In 2019 Theresa May committed the UK to zero carbon emissions by 2050. This prompted many councils to publish action plans, but of 312 local authorities, 88 (28 percent) have not done so.
It is the same worrying picture in East Anglia: 12 out of 43 authorities (28 percent) have yet to declare their climate emergency action plans. All those which are published have been independently assessed by the non-profit organisation Climate Emergency UK.
How do our District and Borough Councils rate?
There are some very wide variations in how the climate crisis is being addressed at a local level. There is no obvious explanation of why some have taken action and others have not.
There is some good news. Ten Councils score above the national average of 43 percent. They are led by Cambridge and West Suffolk on 64 percent. Other high scorers include Central Bedfordshire, Babergh, and Mid Suffolk . Well above average are St Albans, Colchester and Ipswich.
Now the bad news: some local authorities in East Anglia have not released any plans. These include:
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority
- Castle Point
- East Suffolk
- Great Yarmouth
Other councils have done something, but are unimpressive. Eighteen of them score below average, with Harlow, North Norfolk, Rochford and Tendring all below 20 percent.
More climate stories from East Anglia Bylines
And our County Councils?
Again there are wide differences. Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk are in the top six of 23 County Councils, all scoring well above the average for Counties. However, Norfolk and Essex are two of only three UK counties in England to report no plans.
Why some have made progress, while others haven’t?
How are the plans assessed?
All Councils in England were sent a questionnaire. This asked them whether they had an action plan (some still don’t) which mitigates local climate change impacts; sets emissions targets; tackles the ecological emergency; and fosters climate education, and asking for details. The resulting plans were assessed by Climate Emergency’s trained volunteers against nine strands. The results of this first assessment were then fed back to the Councils with an invitation to comment. A specialist team then reviewed the new evidence before giving final scores.
Four of the strands account for 60 percent of the score. They are:
Governance, Development and Funding;
Mitigation and Adaptation;
Commitment and Integration; and
Community Engagement and Communications.
The biggest area is Governance, which includes: who will lead the plan, the net-zero targets, the council’s commitment to the plan, funding and costing, council limits and monitoring, reviewing and updating the plan.
Local Government is complicated, with different kinds of authority in different areas. In most areas there is both a County and a District council. Some Counties have coordinated plans with their Districts, and Climate Emergency have adjusted their scoring to take this into account.
High-achieving councils have appointed a Climate & Sustainability Officer and devised a comprehensive plan. The present assessment is only of the plans. Next year, Climate Emergency UK plans to investigate what councils are actually doing towards their objectives.
‘Could do better’
Climate Emergency have published “10 ways to improve your council’s Climate Action Plan” to help local authorities improve their performance. However well a council is doing, there’s always room for improvement.
The star performer is Somerset West & Taunton, the highest scoring, on 92 percent. The authority has planned many initiatives including a new net zero carbon school, help for households to improve home insulation, an ambitious walking and cycling network, tree planting, transformed bus travel, the Somerset Trails app and a scheme for market traders to switch to paper bags. So it is possible, and therefore difficult to understand why many do much worse. With commitment and judicious use of resources, councillors can launch their areas towards net zero.
Can residents influence this?
In May this year there are local elections in our region for many councils which score poorly and need to improve their climate action planning. These include Castle Point, Brentwood, Harlow, Huntingdonshire, Welwyn Hatfield, North Hertfordshire, Broxbourne, Norwich, Stevenage, Watford and South Cambridgeshire. And of the unitary authorities holding elections, Thurrock reports no plan and Peterborough is well below average.
After the COP26 conference, when the UK made bold promises about its climate plans, election candidates should expect to be asked tough questions by voters about their attitudes towards the climate emergency, and what their party intends to do about it. Why can’t their council follow Somerset’s enlightened example?
Determined climate mitigations don’t just contribute towards long-term national goals, but will also bring quality of life improvements to local people in the meantime. And to be honest, there isn’t a choice.
One last thought. Why do councils vary so much? Should there not be centrally-set government guidelines or targets for an issue this critical?
Have a look at the scorecards to find out how your local council is doing.