directly responsible for between 2 - 5% of their area’s emissions but have direct powers or influence over more than 30%. Councils therefore hold a wide range of important powers and assets for decarbonising and adapting to climate change.
  • We have been calling for central Government to work with the local government sector and businesses to establish a national framework for addressing the climate emergency.
  • We have also been calling for a Ministerial - local government climate taskforce to be set up, bringing Ministers and local leaders together to drive co-ordinated and cross cutting action on climate change. We propose that this is led by the Department for Housing, Levelling Up and Communities.
  • A significant factor determining council’s ability to continue successfully delivering the net zero agenda is access to funding. The LGA’s Build back local: Building back better sets out the core issues of uncertainty, spending power and fragmentation.
  •  In 2017/18, nearly 250 different grants were provided to local government. Half of these grants were worth £10 million or less nationally. At the same time, these grants are highly specific – 82 per cent of the grants are intended for a specific service area.

Housing

  • One of the most effective areas of focus when it comes to addressing carbon emissions is the built environment, with more energy-efficient homes reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
  • In addition to building energy efficient new homes, to achieve net zero by 2050, close to 28 million homes will need to change how they use energy through methods such as zero carbon heating systems.
  • Councils are committed to ensuring new, sustainable homes are built and communities have quality places to live, close to sustainable public transport options. It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system with public participation at its heart, which gives communities the power to participate and engage in our national shift to a carbon neutral future. 

Transport

  • Surface transport accounts for 23 per cent of UK GHG emissions. Car journeys alone generate 59 per cent of these emissions.
  • Encouraging the uptake of Electric Vehicles (EVs) to replace internal combustion engine vehicles and increasing modal shift from car journeys to more sustainable active travel and public transport are the two main elements of transport decarbonisation.
  • The LGA has published a series of briefings on how local government can decarbonise transport.
  • For councils to fully capitalise on new powers and increased role clarity, greater funding and certainty will be essential. Local transport authorities need clear, flexible, multiyear funding to build capacity to set the plans and deliver the schemes needed to fulfil their role.

Waste and recycling

  • Waste avoidance provides a significant opportunity for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Avoiding waste in the first place is the best environmental outcome. We made the case for this in our submissions to the Extended Producer Responsibility and Deposit Return Scheme consultations.
  • The right investment in waste and recycling infrastructure will help towards achieving the net zero target and a circular economy for resources. Councils have a strong track record of delivery, diverting millions of tonnes of household waste from landfill. In 2018/19 2.8 million tonnes of household waste was sent to landfill compared to 14 million tonnes in 2012/13.
  • Transitioning to a circular economy is critical to ensuring materials maintain their highest value for as long as possible. Councils can play an important role in facilitating the introduction of circular economy principles through procurement or promotion within their own activities.

Local government funding

Contact

Jonah Munn, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

jonah.munn@local.gov.uk