England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development

Councils in a Just Transition; local government and partners on the rocky road to net zero


Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

A recent wave of local climate emergency declarations has spread across councils and partners in the UK and Ireland. Spurred on by growing scientific evidence, political discussion and public awareness, many of these declarations set the ambitious target of net zero by 2030. Now, as plans for recovery from Covid-19 are on everyone’s mind and with COP26 just around the corner, in this blog we will explore some of the opportunities and challenges facing local government on the rocky road to net zero.

Opportunities and challenges going forward

As lockdowns are slowly lifted across the UK and the world, governments are tentatively turning their attention to the question of recovery. This is an incredibly important moment for those hoping to catalyse climate action as there is an opportunity to reshape and re-evaluate approaches to climate change actions in the wake of the Covid crisis.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of ‘the local’, of community action, equity, cooperation, agency and resilience, all factors which will be equally, if not more important in the face of climate change and the just transition to net zero. With this in mind, local authorities and partner organisations who have delivered for communities during this pandemic and will play a pivotal role in supporting sustainable ambitions in the wake of Covid.

A “green” or sustainable recovery from Covid presents the opportunity to put communities at the heart of the transition to net zero, to develop a more holistic approach to sustainability which includes the recognition of wider societal benefits. Perhaps this is the opportunity to make gains in improving people’s physical and mental health, tackle inequalities and build resilience alongside stimulating the economic recovery. COP26 is just months away and is a chance to demonstrate to the world the importance of local places in catalysing a green recovery from Covid and a just transition to net zero.

However, while there are opportunities for a just transition the reality is that the impacts of the ongoing pandemic combined with years of underfunding and centralisation has left many local authorities struggling for resources. In the aftermath of Covid there is increasing pressure on Councils to stimulate rapid economic growth, whilst also delivering core and statutory services under budget constraints, a situation which threatens to destabilise plans for delivering a green recovery.

Announcing new work on a just transition

Over the next few months through briefings and blogs, interviews and events, LGiU will be exploring the role of local government leadership on the road to net zero. In doing so we will unpick the multi-faceted nature of a just transition. Defined by the Climate Justice Alliance as: ‘A vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy’, a just transition describes both where we are going and how we get there. Stretching far beyond the challenge of emissions, in essence this set of principles emphasizes the fact that if the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be.

To conclude we want to ask our members; What does a sustainable council look like to you? Is net zero the best approach to climate action for local authorities and partners? Do you see a contradiction between climate action and economic growth? What are the barriers and opportunities facing your organisation when trying to catalyse climate action?

Climate change is not just about the physical environment, it’s a complex, multifaceted issue that encompasess economy, society and the environment and affects everyone in different ways. From finance and social work, to education, housing, transport, finance  and planning, we want to hear from a broad range of people about your thoughts, plans and ambitions for the future. To get in touch please email: [email protected]

Related content

Post-Covid Councils: Sustainable Futures

Councils need to act now to tackle the climate emergency

Has your Council Declared a Climate Emergency? Ten things councillors can do to drive action for net zero

Climate commons: putting communities at the heart of the transition to net zero


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