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Local leadership on carbon reduction

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If charity begins at home, then so does reducing our carbon footprint. What each of us does personally adds up to the sum total of what we can together achieve nationally, and ultimately as a global community.

Addressing climate change is inherently a local issue – four-fifths of emissions come from local sources. National targets and schemes can only be effective if people and organisations on the ground attempt to reduce their carbon footprints through things such as properly insulating buildings, sourcing renewable energy and recycling their waste.

Many of these things are much better coordinated locally where they actually happen rather than in a far-removed and faceless Whitehall office. That’s why I believe that the Government needs to address this issue through action in the Energy Bill, which is currently before Parliament.

Amendments to the original Bill have made the role of local authorities more explicit but the fact of the matter is that the practical nuts and bolts of meeting the UK’s Climate Change Act targets will have to be put together at this level if they are to be met at all – especially through the setting of local carbon budgets. Likewise many mitigation activities are also undertaken locally, so it makes sense for local government to have a firm idea about what must be done.

Local authorities’ plans should be the focus and guide for those of other public institutions in their areas such as hospitals and schools

When councils are cutting to the bone, anything that is not a statutory responsibility, however important, is bound to be axed; libraries should provide a real warning.

Ministers should not fail to provide the necessary framework for local action on carbon. Having proper carbon reduction and climate mitigation plans will allow town halls to work together more effectively with their neighbours - CO2 doesn’t respect local government boundaries and many activities are better done through council collaboration.

Likewise, local authorities’ plans should be the focus and guide for those of other public institutions in their areas such as hospitals and schools. Local people, many of whom have a real desire to do all they can to reduce their own carbon footprints, would also appreciate a guide as to what needs to be done where they live and work, and need the statistics to better hold their local authority to account.

Businesses also must know what’s afoot locally in order for them to play their role in carbon reduction, as well as being able to plan around any government directives if they themselves are big emitters – even business groups such as the Federation of Small Business say so.

Addressing climate change locally should not be one of the things that town hall officials are allowed to put a red pen through

Local government will need guidance about the task ahead. The Government’s own advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, could have a useful role to play here through recommending what action needs to be taken by local government to meet the national commitments that we have made.

Some might ask if it’s appropriate further to burden local authorities with more tasks when they are seeing budgets slashed to deal with our unsustainable levels of public debt. However, the answer must be that in an age of austerity, addressing climate change locally should not be one of the things that town hall officials are allowed to put a red pen through.

Having a local strategy to reduce carbon and mitigate climate change is certainly not a nice-to-have for the future, but a must-have-now.

Partnership agreements with forward-thinking local authorities could go some way to achieving local action on climate change

Central Government will need to act at once if this is not to happen, and the Energy Bill is the right place to do this. Working within the spirit of localism, the creation of partnership agreements with forward-thinking local authorities could go some way to achieving local action on climate change through a voluntary approach.

However, legislation might very well be needed to help the least advanced authorities meet their moral commitments so that nationally we are able to meet the targets that have been set. It is vital that we get the big decisions right if we are to address climate change - like ending dirty coal power- generation and investing in renewable energy.

However, without taking the right decisions locally, we will fail to meet the challenge. We have a real chance of getting this right in the Energy Bill. Only then will local authorities, and the communities which they serve, play their full part.

John Gummer, Conservative secretary of state for the environment 1993-7

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