The UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) welcomes and fully supports the call made by prominent local authority leaders seeking new powers and resource as part of the challenge to mitigate climate change and reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible.
In a joint communique signed by 32 civic leaders yesterday, there was acknowledgement that, whilst there is considerable ambition and willingness to develop comprehensive carbon reduction plans, councils are hampered by a range of barriers that prevent effective action being taken. (1) Without a ‘power shift’ councils will find it difficult to prioritise such work and give sufficient resource to it. Such issues have been mirrored in public comments made by the Committee on Climate Change (2) and in the latest NFLA report on how councils tackle the climate emergency in a post-pandemic environment.
The report calling for a ‘power shift’ in this area of policy notes that:
- National policy mechanisms are actively working against local authorities making effective use of their potential to cut emissions.
- Central government is not providing the investment required at the local level.
- There is a lack of clarity over the role of local authorities from central government.
- There is a current lack of capacity in local government with job cuts to key areas of sustainability having to be made due to the parlous nature of many council budgets.
- A shortage of funding is made worse by the heavy demands of Covid-19 response at the local level.
- The existing policy instruments do not consider enough the urgent need to decarbonize.
The report also urges central government to take the following steps:
- Retain the urgency from the pandemic to build a green recovery.
- Change national rules and regulations to enable local councils to do more on climate.
- Create a framework for delivery of climate targets with local flexibility.
- Investment in green jobs and schemes at scale, and in delivery at the local level.
- A consistent message from across government prioritising Net Zero.
- Better or more appropriate powers for councils on housing, planning, and transport and more capacity to implement them.
NFLA have made similar points in their own comprehensive report on how councils tackle the climate emergency in a post pandemic era. (3) Amongst the core points of its report are:
- Establishing a devolved policy framework 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.
With the urgency of such measures intensifying as data stacks up on the current impacts of climate change, these reports show to the UK Government, as well as to the Irish Government and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, that the appetite to support policies that mitigate climate change is clearly evident at the local level. What is needed from central government is a reciprocal relationship of new powers and resource if all levels of government are going to meet their highly ambitious targets together.
Following on from the NFLA’s recent response to the Irish Government’s ‘Climate Change Conversation’, today it is also submitting a detailed submission to the Northern Ireland Assembly Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee. It is considering the cross-party Climate Change Bill currently going through the Assembly. The NFLA submission calls for a major step-up in the role of local government on climate change, but this again can only happen through a considerable increase in their powers and resources. The submission also highlights some of the best practice in this area that the Climate Change Bill should consider as it is developed. (4)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“NFLA warmly welcomes this communique of local government leaders calling for new powers and resources from central government on tackling the climate emergency. It echoes a cacophony of other calls that highlight the essential role of councils in this policy area. Councils have proven their ability to deliver flexible and effective services in underpinning the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and in supporting the vaccination programme. The Committee on Climate Change has also called on a new relationship between local and central government. We urge ministers in Westminster, Dublin, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont to respond promptly and build such a relationship. Without an effective local response, delivering net zero is almost nigh on impossible.”
NFLA All Ireland Sustainable Energy Co-Chair Councillor Karen McKevitt added:
“The detailed NFLA response analysing the low level of powers and resources Northern Irish Councils have in delivering an effective response to the climate emergency needs to be considered carefully by the Northern Ireland Assembly Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee in its inquiry into the Climate Change Bill. Whilst the Bill is a really positive move forward in Northern Ireland getting to grips with the climate emergency, it needs to harness and support the local delivery of carbon reduction and climate adaptation. Northern Ireland’s Councils have the weakest powers in helping to tackle the climate emergency of any part of the UK and Ireland. This situation needs to change radically or Northern Ireland cannot meet its net zero targets in the time required of it.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(1) Business Green, 13th July 2021
https://www.businessgreen.com/news/4034334/power-shift-mayors-council-leaders-demand-powers-support-net-zero-action (the UK 100 report can be found at https://www.uk100.org/publications/net-zero-local-leadership-communique-delivering-net-zero-uk)
(2) Committee on Climate Change, Local Authorities and the 6th Carbon Budget
(3) NFLA Policy Briefing 215, May 17th 2021
(4) The NFLA’s submission to the Northern Ireland Assembly Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the Northern Ireland Climate Bill is attached with this media release and can be found on the NFLA website https://www.nuclearpolicy.info.