Climate emergency: competing priorities and tough decisions

By Jo Wall | 12 February 2020

Friends of the Earth’s climate action plan for councils identifies 50 steps that councils can take, highlighting specific actions around investment, retrofit, waste, energy, transport and land use. 

While it is true that councils across the country are beginning to work through their own lists and developing pathways to net-zero carbon, it is also true that many are already addressing climate change through their existing programmes.

The challenge for today is to ensure that these activities are relevant for an emergency, with an appropriate degree of response at a faster pace and at a larger scale.

There will be competing priorities and tough decisions will need to be made.

We need to resolve, for example, the competing pressures of aiming to increase recycling and reuse of materials while at the same time committing to traditional patterns of weekly general waste collection and disposal.

Friends of the Earth, Ashden and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy have suggested that councils and pension funds should divest from investment in fossil fuel assets.

Many councils already have policies about investments related to tobacco and armaments, and we are starting to see improvement in air quality and use of renewable energy as key priorities in the creation of climate-relevant investment policies.

Councils need to be brave enough to make these tough decisions, even if it means their investments do not make the same financial returns over the short-term.

Congestion and pollution can be mitigated through increasing parking charges, creating clean air zones or offering discounts for the use of electric vehicles.

These, too, create tensions with policy commitments and boldness may be required.

In an emergency, we need to resolve contradictions quickly and commit our support to the most important priorities.

At Local Partnerships we provide advice and support through all stages of developing a climate emergency response.

We endorse Friends of the Earth’s recommendations regarding retrofit of council assets and estates, and have recently retendered the Re:fit Framework in conjunction with the Greater London Authority so that it will be available for public authorities for four more years.

Jo Wall is strategic director for climate response at Local Partnerships

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