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Local Government is Key to Meeting National Emissions Targets – 17 May 2012

Local authorities have a crucial role in contributing to emissions reductions and helping the UK meet its carbon budgets targets says a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

In the report, commissioned by Department of Energy and Climate Change, the CCC says local authorities have significant influence over key emitting sectors including residential and commercial buildings, surface transport and waste.

However, at the moment there is no requirement for councils to set targets and implement measures to reduce emissions within their area. And the scale of ambition is generally low given limited funding and lack of obligation. The Committee argues that limited action at the local level would put achievement of national carbon budgets at risk.

To strengthen incentives for local authorities to act, and therefore reduce risks that carbon budgets will be missed, the Committee recommends the introduction of a statutory duty for local authorities to develop and implement carbon plans, and that national funding to support such programmes is increased.

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. Such carbon reduction programmes could also bring a range of benefits to local communities such as reduced energy bills, economic regeneration and jobs, and improved health.

Local authorities can also lead by example and reduce emissions in their own estates and operations, and integrate climate change risk into their key functions and services to increase the resilience of their localities.

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.“

Specific opportunities the CCC identified on how and where local authorities can cut carbon emissions (apart from their own estates and operations)  include three sectors which account for 40% of total UK emissions:

  • Buildings: through energy efficiency measures for existing buildings and ensuring new builds are highly energy efficient, and promoting reduced energy consumption amongst residents and businesses
  • Sustainable transport: in designing and implement local sustainable transport plans; investment in green vehicles; enhancing public transport and promoting sustainable travel; land-use planning.
  • Waste: in reduction of overall levels of waste through behaviour change; improved collection and recycling, and converting waste to energy.

If the above measures are undertaken, our emissions targets can be reached and emissions could be reduced by 20% in 2020 relative to 2010 levels. This will   contribute to meeting national carbon targets.

Opportunities also exist for local authorities to help achieve emission reductions in the power sector through:

  • Local planning: in approving renewables projects
  • Acting as champion for renewable energy generation
  • Developing decentralised energy plans: to include district heating schemes and small-scale low-carbon power plants.