29 Sep 2021
Despite the emergency we're facing, climate change and nature loss can easily be overlooked by the council when making decisions on what seem like more immediate issues, or by organisations and businesses that have other priorities and may not see the links. Councils that have declared a climate and nature emergency must make these issues central to all their own decision making. In addition, councils need to bring this mindset to all the forums they take part in.
Councils should encourage and support other entities with their contribution to addressing the climate and nature emergency and COVID-19 recovery.
What councils should do
Points 41 to 44 in our Climate Action Plan for councils suggest councils should:
41. Ensure the Sub-national Transport Body strategy is in line with carbon budgets (applicable in England only).
Sub-national regional transport bodies are regional groupings of councils that discuss and decide what needs to happen on transport in the region. Often these bodies do not take proper account of climate change and continue to push for more roadbuilding and airport expansion. Transport for the North was one such culprit, until intervention from local campaigners led to it changing its approach. It now tests its proposals to assess whether they are compatible with the pathway to net zero.
Example: Progress by regional transport bodies has been slow, but England’s Economic Heartland (a sub-national transport body stretching from Swindon to Cambridgeshire) has set out a transport strategy with a target of net zero carbon by 2040, and includes targets to reduce the use of private vehicles.
42. Use council memberships of Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure all their decisions are in line with the rapid growth of the green economy, climate reduction pathway and nature restoration plans (applicable in England only).
Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) are business-led groups that have been given authority by government to make decisions on spending. There are 38 LEPs across England and their aim is to promote economic growth and jobs in local areas. LEPs don’t have a great track record on the environment. Analysis by Campaign for Better Transport found that in 2016, 67% of the £3.4 billion spending was allocated to new roads. However, LEPs have recently identified net zero emissions as a key value for the future, which should give elected councillors more leverage to align LEP spending and decisions with climate targets. They need to be held to account on this goal.
LEPS also have a role in skills development in the area, and educational institutions are often on LEP boards, so it's important that they promote skills training for green jobs in a low-carbon economy. Actions that councils need to take, such as retrofitting houses and planting trees, will depend on having a skilled workforce, so councils should be working with LEPs to ensure this happens. LEPs have been in receipt of significant government funding, such as the Local Growth Fund. However LEPs are currently under review, so some economic funding such as the levelling up fund will now go straight to councils. Councils need to ensure that these pots of money are used to boost the low-carbon economy.
Example: LEPS could be a force for good. York and North Yorkshire LEP has been working with York City and North Yorkshire County on green procurement and are due to publish a toolkit.
43. Provide particular support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access funds and expertise so that they can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce carbon pollution and develop their role in the green economy.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses often don’t have the expertise or capacity to fully understand what they need to do to address the climate and nature emergency. Councils can bring these businesses together and give them advice, including on what funds there are to help them change. Most councils have forums to help advise and network businesses, for example the D2N2 Hub run by Chesterfield, Derby and Nottingham councils and others. The council should ensure that part of the work of this forum is supporting businesses on climate change and nature restoration.
Example: South Lakeland council support SMEs in the district by helping them to get Green Small Business accreditation.
44. Use influence with schools and others to ensure that buildings are zero carbon, the environment is central to teaching and purchasing is green (eg, meals follow the official Eatwell Guide on healthy eating and most options on menus are plant-based, with less and better meat or fish as other options).
With many schools becoming academies, councils have less control over school meals. But they can use their voice to encourage schools to not only help young people understand the climate and nature emergency, but also to take what actions they can to mitigate these, for example through Forest Schools and in the school menu.
Councils should publish a Sustainable Food Procurement policy and strategy for all the food and catering that the council either provides, contracts or has control over. But councils should also encourage others, such as universities, to do the same.
Examples: Leeds schools have 2 meat-free days a week and meat-based dishes have smaller proportions of meat which are balanced out with plant-based proteins, such as pulses and grains. Enfield council requires all events held by the council where catering is provided to offer only vegan or vegetarian options. And Bristol City Council runs an annual awards scheme to influence the sustainability of food businesses in its area.
Councils have been warning for some time that they won’t be able to deliver action at the scale and pace commensurate to the climate and ecological emergencies without additional powers and resources. Friends of the Earth has joined local government organisations, academics and other NGOs in setting out a blueprint of what's needed from national government to support councils in key policy areas, including transport and economic recovery from COVID-19.
The government should reform Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) to be only advisory and return all decision making and spending powers to directly elected local authorities.
LEP Watch: our work to change local transport spending priorities. https://bettertransport.org.uk/roads-nowhere/local-transport
Role of Local Nature Partnerships: an overview. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/role-of-local-nature-partnerships-an-overview
About the Bristol Eating Better Award. https://www.bristol.gov.uk/web/bristol-eating-better-award/about