Poll: Fewer than half of local council executives confident in meeting net zero targets

Local councils around the UK harbor low levels of confidence among their leadership teams about meeting their net zero targets, according to a poll of dozens of local government executives.

A survey of 127 chief executives and climate leads at local councils carried out by Local Government Chronicle on behalf of energy company E.ON indicates less than half of people working in local government are confident their council is on a pathway to deliver against its climate targets .

While nine in 10 people surveyed said their council had set a deadline to bring their operations in line with net zero, just 47 per said they were confident that net zero targets were on track to be met.

“Councils are responsible for decisions that can drive decarbonisation across whole communities, which puts them at the sharp end of achieving net zero by 2050,” said Michael Lewis, chief executive of E.ON UK. “It’s great to see an ambition to create a greener future but there will be concern confidence is fairly low in whether our local authorities can achieve these ambitions.”

Councils are set to play a major role in delivering the UK’s net zero target, given their sizeable influence on local transport, housing, and waste and recycling infrastructure. To date, more than 300 district, county, unitary, metropolitan, combined, and city councils have made climate emergency declarations, accounting for almost 80 per cent of local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, according to campaign group Climate Emergency UK.

But there is a rising concern about the councils’ ability to meet their climate targets in the wake of more than a decade of austerity and budget cuts, in addition to a lack of direction and support from central government on how to deliver net zero.

The UK’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) last year described the government’s support for councils in tackling the climate emergency as “piecemeal”, and warning that it risked undermining the country’s broader net zero strategy. Some councils have themselves been demanding more local climate powers from government, while both the government’s own Green Jobs Taskforce and the cross-party Environmental Justice Commission have argued local communities should be given a more direct say over how local green budgets are spent.

Quizzed about solutions and technologies they felt were most central to achieving climate goals, respondents stressed the need to make more energy efficient buildings through the installation of insulation and other measures.

Some 92 per cent of participants in the survey said they agreed that all new build housing should be built to a net zero standard, whereas “better energy efficiency” topped a ranking of the best solutions for making progress towards net zero. EV infrastructure, solar panels, heat pumps and district heating were also selected by local government leaders as key technologies that would enable councils to meet their climate goals.

“Our survey shows what’s lacking are the next steps in exactly how we get to a low carbon society,” Lewis said. “That starts with improving the energy efficiency of existing homes, swapping gas boilers for heat pumps, developing a greater role for district heating schemes in urban areas, and inspiring people to switch from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles.”

Alex Norris MP, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Levelling up, Housing, Communities and Local Government, said a better policy framework was needed to help councils meet their net zero goals.

“I applaud local government leaders who have worked hard to drive up heat pump use and make sure their councils are fit for a greener future,” he said. “Making the switch to heat pumps is critical for the country to meet our emissions targets. We need to have better policy to help local councils reduce energy demand and use low emissions technology like heat pumps.”

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