This information is extracted from a Friends of the Earth article from March 2019 which lists 33 actions local authorities can take on climate change.
Despite cutbacks there is still a lot local authorities can do on climate change
Local authorities have an important role in delivering carbon emission reductions, particularly in transport but also in other areas such as buildings.
Because action on climate change brings many co-benefits it is also important in addressing other areas of public concern, such as public health.
Most local authorities are doing far too little on climate change and some are even making decisions that will increase emissions (e.g. investing in airport expansion, promoting new road schemes).
Austerity cuts have severely reduced local authorities’ ability to act. This is particularly true for actions that require on-going spending (revenue spend).
Cuts in staff numbers has also severely constrained capacity and reduced expertise.
Borrowing for capital spend on infrastructure is easier.
But there are no cost/low cost actions they can take on climate change, including in partnership with others.
They can also raise money for action, including for revenue costs (e.g. Nottingham’s Workplace Parking Levy, Haringey’s zero carbon homes offset, Newham’s licensing of private renting).
Local authorities don’t have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in line with the Climate Change Act but they do need to produce plans that have a big bearing on emissions (e.g. transport, local plans, minerals plans, procurement). Campaigning to influence these is very important.
What local authorities can and can’t do varies depending on the type of local authority.
There are two-tier local authorities (e.g. county councils, district councils), unitary authorities, metropolitan authorities, and combined local authorities. Some combined local authorities may have a Mayor who has a strategic overview and powers.
Responsibilities and powers also vary depending on which country the local authority is in.
Regardless of the type of local authority, all would be able to do much more if the government were to give them the responsibilities, powers and finance needed.
Powers to raise money is a crucial part of this, not all the money needs to come from central coffers.
What needs to happen in this area will be covered by a future briefing.
Friends of the Earth intends to campaign to get government to give local authorities more finances and powers.
Local campaigning is absolutely critical to securing local authority action but it needs to be informed by what particular local authorities can reasonably do within their particular constraints. Local campaigning also has to be informed by the different types, geography and demographics of local authorities.
This document is an overview of what local authorities can do right now on climate change, including three over-arching strategic actions. It also identifies 33 individual actions local authorities can take.
This briefing will be supplemented by a number of case studies that will provide more detail.
After a decade of austerity cuts and deregulation councils might not be able to do as much as they once could on climate change, but they can and should still do what they can.
The Committee on Climate Change, in their 2012 report on local authority action said that:
“There is currently a significant risk that local authorities will not develop and implement sufficiently ambitious low-carbon plans … given the highly constrained fiscal situation. In order to mitigate this, and the associated risk for meeting national carbon budgets, the Government should seriously consider providing additional funding … and/or introducing a statutory duty for local authorities to develop and implement low-carbon plans.”
The government failed to respond to the recommendation and the reality is that the vast majority, if not all local authorities, are not implementing “sufficiently ambitious low-carbon plans”.
There is however a growing number of authorities passing motions declaring a ‘climate emergency’ and expressing a willingness to take action.
It is important that any action they take is beyond simply improving their own estate (e.g. the buildings they own) and instead encompasses all the areas where they have powers and responsibilities.
The Committee on Climate Change recommended that local authorities concentrate efforts in areas where they can have significant influence, namely “in buildings, surface transport, and waste”.