It may have taken sometime but at last the UK Government has revealed its Net Zero strategy to cut the country’s carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and to net zero by 2050. In the lead up to COP26 it will give Ministers the opportunity to portray the UK as one of the leading lights when it comes to tackling climate change, but when the dust settles, after the flurry of announcements, will the plan add up or will it fall short?
Much of what has been announced is welcome but it still leaves a number of unanswered questions, as to how the programme will be funded and a concern that yet again local government’s ability to play a key role in delivering such an important policy agenda, has been underplayed.
Whilst the strategy recognises that local government has a key role to play, its not clear as to what Government thinks this role is. What additional powers councils will receive! And, most importantly, whether any additional funding will come through the system to support delivery on the ground.
Connecting the route map to that outlined by the UK Committee on Climate Change, in its sixth carbon budget, is most definitely the correct approach to take - something that we at APSE have argued for over the past few years. Many councils have already forged ahead and focused their own strategies to meet their net zero declarations using this methodology, so perhaps we are really starting to see the beginning of some much needed joined up thinking at a national and local policy level.
Councils are of course best placed to give the local leadership and stewardship required to local communities and local businesses on this agenda; a number are already making great progress with their own action plans to eradicate their own carbon footprints.
For almost any other policy imperative, a £26B programme of action would seem hugely ambitious, but given the scale of what needs to happen, in the coming decades, it’s probably only the start and much more will be needed.
I remain unconvinced that individual grants that add up to the fitting of less than a hundred thousand heat pumps, over the next three years, will tip the balance or that less than £1B for the home upgrade scheme will get us the energy efficiency we need from the nation’s housing stock.
We need to upscale significant programmes of activity, coordinated and delivered en masse! Treasury has ruled out additional borrowing, so it looks like we will all be paying a bit more tax, one way or another, to get to a decarbonised society.
Perhaps there will be welcome news in the Comprehensive Spending Review for councils with the Chancellor backing up the strategy announcements with some much-needed resource at local level; allowing councils to get on with creating the necessary active travel networks on scale to reduce traffic on the roads or build the charging infrastructure to ensure the transition to electric vehicles is facilitated.
Maybe there will be the launch of a large scale retrofit programme of the tens of millions of homes across the UK which will be commissioned, coordinated and delivered by those who are best placed to act at the local level – local councils. Or even some funding for councils to decarbonise their own public property estate such as leisure centres. Maybe money for councils to go further with the success they have shown in delivering renewable energy schemes like solar or for major local reforestation programmes?
However, we know that there are already unprecedented revenue funding gaps at the local level, which means we are unable to adequately meet the needs of local people on something as fundamental as social care. And that other local services, closely linked to active lifestyles, such as parks and urban greenspace, are emasculated forms of their previous selves, then maybe the above vision for councils being properly resourced, to play a full part in the transition to net zero, is set out more in hope than expectation.
Government(s) need to believe in local councils and give them the powers and resources to really move forward at pace on the drive to net zero. There are so many wider policy priorities that this will also help deliver on; covid recovery of local economies; levelling up; the housing crisis; reshaping our town and city centres, to name a few. The estimates of green jobs associated with the actions, which will need to be undertaken, to deliver the Governments strategy has already gone beyond a million.
As we move towards COP26 surely this is the right time to invest in all of our futures and to do it in a fair, equitable and coordinated way across the country, so that every community, town and city gets their fair share of what they are going to have to pay for?
The best way of ensuring this happens is to give local councils a key role in the delivery of the plan. I really fear that anything less will see us fail to achieve the route map and the consequences of this could be catastrophic for so many people across the country.