Government needs to better clarify the responsibility of councils in net-zero

By Nicola Beach | 14 September 2021

Our everyday lives have been dominated and characterised by coronavirus over the last 18 months but there has been one consistent topic alongside the pandemic: climate change.

We have seen a lot written about how England can achieve net-zero, including the role of local government within that target. With local government estimated to be able to influence over four-fifths of the country’s emissions, it is vital councils are given the tools to make a difference.

But, to date, there have been precious few deep dives into the challenges of achieving this in county areas – alongside the opportunities a greener future could create in those places. The County Councils’ Network’s recently released report aims to highlight these.

Despite the best will of unitary, county councils, and district authorities, emissions have increased in county areas from 49.9% to 52.2% of England’s total over the period 2005-18. This contrasts with decreases in every other part of the country. The Government cannot hit its net-zero target without a reversal in these county figures, but more importantly, it moves the country further away from where it needs to be.

The report finds that a city-centric focus to climate funding and policies has been to the detriment of counties – around 30% of the country’s electric vehicle charging points are in London, for example, where large rural and remote geographies mean it would be costlier and more difficult to wean people off fossil fuels, even if they acknowledge the climate threat.

If 53% of England’s emissions are now being generated by counties, then funding directed to climate action should be proportionate to this particular challenge.

The report concludes that the total pot of funding for local authorities to address climate change is insufficient, and Government needs to better clarify the role and responsibility of councils in net-zero – echoing what the Local Government Association and the National Audit Office have argued.

This is a vital report at a vital time and shows that contrary to what may be perceived, not everywhere in England is on a downward trend. Ahead of COP26, it is crucial we start making the argument for resources and powers to address this now.

Nicola Beach is chair of the Association of County Chief Executives


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