Marking a milestone for local authority commitment to Net Zero

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Logo: UK100

By Polly Billington, Chief Executive of UK100; a network of the most ambitious local leaders and mayors on climate change.

From the first Earth Day in 1970 to Earth’s atmosphere exceeding 400 parts per million of CO₂ for the first time in human history in 2017, we tend to measure the climate crisis in milestones.

And the milestones keep flying by. Last month, the Met Office announced the chance of breaching the 1.5C turning point on global heating in the next five years is now 50-50.

But to avoid a sense of hopelessness — variously labelled climate despondency, climate despair and climate anxiety — we should also give appropriate attention to the positive milestones. Not because we should pretend the situation isn’t dire, but because action inspires action.

Polly Billington (UK100)
Polly Billington (UK100)

Consensus crystalises, coalition grows

And in the UK, one positive milestone worthy of marking is the growing cross-party consensus on the need to accelerate progress on Net Zero. More than half of Conservative Party MPs are now members of its largest backbench caucus, the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), backing Net Zero.

At the same time, Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru are all committed to Net Zero at the national level.

At the local level, where leaders are most trusted to take the kind of place-based approaches to Net Zero that yield the most impactful and cost-effective outcomes, cross-party consensus and collaboration on Net Zero is even stronger.

This is evidenced by the continued growth of the UK100 network of climate-ambitious local authorities. We recently celebrated surpassing our 100th member milestone with the addition of Sunderland, Derbyshire, West Berkshire and Sheffield. The network covers more than 45% of England’s land area and represents almost 40 million people. Its growing geographical and political diversity is inspiring.

It is reflected in our leadership too. UK100 has just unveiled Tracy Brabin, Labour Mayor of West Yorkshire, and Cllr Richard Clewer, Conservative leader of Wiltshire Council, as our first-ever joint Co-presidents.

Richard Clewer speaking at COP26 with UK100 (UK100)
Richard Clewer speaking at COP26 with UK100 (UK100)

Leading locally

Tracy is the UK’s first female Metro Mayor, with a constituency of nearly two and a half million people, encompassing three major cities, Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford.

Richard is the chair of the Countryside Climate Network and the leader of a predominantly rural constituency of almost half a million people across historic and picturesque towns like Trowbridge, Chippenham and Bradford-upon-Avon.

Differences aside, what Tracy and Richard have in common is a commitment to the action necessary to accelerate Net Zero at a local level and the ambition to get there before the Government’s 2050 target — in collaboration with colleagues and stakeholders of all political stripes.

We believe the pair will be powerful national advocates for local authorities of all shapes and sizes. And we are excited to embed the diversity of their political insight and experience into the network’s long-term strategy to support ambitious, local Net Zero action across the UK.

In Wiltshire, as part of the council’s Net Zero 2030 commitments, Richard is leading on making clean energy affordable for schools across the district, boosting investment in solar energy, agreeing the council’s first Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Plan, and spearheading a regional retrofitting project to upgrade the energy efficiency of all the council’s social housing stock.

Across West Yorkshire, Tracy has committed to an incredibly ambitious plan for a just transition to a Net Zero economy by 2038. As Tracy marks her first anniversary as Mayor this month, the West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (WYMCA) updated residents on its Net Zero progress. Under Tracy’s leadership, WYMCA has delivered more than 500 skilled, green jobs for young people, secured almost £1bn to improve public transport while making it cheaper and more accessible and committed a further £40m to tackle the climate emergency.

Tracy Brabin and Polly Billington outside NEXUS in Leeds (UK100)
Tracy Brabin and Polly Billington outside NEXUS in Leeds (UK100)

Declaration to delivery

And it is with that in mind that UK100 has partnered with WYMCA and Tracy to host our flagship local Net Zero summit in Leeds this year. And we are delighted Richard will be able to join us there too.

Our previous summits have brought together local leaders and climate experts from across the country and further afield, including Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, Lord Deben, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, Alok Sharma MP, President of COP 26, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, Cabinet ministers including Kwasi Kwarteng, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, as well as international voices such as the leader of the World Health Organisation and the Mayor of Los Angeles.

This July, the summit at NEXUS in Leeds will focus on the theme of “Declaration to delivery”, exploring how local authorities can work with the Government, local businesses and innovators to turn climate emergency declarations into concrete actions.

The reality is lots of people are facing very pressing anxieties around the cost of living, driven by a gas crisis, which might explain why climate featured so little in the Queen’s Speech. But for both the long and the short term, sidelining Net Zero would be a mistake by the Government, as is their decision to describe gas as green energy. Genuinely green energy is cheaper, and Net Zero makes us more secure.

That’s why local delivery — from electric buses to more solar power, home insulation to battery storage — has never been more important. We cannot afford to go backwards.

Using the powers they have, local leaders can make a huge difference, which is why demonstrating that will be an important part of the summit and the work of our Co-presidents.

And with Tracy and Richard at the wheel, we hope UK100 and the upcoming summit can be the (electric) vehicle to make the case for national change to unleash more power and positive change.

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Posted On: 29/06/2022

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