Where Ambition Leads To More Action


As the UN’s IPCC report on climate change sounds ‘code red’ for the planet, we can see that local authorities with more ambitious climate action targets and plans in place have also been more effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Three-quarters of councils have now declared a climate emergency, with around 75% of those targeting 2030 to reach carbon neutrality.  Most local authorities have a climate action plan, with around half of all councils planning to reach net-zero across their entire local area.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) produces a breakdown of carbon dioxide emissions by local authority area on an annual basis and is the benchmark for tracking these reductions across the UK. The latest 2019 data shows that in almost all cases (97%), local emissions that are within the scope of influence of local authorities have decreased over the most recent three-year period (2017 – 2019).

According to the Climate Change Committee, reaching net-zero emissions nationally by 2050 requires an annual rate of emissions reduction equivalent to 3% of 2018 emissions (15 MtCO2e per year). Based on the latest BEIS data from 2017 to 2019, the average annual reduction in carbon emissions locally was equivalent to around 2% per year.

The pace of change is far too slow, but there are indications from the BEIS data that those with a plan, and those with more ambitious targets, made more progress over the last few years.

Local authority areas with a climate action plan in place have achieved bigger emissions reductions historically than those without one. For example, when comparing the average per capita reduction in carbon emissions from 2017 to 2019 across all local areas with the same net-zero target of 2050, those with a climate action plan reduced their emissions by 6.5% over the period versus 4.6% in areas with the same target but no climate action plan.

Local authority areas with ambitious targets of becoming net zero by 2030 have been even more effective in reducing local carbon dioxide emissions than those targeting to become carbon neutral by 2050. The average per capita reduction in emissions from 2017 to 2019 across all local areas with a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030 was 9.3% compared with a reduction of 5.9% over the same period across all local areas with a net-zero target of 2050.

Our co-founder, Ric Casale said:

“There is a correlation in the data between higher ambition, planning and more progress, borne out by common sense, although we cannot prove cause and effect at this stage. The work by BEIS in measuring emissions reductions is incredibly useful to many different organisations, both locally and nationally, and we urge the government to release annual updates much sooner.

“Where local authorities have taken the initiative with bold climate action plans, we have also seen greater reductions in local emissions. Carbon neutrality is a mainstream goal and we need far more support behind local climate action plans from the government– to support those ambitious local areas that are leading the way with their results and to help other areas that are falling behind.”

To discover more about the carbon emissions, net-zero targets and climate action plans in your area, and to be inspired by big-thinking local low-carbon initiatives, check out the Carbon Zero Explorer.

Data source: BEIS, June 2021

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