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April 29, 2024

Why local elections can change the course of climate action

All politicians who are elected this year will have a pivotal role to play in delivering the UK’s climate ambitions © Bloomberg
All politicians who are elected this year will have a pivotal role to play in delivering the UK’s climate ambitions © Bloomberg

Chris Skidmore is chair of the Mission Zero Coalition and former UK energy minister, and Christopher Hammond is chief executive of UK100

Ahead of the May local elections, UK politicians from across the political spectrum are backing community engagement and evidence-based debate on climate change

When local and regional elections take place on May 2, some 2,600 councillors and 10 metro mayors covering around 44 per cent of the English population will be elected. Those candidates seeking re-election or election for the first time will have the opportunity to make and deliver on climate commitments shaped by their local areas and regions.

While many local authorities have declared a climate emergency, far too many have not put in place the necessary policies and frameworks to meet the level of their ambition. As the Mission Zero Coalition and UK100, we have come together to help local councils take the necessary steps to reduce emissions with our “Zero in: accelerating climate action” report and a joint, cross-party pledge “Taking the heat out of local climate action”.

All politicians who are elected this year will have a pivotal role to play in delivering the UK’s climate ambitions. It will be under their stewardship that the country will either meet its emissions reduction target of 68 per cent on 1990s levels by 2030, as set out in our nationally determined contribution to the UN, or it will fail.

If we do not deliver the necessary emissions reductions now, our ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050 becomes increasingly out of reach.

Local authorities have influence over sectors accounting for 82 per cent of the nation’s emissions. While eight in 10 Britons are concerned about climate change, seven in 10 lack confidence in the UK’s ability to meet its net zero goals. At the same time, more people trust their town halls over central government in Whitehall to take the action necessary to tackle climate change.

Now is the time to step up. Councillors are important agents of change and are largely responsible for delivering and implementing the energy transition.

It is councillors who agree or block planning policies and decisions that will decide the sustainable future of their local area, who help shape where new businesses and industries are established, help to deliver public transport infrastructure, and who help provide the necessary co-ordination and co-operation needed to ensure the smooth running of local communities.

More than 340 councils have declared a climate emergency, and the 112 members of the UK100 network of UK locally elected leaders have committed to achieve net zero targets ahead of the government’s 2050 goal. To turn this ambition into reality, we need the government to commit to put net zero at the heart of devolution and to pledge to support city, town and county halls across the country in their transition.

Councils face significant obstacles — insufficient resources, limited decision-making power, and difficulties engaging communities — but there is much they can deliver today. Our report sets out policy recommendations and opportunities that councillors elected in May can implement in their local areas over the next five years.

Local area energy plans, for example, are one way councillors can deliver change and the energy transition rapidly, helping to demonstrate where inward investment can be made in their communities. All councillors should be campaigning to implement a LAEP during their term in office.

Transcending party politics

Ahead of the local elections, we are also launching a campaign calling for all candidates to champion climate action as an issue that transcends party politics and to counter misinformation by providing accurate, accessible information to residents. Meaningful public engagement that goes beyond tick-box consultations is highlighted as essential for bringing communities along with the transition.

We are encouraging local leaders, councillors and candidates to sign a pledge committing them to collaborative, evidence-based climate action and robust engagement with residents and businesses to co-design local climate action plans that work for all.

The response to the pledge so far has been remarkable. In a rare show of cross-party unity, leading senior councillors from Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are signing up to champion community engagement and evidence-based debate.

Our message to all politicians vying for votes is simple: do not succumb to scare tactics and false divisions. Embrace the opportunity to bring your community together around a positive, inclusive vision for going green and creating the sustainable growth that so many across the country need.

For those who embrace this message, showing strong climate leadership will see them best placed to attract economic investment, and bring jobs and health benefits for local communities.

The next generation of councillors and local leaders will be those on whose shoulders net zero will succeed or fail. We must ensure that they are given every opportunity to succeed.

The future of climate action and protecting our planet rests on the action we take now and what we are able to deliver today, not on future promises and claims of delivery tomorrow.

A service from the Financial Times