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Net zero by 2050 target

The Climate Change Act 2008 set a legally binding target on the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. The 80% target was increased to a 100% target in 2019 (the net zero target).

Role of local government

In its October 2021 Net Zero Strategy, the Government said that “devolved and local government play an essential role in meeting national net zero ambitions” because it “is best placed to integrate activity on the ground” and to inspire “action by, local businesses, communities, and civil society”.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), the National Audit Office, and the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Select Committee have also said local authorities would have a “critical” role to play in delivering net zero. For example, the LUHC Select Committee has highlighted that “many of the funds allocated to climate action […] are delivered through local authorities” and “no layer of government is closer to people or better able to tailor climate action to meet the needs of local communities”.

Relevant policy areas

Local authorities play an important role in delivering net zero in a number of policy areas, including:

  • Implementing enforcing minimum energy efficiency standards for new builds
  • Delivering funding to retrofit existing homes and improve their energy efficiency
  • Shaping housing, infrastructure and renewable energy development in their area in their role as local planning authorities
  • Developing and delivering heat network connections
  • Encouraging active travel, decarbonising public transport and installing public chargepoints for electric vehicles

Local commitment to net zero

Although there are currently no net zero statutory targets for local authorities, many have adopted commitments to reduce carbon emissions in line with the 2050 net zero target.

Government strategy for local authorities

The Government has established the Local Net Zero Forum to bring together central and local government officials to collaborate on delivering net zero and five Local Net Zero Hubs, each covering a region in England, to support them in reaching net zero.

Barriers to local delivery of net zero

The National Audit Office, and the LUHC Select Committee, and the Independent Review of Net Zero (the ‘Skidmore review’), have highlighted the following barriers to local authority delivering net zero:

  • Lack of clarity about the roles and responsibilities that local government should play in the delivery of net zero because there are no strategic targets 
  • Fragmented funding and the prevalence of competitive bidding, for example for retrofitting schemes, which can make it “difficult for local authorities to plan for the long term
  • Lack of consistency in local authorities’ reporting of plans and progress on net zero, which can make “difficult to get an overall picture of what local authorities have achieved”
  • Lack of skills and capacity in local government to tackle climate change

The Government has said it did not think that statutory net zero targets for local authorities is needed because local authorities are already committed to delivering net zero.

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