Northern Ireland

Councils ‘underperforming’ on climate change action, say campaigners

London’s combined authority scored well on Climate Emergency UK’s assessment of councils’ net zero policies (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)
London’s combined authority scored well on Climate Emergency UK’s assessment of councils’ net zero policies (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA) London’s combined authority scored well on Climate Emergency UK’s assessment of councils’ net zero policies (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

Local councils are struggling to make progress on net zero, research by a campaign group has found.

Four years after councils in the UK started formally declaring a climate emergency, a series of scorecards published by Climate Emergency UK has shown the majority of local authorities are “underperforming” when it comes to action on climate change.

Only 41 of the UK’s 388 local and combined authorities scored above 50% in the nine-month exercise, with the average score being just 32%.

Climate Emergency UK co-director Annie Pickering said: “The low scores across the board shows that there are national barriers for local authorities that make it harder for most councils to deliver the necessary climate action.

“A lack of funding and government policy U-turns are some of the barriers to effective local climate action.”

The scorecards, published on Wednesday, marked councils in a range of areas including buildings, transport, planning and biodiversity.

Ms Pickering said national barriers alone cannot account for some very low scores.

“For example, the scores in the section Planning and Land Use range from minus 1% to a positive 92%, which shows that other local factors, such as political will and community support, are at play in determining the action councils are taking to combat climate change.”

The top-performing authorities were the Greater London Authority and the West Midlands Combined Authority, which both scored 65%.

London councils scored highly, with seven featuring among the top 10 unitary and metropolitan councils and Westminster coming top of that list with 62%.

Only two London authorities – Bromley and Bexley – scored below the national average.

Scottish and Welsh councils also performed well, with most gaining above-average scores and Edinburgh and Aberdeen appearing in the top 10 unitary authorities.

Ms Pickering said: “Scottish and Welsh councils on average score higher, with no Scottish or Welsh councils in the bottom-performing councils.

“This demonstrates that, when a national government provides greater support, funding and power to local authorities, the climate action of every local authority in that nation increases”.

Climate protest – Edinburgh
Climate protest – Edinburgh Scottish authorities such as Edinburgh performed well on Climate Emergency UK’s scorecards (Jane Barlow/PA)

Just four district councils scored above 50% – Lancaster, Exeter, Cambridge and Oxford – while Oxfordshire, Norfolk and Devon were the only county councils to get above that score.

No Northern Irish authorities scored more than 50%, but Belfast came top of the region’s list with 43%.

The worst performing authority was Tamworth, which declared a climate emergency in November 2019 but scored just 8%.

Stockton-on-Tees was the worst performing unitary authority and Lincolnshire was the worst performing county council, both scoring 12%.

Of the councils that scored above 50%, most were Labour controlled, although some had changed hands only recently. For instance, Westminster City Council was Conservative-controlled until May 2022.

Ms Pickering said: “These scorecards are an essential tool for councils and campaigners alike to show them what is possible for local climate action and encourage councils to go further, to mitigate and adapt to the climate and ecological emergencies we are facing.”

Darren Rodwell, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “As leaders of their communities, local government has a fundamental role to play in tackling climate change.

“Net zero is a complex transition, bringing very unique and interconnected challenges and opportunities to every place. We don’t support league tables as they often paint a two dimensional picture of the context that councils are working within, and unfairly compare councils with different challenges.

“Councils are already leading the way in transitioning to net zero and are ambitious to do more. Government needs to empower local climate action that can hit targets, mobilise support, and deliver on the evidence showing local approaches can save hundreds of billions.”