Leadership in climate change

In 2012, in response to a Government question, a group of experts described how local authorities can show leadership in tackling climate change, writes Giles Archibald, leader of South Lakeland District Council.

They said, for example, that councils can make houses and buildings more sustainable, encourage low carbon transport and improve waste management.

The good news is that 300 (ie 74 per cent) principal councils have a declared climate emergency and the majority of those councils have set aggressive zero carbon targets for their own council footprint. However, the disappointing news is that the sector is likely underperforming. A 2019 report from Friends of the Earth said councils are not doing enough and a recent comment from UK100, a group of council leaders, laments the lack of resources and powers.

UK100 said: “To enable local government to play its full part and unlock the benefits of climate action in communities across the country, it must be given more powers and resources.”

Sadly, the Government in its otherwise commendable 10-point climate action plan mentions local authorities only once. While the UK has a net zero goal by 2050, there is no material obligation on local authorities and they are not intrinsically involved in the process. I can see no discussion of integrating local authorities into the national plan. That is a shame.

Councils have been handicapped by austerity and by the planning regulations. We need to be given the ability and resources to insist on sustainable housing, to incentivise the use of renewable energy and to recycle more waste. We need to be given a clear roadmap as to how we can implement the Government’s ambitious plans. If not, we risk failure.

As readers will know, one of the reasons why I am so keen on a Bay local authority, is that the leadership of the three councils making up the Bay are committed to actions on climate change and will be powerful advocates of collaboration. My hope is that we will be influential enough to be able to show the kind of leadership the experts expected of us back in 2012.