Local leaders are best-placed to tackle climate change but have ‘too little powers and too few resources’, poll finds

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People across the UK want to see more support for local authorities to deal with the threat of climate change and more support for Net Zero action to address the cost-of-living crisis, according to a new poll from YouGov and commissioned by UK100.

The poll comes as the process to select the next UK Prime Minister gets underway, following the resignation of Boris Johnson.

When asked, on behalf of UK100, the UK’s only network of ambitious local authorities committed to Net Zero and clean air, people across the UK said they felt local leaders are best placed to tackle the climate crisis (34%). But 54% said their local authority had too few resources to take effective action, and 42% said they had too little power.

At the same time, an overwhelming 80% of respondents reiterated their support for boosting renewable energy projects to reduce energy bills.

The opinions raised chime with the issues raised by a series of Local Net Zero Delivery reports launched on Thursday, 14 July, to assess local government progress against the UK’s Net Zero targets.

Jason Torrance, Assistant Chief Executive at UK100, commented on the findings: “Local government progress on Net Zero has been significant over the last year, with ambitious local leaders — from across the political and geographical spectrum — making real headway for their communities and the planet.

“But it is clear that local authorities face significant national barriers that are stifling their ability to do more, more urgently.

“As voters recognise, the major roadblocks to accelerating Net Zero action are the limited powers and resources already stretched local authorities have at their disposal.

“There is an urgent need to overhaul the diversity of small, short-term, competitive funding slots made available for Net Zero — as suggested by the former Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove. Net Zero is neither a competition nor a short-term goal. It needs real, stable investment.

“At the same time, not only are local leaders most trusted to deliver Net Zero, but research from UK Innovate and PwC has shown they are also the ones who can do it most cost-effectively.

“In fact, their report finds that for every £1 invested in local Net Zero, energy costs are slashed by almost £2, and communities reap the rewards of more than £14 worth of wider social benefits. And we agree with the report authors when they argue that Net Zero is, therefore, also a means of delivering against the Levelling Up agenda.

“Net Zero is a route to reducing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, a vital tool for tackling the climate crisis, and an engine for economic growth. We need the incoming Prime Minister to build upon the positive action taken so far and fully embrace the power of local leaders to deliver Net Zero.”

The eight sector-based reports from UK100 follow the recent — and damning —  Climate Change Committee report to Parliament on national Net Zero progress.

The individual reports look at Transport, Energy, Heat and Buildings, Finance, Powers, Clean Air, Nature, and Waste.

They find that, when interviewed, more than 55% of UK100 members raise funding, capacity and regulation/policy issues as the biggest barriers to realising local Net Zero ambitions.

The reports argue that, over the last year, the Government has made significant progress in setting Net Zero targets, but without any sense of how local authorities should deliver them.

“We have a better sense of the ‘what’ than we did 12 months ago, but in many areas what is missing now is the ‘how’ and the ‘who’; without these, delivery will falter,” say the report authors.

Despite the challenges, ambitious local authorities identified upgrading the energy efficiency of homesrenewable energy projects and programmes to reduce transport emissions and boost active travel as the key ways they have worked to deliver Net Zero at the local level.

The reports find that local government ambition is not being mirrored or adequately enabled at the national level, and urgent attention is needed to support local leaders to deliver Net Zero.

The cross-cutting recommendations UK100 makes on behalf of its members include calls to:

  • Embed Net Zero decision-making across all government structures
  • The Government to set a floor, not a ceiling on local ambition
  • Combine long-term, non-competitive funding and capacity development and support with a clear strategy for Local Net Zero Delivery to enable local authorities to accelerate progress
  • Improve the ability of local authorities to access private finance
  • Provide more investment in energy efficiency as a priority area for delivery

The Local Net Zero Delivery Progress Reports are available on the UK100 website.