Although such actions are commendable, nationwide, the problem of local authority inactivity is two-fold. Firstly, some local authorities have done and continue to do more than others to tackle climate change. Secondly, despite acknowledging that climate change is happening, setting a carbon budget and producing policies to tackle it at the local level, there is a real danger that local authorities do not really know how they are going to meet the challenge or are simply not doing enough with no sanctions for failure. Part of the problem may be that some of the key decision makers in local authorities are closet climate change doubters and this ultimately affects the decisions made in certain key make-or-break areas for climate change, such as energy and transport.
The Get Serious Campaign
With the 2008 Climate Change Act making the UK the subject of a carbon budget, set by the Government acting on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, local authorities must play a vital role in ensuring that the target is met and put pressure on the Government to introduce more stringent targets in the future. Creating some continuity of effort across all local authorities is therefore essential. With this in mind, the Get Serious campaign calls on councils to:
Commit to cutting carbon emissions in their area by at least 40% by 2026 and produce action plans to show how this will happen;
Support the creation of a new duty from national government which will legally oblige councils to reduce their emissions by 40% by 2020 with more central government funding to enable them to reach this target.
The campaign goes further than merely setting objectives; it also offers local authorities a clear strategy which, if followed, will result in the creation of a policy to effectively reduce their carbon output. This six stage process involves:
establishing robust baseline data on Co2 emissions within the area covered by the local authority;
generating policy options within 3 key sectors – housing, energy and transport;
considering the policy options against the social and economic impacts of the policy options proposed;
publication of an action plan to tackle climate change which clearly identities delivery partners; and
implementation of the strategy combined with;
effective monitoring and review of the policy.
In terms of the practical application of the strategy, the campaign identifies three key areas of application for local authorities – housing, energy and transport. Tackling climate change will mean using energy more efficiently and using less of it. This means insulating local authority housing stock and making grants available to home-owners so they can insulate their own homes. It will mean retrofitting renewable energy systems into homes and providing grants to encourage individuals to use renewable energy to heat their homes. It will mean adopting sustainable planning strategies, working with energy suppliers and creating new transport schemes.
In short, there is a lot of work for local authorities to do and, more importantly, there is so much that they can do given the powers they have been given by the Government. The campaign literature will point out areas where local authorities can make a real difference by, for example, introducing an interest free loan for home owners so they can fit carbon cutting heating systems in their homes or install a wind turbine. The loan would only be paid back once their property is sold. Such a measure promotes innovation and encourages use of new technology which, in turn, reduces the supply and installation cost of that technology. It should therefore be made clear to all councils that the 2008 Climate Change Act is nothing without local authority involvement.
Clearly, some local authorities have already been involved in projects which have lead to a reduction in their carbon output. Southampton City Council's partnership with Utilicom, an energy management company, created the Southampton Geothermal Heating Company which has financed, developed and constructed a district heating scheme which has also been supplemented by a combined heat and power (CHP) scheme which now supplies electricity to public buildings and private developments. Birmingham City Council has a similar CHP scheme operating which supplies heat to most of the Council's buildings in the vicinity of Broad Street and one hotel.
Since some local authorities have made inroads by introducing carbon cutting projects, the campaign will have to lobby local authorities for a firm commitment and the adoption of a uniform approach across all local councils thought the UK.
Birmingham City Council
National Friends of the Earth have produced text for a postcard campaign to lobby local councils to commit themselves to the campaign aims. Although the text is not yet finalised, it will be up to local groups to decide how they wish to implement the campaign. Birmingham Friends of the Earth has been involved for some time in persuading Birmingham City Council to cut its carbon output. This has lead to the Council's adoption of a 60% emission cut by 2026.
The main issue for Birmingham City Council is whether it will in fact honour this commitment by implementing practical measures to tackle climate change at a time when it is also trying to weather the recession. Despite the fact that it will be more costly to ignore climate change, Birmingham City Council may prefer to be seen protecting jobs and the local economy rather than focusing on climate change. It is not yet clear how the campaign will be implemented in Birmingham. It may be better to focus on key areas such as transport and then lobby the Council to make a commitment to act in these areas. It may also be useful to focus on the economy to engage the public. A key focus of the campaign in Birmingham might well be to convince Birmingham City Council that implementing further carbon cutting measures will lead to job creation.
Cutting carbon emissions means encouraging an innovative approach so a focus on job creation and green innovation may well be the best way to convince Birmingham City Council to do more to tackle climate change.