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More than half of the UK’s principal local authorities have declared a climate emergency in the last eight months (261 of 408 local authorities). Of these, many have also set net zero targets, with some specifying they will be net zero by 2030 - 20 years ahead of the UK government’s 2050 target.

But how can they move from a political statement of intent, to the delivery of robust and measureable change? This is the challenge facing many of the UK’s local authorities, as they seek to turn climate emergency declarations into viable action plans.

Specific challenges

A recent Carbon Trust event brought local authority officers together to discuss the key challenges they are facing. Chief amongst there were:

  • Governance
    A lack of consistent, coherent political and corporate leadership on climate change within local authorities has long been an issue. Although we are seeing a shift, more still needs to be done to escalate climate action within council priorities. Unless climate action is mainstreamed at cabinet-level, support can drain away quickly.
  • Target setting
    Most local authority officers are facing targets that have been set in order to meet political and public objectives, rather than evidence or science-based targets that build on a robust scoping exercise. For many, there is little understanding of what net zero will mean in reality for their council, whether the timeline is realistic and what budget will be required to achieve it.
  • Uncertain scope
    There is a need for clarity regarding the emission sources that are in scope when considering targets. Is action expected on emissions from the council’s own operations or should it cover the activities of everyone living and working in the local authority area? Will climate action plans include scope 3 emissions from purchased good and services, business travel, waste and leased buildings? Scope 3 emissions are often 70-80% of a council’s total footprint, given the use of contractors for waste collection, construction, social services and other services.
  • Understanding and integrating adaption
    In the drive to achieve net zero targets, adaptation measures continue to be overlooked. Mitigation measures tend to take precedence as they represent quick wins on climate action with straightforward business cases. In many local authorities, there is a lack of expertise on adaptation. Flood risk is relatively well understood, but there is limited awareness of other risks, such as overheating, and little or no evidence available at the right scale.
  • Government support and coordination
    Support and coordination from national government is needed in order to ensure best practice is shared, maximise efficiency savings and to establish an agreed reporting methodology.

A framework for action

The fact that council leaders are publicly committing to action on climate change is a huge opportunity. We are working with many local authorities to help them move forward with delivery. In many instances, we support progress by taking them through the following essential steps in order to deliver a robust, credible carbon reduction strategy:

  • Scoping
    Confirming what emissions will be covered - scope 1 and 2 emissions, but also scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services as well as indirect transport related emission sources and waste, for example.
  • Carbon baseline
    A comprehensive measurement of current carbon emissions on an organisational basis using the GHG protocol or an area-wide basis using a production-based or a consumption-based approach.
  • Target setting
    Refining targets based on the evidence and science. Setting realistic targets for scope 1 and 2 emissions and, where required, separate targets for scope 3 emissions.
  • Decarbonisation pathways
    Considering actions across the short, medium and long term and setting budgets for 2020 to 2030 (or beyond to 2050). Pathway modelling will help local authorities understand the most appropriate options for adoption in order to reach their goal.
  • Action plan
    Including stakeholder roles and responsibilities and the necessary governance structures required to oversee the implementation of the plan.
  • Monitoring and evaluation
    Monitoring and evaluation that is conducted for each project as well as for the overarching carbon action plan.

How we can help

Learn more about our local climate action planning services

Or contact one of our advisors:

+44 (0)20 7170 7000

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