At an international climate change summit in Birmingham, local and regional leaders made the case to the government for additional powers to tackle climate change.
The International Net Zero Local Leadership Conference was co-convened by the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street and UK100, which represents over 100 local authority leaders.
The leaders called for new powers and resources to be devolved from Whitehall to shape local energy markets, decarbonise transport and tackle emissions from homes and offices.
It is being compared to the Paris City Hall Declaration in 2015, which paved the way for the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21.
Alongside the local and regional leaders, the conference was addressed by President of COP26, Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, as well as the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti.
A joint communiqué was signed by 32 leaders at the summit, which provides concrete examples of urgent policy changes that would help local and regional authorities deliver net zero, including:
- A clear and long-term plan and resources for the decarbonisation of new and existing buildings and homes.
- Setting up strategic energy bodies or similar mechanisms to address market failure in energy systems, with a duty to cooperate between public bodies and the companies that run the country’s energy infrastructure.
- Reducing the high costs of connecting electric vehicle charging networks to the grid.
- A clear target must be added to the Environment Bill to reverse the decline in species and habitats by 2030.
- Ensuring the new UK Infrastructure Bank has a net zero mandate to deliver local investment in net zero projects.
- The above measures would be facilitated by a new Net Zero Local Powers Bill to cement new powers for local and regional authorities alongside new reporting requirements on emissions.
The signatories included 32 Mayors and Leaders from major cities and urban areas across the UK, including Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Greater Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Newcastle upon Tyne and the West Midlands respectively.
Rural areas, including Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, South Gloucestershire and the West of England also signed the communiqué.
The Climate Change Committee recently estimated that local authorities can influence around one third of the emissions in their local areas through place shaping and partnerships.
Local and regional authorities are already delivering new approaches that demonstrate the value of locally based solutions, from transport infrastructure and decarbonisation to retrofitting homes and developing smart energy solutions.
Local and regional leaders to address energy market failure
The call for strategic energy bodies (or similar mechanisms) to address market failure would ensure a duty of collaboration it has been argued.
This would be between public bodies with responsibilities around waste, transport and planning, such as local councils, and the energy infrastructure companies, known as ‘distribution network operators’ (DNOs).
The West Midlands has been pioneering a collaborative approach to energy systems, distribution and management, which resulted in its ‘Net Zero Pathfinder’ proposals recently submitted to the government.
These not only seek new responsibilities, powers and resources to secure widescale building retrofit and new measures on energy levies, but also form the basis of the governance model proposed in the communiqué .
In addition to work in the West Midlands, there have been successful trials of Local Area Energy Planning in three areas: Bridgend, Manchester and Newcastle respectively.
They have highlighted the benefits of tailoring to local conditions and a report supported by Ofgem by Energy Systems Catapult found that local area planning ‘can provide sound foundations for effective and sustained local action to cut carbon emissions’.
Commenting, Mayor of West Midlands, Andy Street said:
“Climate change is a global emergency and we know that every region and city across the world is going to have to play their part in tackling it.
“That’s why I’m really pleased that the West Midlands, in partnership with UK100, has been able to bring local leaders together today to discuss our role in this looming crisis.
“Here in the UK, the government has set out ambitious targets to achieve net zero by 2050 and we want the West Midlands to play its part in that by meeting our net zero target by 2041.
“As part of our #WM2041 net zero plans, we are already delivering practical change, from decarbonised transport and energy system solutions, to state-of-the-art battery technology and zero-carbon building techniques.
“Now, alongside other UK leaders, we’re asking ministers to give us the powers and the funding to do more.
“We want to work hand-in-glove with government to accelerate the drive to net zero.”
CEO of UK100, Polly Billington added:
“We need a power shift from central government to local communities to tackle climate change.
“Local leaders are more trusted, more accountable and in the case of the UK100, more ambitious in accelerating the path to net zero.”
Decarbonising homes and buildings essential to net zero
The joint communiqué also calls for the government to work in partnership with local and regional leaders to develop a consistent, long-term plan for decarbonising homes and buildings.
It said this should at least meet the manifesto commitment of £9bn public investment to deliver net zero in homes and buildings and should seek to leverage further private investment to meet this goal.
The UK100 network is developing policy recommendations to support the decarbonisation, in particular of social housing stock and said that the UK’s homes are still some of the most inefficient in Europe.
The UK Green Building Council have estimated that to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, almost all of the UK’s 29 million homes will need to be improved, meaning that 1.8 homes need to be retrofitted more than every minute between now and 2050.
Half a million jobs in retrofit
The transition to net zero will also generate significant economic growth and new jobs.
Building retrofit, for example, offers a significant opportunity, a ‘triple win’ of significant emissions reductions, significant reductions in fuel poverty and hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country.
Research from UK100 indicates that a ‘retrofit arm’ of 455,000 workers will be needed to help meet the government’s objective of becoming net zero by 2050.
PSE will be hosting a Public Sector Decarbonisation event on 9 September. Join us for the full day event by registering here.