Cities and the Path to Net-Zero

On Wednesday, I joined a webinar organised by the Committee on Climate Change to discuss their recent report into the role local authorities need to play in delivering the government’s ambition to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions. The Committee is an independent, statutory body that advises the UK government on progress made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on preparing for the impacts of climate change.

I have shared before that delivering carbon reductions in cities is crucial if we are to reduce harmful emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. So I am pleased that the Committee’s report recognises the central role local authorities have to play in reducing carbon emissions, highlighting that local government has power and influence over roughly a third of emissions in their local areas.

The report contains a number of recommendations for local authorities from developing climate action plans with delivery projects, improving knowledge of Green Finance mechanisms, and communication and engagement with local communities. As the first local authority to declare a Climate Emergency, I’m pleased that Bristol features throughout the report and a number of initiatives we are leading on like City Leap and the One City Climate Strategy are identified as good practice for other authorities to emulate.

I shared in the webinar, however, that if we’re to be successful in our ambition to make Bristol carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, we need urgent action and partnership from national government. Decarbonisation requires more than political will alone, it needs long term and reliable finance. We need billions of pounds of financial investment if we are to decarbonise the systems people rely on to heat their homes, power businesses and travel around the city and power. Unfortunately, more than a decade of austerity has stretched the backroom capacity in local authorities in crucial departments like planning, procurement and legal. These functions rarely make headlines, but without them it makes it difficult – if not impossible – to deliver the scale and pace of change we need.

This year provides a number of important opportunities for government to deliver this support, not least in November as the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). This cannot simply be a platform for policy pronouncements by national governments – cities and local leaders need to be brought into decision-making processes, backed up with sustainable and innovative finance that supports cities and local government to deliver. Even more immediately, as attention turns to next week’s budget, I reiterate our call for the government to frontload green infrastructure investment such as, for example, retrofitting homes. This can ensure that we can deliver carbon reductions as part of our economic recovery from Covid-19, delivering social justice and environmental justice together.

If government follows Bristol’s lead in embedding the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals in our economic recovery, we can ensure that we rebuild an economy that is climate resilient and more resistant to the financial and social upheavals that we have experienced over the past 12 months. We look forward to working together with local government, national government, and networks of cities across the world to deliver on that ambition.

You can watch the full event on YouTube below, and download slides from CCC’s website here.