Local authorities are up against it in these unprecedented times. Having to contend with six months of pandemic-induced health and financial hardships while continuing to take forward ambitious action on climate and clean air, has been, to the say the least, extremely challenging.
Adding to the challenge has been the fact that the UK government’s policy and legislative agenda outside of Covid-19 has been largely suspended. However, three big challenges lay ahead if local leaders are to play their part in tackling the threat of climate and putting local economies on a path to a flourishing net zero economy.
Firstly, the UK government needs to provide adequate long-term investment, ambitious national frameworks and the necessary powers to accelerate local change. With the recent postponement of the chancellor’s upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) – there’s little clarity about what the future holds. When he sets out the next CSR it will set the direction for much local and private investment over the next four years, and either enable or disable local action on climate.
A CSR that sets the direction towards a clean, green future is surely the path down which the UK can reclaim some pride on the world stage at COP26 next year. To this end, an unprecedented mix of 24 mayors and local leaders have joined forces in our Resilient Recovery Taskforce to urge the chancellor to unlock £100bn of green investment.
Secondly, local leaders need to be part of a long-term UK government plan that builds activity around achieving Net Zero. We have ahead of us what promises to be a huge year for UK politics that will make or break efforts for local leaders to take ambitious action to tackle climate change.
Legislation like the Environment Bill, anticipated government policy such as the recovery and devolution white paper, the results from the biggest local elections ever in May, and hosting COP26 in November 2021, will all have crucial roles in creating focus or in causing confusion.
Lastly, it’s crucial that local leaders are able to continue to represent the needs of the communities they serve. While the lockdowns required to contain the spread of Covid-19 have opened eyes to the benefits of cleaner air and quieter streets, overwhelming support for measures to protect health by tackling air pollution emissions from cars has remained high.
With more than 280 local authorities having declared a climate emergency and many local citizens’ assemblies underway, the role of the public in political decision making on issues that affect our environment has never been more widespread. At a national level Climate Assembly UK, the UK’s first national citizens’ assembly on climate change, has been an exemplar of how citizens from across the country can come together, debate the huge issues facing us and develop well thought out solutions.
Despite what this country has been through since March, it is a time of immense possibility. As the Committee on Climate Change said in its recent progress report, “we must seize the opportunity to make the COVID-19 recovery a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis. We say to the Government: ‘act courageously – it’s there for the taking’.”