The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today a detailed analysis of how councils should develop their climate emergency plans as all parts of the British and Irish Isles starts to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. (1) There needs to a step-change of decentralisation to give local government the policy tools and more resource to deliver low carbon transformation.
The NFLA report has also been adapted and expanded on as well by its All Ireland Sustainable Energy Forum to respond to the Irish Government’s ‘Climate Conversation’ consultation that closed on the 18th May, as well as submitting it to the Irish Climate Change Advisory Board (2). It will be sent in addition to the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments, and to member and non-member councils.
The NFLA report starts from the growing realisation by the likes of the independent Committee on Climate Change, groups such as UK100 and the Green Alliance, and by central governments that local authorities are absolutely essential to achieve ‘net zero’ energy policies in these critical times to mitigate climate change. However, the report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic has badly affected local government budgets, following on from a wasted decade of austerity across the board.
The NFLA briefing advocates increased devolution and financial support is required from the centre across all parts of the UK and Ireland to enable local and regional authorities the latitude to play an effective part in mitigating climate change and to develop innovative decentralised energy policies.
Key points from the NFLA briefing include:
- An enabling devolved policy framework is required to overcome barriers to decarbonisation and allow a baseline for councils to develop local low carbon action.
- While progress to decarbonise electricity has been remarkably successful in the burgeoning of renewables in the past decade, the new challenge is to do the same with heating and transport. Local authorities are critical in this endeavour.
- There are financial methods to devolving power, such as removing VAT from energy saving equipment, and central government should also enable local authorities to deliver and support heat decarbonisation. There should be a framework that supports individuals to invest in and have a greater share in infrastructure and energy systems.
- It is essential to talk to people and ask them what they want from local low carbon action. Councils have been able to do this much more successfully than in any national approach.
- Around 75% of local government in the UK and Ireland have passed ‘climate emergency’ resolutions but few have created actionable and investable plans. NFLA advocate Local Area Energy Plans as a starting point and putting in place the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended actions on energy efficiency, heating, transport and local energy schemes.
- The report outlines some early examples of local area energy plans in Greater Manchester, Bridgend, Newcastle and Fife. It welcomes the Bristol City LEAP and innovative green financing plans developed by the likes of Warrington, Swindon and West Berkshire.
- It welcomes the report of a new initiative, the Campaign for a Green Recovery, in which 24 local leaders call for a ‘retrofit army’ of half a million new green workers as part of their Resilient Recovery Taskforce ideas.
- It highlights the work of Abundance Investments, who have raised over £100 million in funds to develop local low carbon projects. The report points to various avenues of green finance that is out there.
- The report advocates local government works with other groups for the creation of community energy cooperatives, as has taken place in the likes of Edinburgh, Brighton and Tipperary.
- It notes that over-centralisation is a real problem in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Whilst there have been some notable and welcome climate mitigation work within the remits of many Irish Councils, both governments need to give considerably more powers and resource to councillors if the island of Ireland is going to speed up its low carbon initiatives. The publication of climate change bills at the Oireachtas and the Stormont Assembly is welcome, but much more decentralisation in climate and energy policy is urgently required.
The report concludes that local government has in a short time come to much more fully understand the extent of the climate emergency and its essential role in tackling it. All councils are placing low carbon activity at the centre of their strategies going forward in this post-pandemic era. However, for them to succeed and bring about ‘net zero’ over the next 2-3 decades they need a further devolution of powers and resource from the centre. Without that, despite all the warm words from politicians of all and no party complexions, it would be unlikely that the critical endeavour to create a ‘net zero’ UK and Ireland can ever be achieved.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn, said:
“This extensively researched report from the NFLA outlines a growing appetite and appreciation across local government for its essential role in mitigating climate change and achieving net zero emissions as quickly as possible. It concludes though that, without more decentralised powers and resource, and after a decade of harsh economic pain, local government will struggle to achieve its ambitious zero carbon vision. The NFLA calls on councillors to work with ministers and their officials to use this time of rapid change out of the pandemic to kickstart a green recovery that swiftly decarbonises electricity, heating and transport. Local government is willing to play its part, but it needs the support and mechanisms to do that, as this report clearly shows.”
NFLA All Ireland Sustainable Energy Forum Co-Chair, Councillor David Healy, added:
“The adaptation of this NFLA report into a submission to the Irish Government’s Climate Conversation gives Irish Councils a clear voice on the urgent need for radical change to bring about a net zero Ireland by 2050, and preferably before that. Irish and Northern Irish Councils have looked across the Irish Sea and noticed the dramatic ways many local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have delivered low carbon projects. They call now for central government to fully take on board the essential role councils can and should play in mitigating climate change and delivering low carbon energy projects. The NFLA All Ireland Sustainable Energy Forum calls on ministers and the Climate Change Advisory Board to provide a new policy network that brings about a low carbon renaissance to Irish local government across the island. Without it, Ireland and Northern Ireland will sadly remain an ‘energy laggard’ in Europe. As we come out of pandemic, green recovery has to be the way forward.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(2) An adaptation of this report for a formal NFLA All Ireland Sustainable Energy Forum submission to the Irish Government’s ‘Climate Conversation’ can also be found on the NFLA website.