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

Local Government’s role post-COP 26: Insights from South Tyneside Council

Photo: South Tyneside Council

See LGIU’s COP 26 and local government workstream which rounds up all our recent climate change work including a post-COP briefing with the Heseltine Institute. 

Councils across the country declared climate emergencies back in 2018/2019 but the ability to truly meet the ambitious targets set is being hampered by Government inaction. Please note that this article was written prior to the Government Strategy on Net Zero being published.

COP 26 provides us with an excellent opportunity to reopen the debate and call for national policy change to support local authorities in their gargantuan effort. I use the term debate lightly because it is action, not talk, that we need to see. Whilst councils lead the fight against climate change, the Government is too slow to put in place the policies that will help the UK effectively mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.

The government must show urgent action, developing a clear and strategic roadmap towards carbon neutrality, ensuring the right policies and financial investments are in place to deliver a net zero future.

South Tyneside Council’s climate emergency was declared in 2019; we pledged to take all necessary steps to become carbon neutral by 2030. We also set a three-year target to cut carbon emissions by 4,285 tonnes by March 2023 and are already two thirds of the way to achieving this figure.

Our success to date has come from direct and decisive action – utilising every opportunity available to us to cut carbon emissions.  We are focused on implementing strategies that bring about real change, significantly reducing the amount of carbon being emitted, while increasing our renewable capabilities and moving to cleaner, greener renewable sources for our energy supplies.

It is important to note that the emphasis in our Sustainable South Tyneside Strategy is what we, the Council, can do to reduce our own emissions – and for good reason. The role of local authorities remains limited – whilst we are well placed to drive and influence emission reductions in our communities through the services we deliver, our role of social landlord, community leaders and our regulatory and strategic functions – what is needed to make a universal impact is policy change, both nationally and internationally.

Here in South Tyneside we’ve already taken action to significantly reduce the Council’s overall carbon footprint by delivering innovative energy solutions, replacing old and inefficient buildings with modern, centralised hubs and increasing our on-site electricity generation.

Innovation has been essential to local authorities during a decade of austerity. Cost savings have had the added benefit of carbon reductions in many instances but there is still a long way to go.

We have three ground-breaking renewable energy schemes on site or in development. The Viking Energy Network in Jarrow will draw heat from the River Tyne using a combination of innovative technologies, making it a first in the UK. The Hebburn Minewater scheme will use geothermal energy from abandoned flooded mines in the former Colliery and the Holborn district heating scheme in South Shields hopes to harness heat from abandoned flooded mines, as well as from the River Tyne.

We secured £8m from Government to fund 26 decarbonisation schemes and are undertaking a range of energy improvement and decarbonisation measures across schools, leisure facilities and civic buildings. In addition, £5.4m was awarded to tackle fuel poverty in the borough and through insulation and heating measures, reduce fuel bills in the least energy efficient council-owned homes.

A South Tyneside Council-led regional partnership has secured £6.4m to pilot a scheme to test marine habitats for their coastal protection properties along the north east coastline. The new approaches will involve restoring sub-tidal habitats, such as kelp beds, oyster reefs and sea grass. This builds on £13m of investment into flood alleviation projects over the last 10 years.

As part of our work to deliver our Sustainable South Tyneside strategy we are hosting a Climate Summit Week. A programme of events and activities for the community, businesses and schools will run from 1-5 November to tie in with COP-26 – the UN’s 26th annual climate change conference.  It will focus on actions the council is taking to meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets, as well as how residents and businesses can play their part in tackling climate change.

All South Tyneside schools have been provided with a climate change toolkit to help school staff educate the Borough’s next generation about environmental issues. It contains practical advice and guidance all in one place to teach children about the causes of climate change and the actions that can be taken to create a more sustainable future. It identifies opportunities to drive down carbon emissions while enhancing the school’s natural environment as well as suggested activities to help reduce their carbon footprint, such as promoting active travel, tree planting, setting up composting and a food growing space, reducing waste and recycling more.

We have made a commitment to planting 3,000 trees a year and have come together with authorities across the region to create a new Community Forest for the North East. The initiative aims to plant up to 500 hectares of trees by 2025, with a long-term goal to increase canopy cover to 30 per cent by 2050 – almost double the current national average.

We are excited about South Tyneside being at the heart of the UK’s future green economy. Our economic recovery plan focuses on energy and skills. We are already working to create opportunities for growth in this sector and to ensure that young people in the borough are equipped with the skills to unlock the potential of STEM opportunities in the region and support green industry.

The development of offshore wind fits with our overall vision of a sustainable South Tyneside

Dogger Bank, with its Operations and Maintenance Base situated at Port of Tyne, will be the world’s largest wind farm located 130km off the North East Coast and will be capable of powering 6million British homes. Each turbine can provide enough clean energy to power 16,000 British households and save the equivalent of 9000 vehicle emissions each year.

At the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), a joint venture between South Tyneside and Sunderland Councils, Envision-AESC will invest £450m to build a new Gigafactory, creating 750 jobs and safeguard the jobs of 300 current staff.

Uniting with other authorities is essential if we are to make a difference, and that is why I have signed the UK 100 pledge – joining forces with political Leaders across the country in the fight against climate change. UK100 brings together local authorities to share knowledge, collaborate, and petition the UK government with their collective power.

While the Government has set targets towards net zero by 2050, they have not established policies which are robust enough to achieve this goal. The path to Net Zero requires a rapid scale-up in low-carbon investment and low-carbon choices across the economy.

We have been trailblazers when it comes to the green agenda and have used every opportunity available to us to take action and make a change – but there’s only so much we can do as a local authority.

Government must lead that change with more urgency than we have seen so far. Many vital and long-promised plans, such as the Heat and Buildings Strategy and the Treasury’s Net Zero Review, have been delayed by a year or more. As a result, there is a large policy gap: credible policies for delivery currently cover only around 20% of the required reduction in emissions to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) is not fully supporting local government to play its part in the transition to Net Zero. Progress has fallen short to date on ensuring that building standards are fit for purpose and properly enforced. The current Planning Bill misses the powerful opportunity to ensure that developments and infrastructure are compliant with Net Zero and appropriately resilient to climate change.

We need a framework for local delivery to deliver ambitious climate objectives at different scales (i.e. devolved administrations, regions and local authorities), through workable business models, removal of barriers to action, dedicated resource and an approach that facilitates sub-national action to complement action at the national level.

The Treasury must ensure a fair and long-term approach to funding the transition. The Government’s Net Zero Strategy must be underpinned by an approach to funding that distributes the costs, savings and wider benefits of decarbonisation fairly. It must encourage action across society, while protecting vulnerable people and companies at risk of adverse competitiveness impacts. A move to longer-term funding streams and low risk financing of Net Zero investments will be essential to making sustained progress.

The public must be brought along with the transition. Better public information is needed on the changes that people should expect, and on the timing of their implementation. Meaningful public engagement will help build stronger consent for the transition, and people should expect to understand the rationale for changes. They should also be able to see a benefit from making low-carbon choices and have easy access to the information and funding required to make changes happen.

Emissions to net zero by 2050 requires radical and immediate action. We need strong and focused policies along with the financial support and investment from Government to prepare residents, homes, workplaces and critical infrastructure, towards a future with unavoidable climate impacts.

 

For further information on South Tyneside Climate Summit Week, visit https://www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/73595/COP26-Climate-Summit-Week

 

The Sustainable South Tyneside strategy and action plan can be found at https://www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/69717/Climate-change-strategy-and-action-plan

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