A new report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) maps out the critical role local authorities must play in helping Britain meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets.
The report, commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), outlines how influential local authorities can be over those sectors with the largest emissions, such as residential and commercial buildings, surface transport and waste.
The CCC argues that the lack of requirements for councils to set local emission targets severely hampers the realisation of national carbon budgets, especially as prohibitive austerity measures have led to reduced funding. The CCC is concerned that a lack of incentives will lead to local green ambitions falling to the wayside if councils are under no obligation to reduce local emissions.
As a result the committee has recommended that DECC introduces a statutory duty for all local authorities to develop and implement carbon plans, in order to strengthen incentives for local authorities to act.
Given stronger incentives, the report identifies how “local authorities can support emissions reductions by using energy efficiency programmes, promoting sustainable travel options, giving planning approval to renewable energy projects and developing recycling programmes.”
The CCC maintains that more ambitious local carbon reduction programmes will bring a greater benefit to communities; reducing energy bills, improving health and increasing economic prosperity.
Committee member Professor Julia King said: “The research we’ve done shows local authorities have the potential to significantly impact on the UK’s scale and speed of emissions reductions. There is a wealth of good work being done already at local and regional levels but many opportunities remain untapped. It is essential that these opportunities are delivered if we are to meet our national carbon targets.
“We are therefore asking both local and national government to address these issues. Local authorities need to show leadership and recognise their wider role in supporting local emissions reductions. The government needs to strengthen incentives for action by providing national funding where required and should consider introducing a statutory duty for area-wide, low carbon, plans.“
The committee has urged local councils to focus on three sectors that account for 40 percent of total UK emissions.
Firstly, local building stock should be updated to include energy efficiency measures in order to significantly cut emissions in a cost-effective manner.
Secondly, councils should design and implement local sustainable transport plans by enhancing public transport, promoting sustainable travel and ensuring infrastructure is in place to support sustainable travel in the future.
Finally, councils should seek to change residents’ behaviour towards levels of personal waste and increase household recycling. The committee estimates that if the above measures are implemented, Britain’s emissions targets can easily be reached.
Responding to the report, Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said: "This is a stark warning the Government can't afford to ignore - UK climate targets won't be met unless Ministers ensure every council plays its part in slashing emissions, and has the funds to do so.
"The Government has failed to support local action on climate change - and only a few council leaders are currently championing action on the scale required.
The CCC recommends that local councils should become environmental role models by championing renewable energy generation. As champions, councils should do more to approve renewables projects in order to develop a larger local decentralised energy infrastructure.