COP26 brings councils in from the cold
The mantra the Local Government Association (LGA) took every opportunity to communicate at COP26 was this: ‘councils have a unique and powerful role in tackling climate change, and are best placed to turn national climate ambitions into joint action on the ground.’
Up until the UN summit in Glasgow in November, local authorities had been a relatively untapped source. Finally, the tide looks to have changed. In the lead up to COP26, the LGA called for a day dedicated to local government and those pleas were answered, as organisers focused a full day of the COP26 programme around ‘Cities, Regions and Built Environment’.
Councils have the power to affect real change
Councils have power or influence over roughly a third of greenhouse gas emissions in their areas and their unique position makes them an important team ally in the race to net zero.
They’re master placeshapers and can help create the right balance between delivering a sustainable environment, while making sure people have access to dependable infrastructure and local services.
Their local knowledge makes them great problem solvers. They know the area inside out and will often be the first to find the right solutions. And being the go-to communicators and negotiators on the ground, they can help unite communities and bring local people along on the journey.
Through procurement and commissioning, they can also take advantage of unique commercial opportunities and attract private and voluntary investment. They of course own a lot of local assets, including retail malls, schools, leisure centres, and they’re responsible for roughly 27,000 parks and greenspaces. So there’s no denying the power and influence they can have on shaping a more environmentally friendly future.
They’re already seeing great results
But even before this shift at COP26 to make local government more of an important voice in the climate conversation, they’ve already been achieving so much in the background.
The LGA’s joint initiative with University College of London (UCL), the Net Zero Innovation Programme, was a finalist in the Climate Challenge Cup at COP26. It’s a scheme that brings together UK universities, local authorities and other stakeholders to solve local climate challenges.
A recent success story saw Barnsley Council and Leeds Beckett University join forces. Using new research in renewable energy and insulation technology, they’re developing a new low-energy housing estate in Barnsley.
And there are many projects going on outside of the programme too. Aberdeen Council introduced the world’s first double decker hydrogen buses in late 2020, which are reported to save a kilogram of carbon every kilometre they drive.
Leeds City Council has created the country’s largest flood alleviation scheme. Historically, Leeds has been a high-risk area for flooding. Boxing Day 2015 was the worst the area had ever seen, putting thousands of homes and businesses underwater.
Since that day, the council continues to explore new and innovative ways to tackle flood risk. They’ve introduced movable weirs, which have created more space for the water in the city’s River Aire to run through.
But most of their work uses natural flood management tactics and has an eye on the bigger climate change picture. Things like creating woodlands or digging storage ponds not only help reduce the pressure on the riverbanks, but they’re also great for carbon capture.
The future holds no limits
This is just a snapshot of all the great work local government is doing up and down the country to tackle climate change. And with COP26 seemingly giving councils much more of a say in how we get to net zero, the sky really is the limit on what they can achieve in the future.
Published date: 9th December 2021
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