What have local councils been doing and what could they do to tackle the climate emergency?

All the information detailed below is derived from the articles which are linked at the bottom of the article.

Setting an Overarching Strategy

  • Councils could specify a cabinet member for climate change to coordinate the formulation of a carbon reduction strategy

  • Councils could begin formulating carbon reduction strategies and engage all departments and parties in this process. They could set a date to reach net zero emissions by and then devise carbon budgets for every 3 or 5 year period in line with meeting their net zero target.

  • Councils could communicate with other councils which have already implemented measures to address climate change, to share policy ideas and knowledge of best practise

  • Councils could develop a (preferably cross-party) body or department for climate change

  • Every council department needs to be mandated to consider the climate emergency when forming plans across transport, housing, waste etc. There should be a mandatory section in all plans and reports for each department on how this will fit into meeting the carbon neutrality target.

  • All procurement/outsourcing by the council should consider the environmental sustainability of the companies and their potential contribution to climate change

  • Local councils should work with their wider region and develop regional plans around transport etc which are in line with climate change mitigation and consult with with researchers in relevant areas in local Universities and related public and private bodies.

  • Councils need to inform and engage with the public on their carbon reduction strategy e.g. hold a day for discussion of proposals with the public and communicate about the climate emergency, e.g. on their council website. Councils should communicate about the co-benefits of climate action and the degree of threats if we don’t act now to build public support for radical measures to address climate change.

Ways to raise money

  • A workplace parking levy, which charges employers a fee for every car space they offer to their employees. This raised £25 million in the first 3 years of operation in Nottingham.

  • Introducing a clean air zone or congestion charges for highly polluting vehicles with money raised being invested into public transport - which respects the polluter pays principle. 

  • U.K municipal bonds agency - councils can use to bonds to fund projects and can bid for money from the U.K’s Shared Prosperity Fund.

  • Partnerships with businesses, Bristol has issued a City Leap Energy Partnership - a call out for partnership in funding low-carbon energy provision e.g. in grid balancing, battery storage, heat pumps, renewable generators.

  • A battery storage supplier Zenobe Energy has launched a £120m financing fund for local authorities and bus companies to buy electric buses at a price similar to diesel buses.

  • C40 cities have used the ‘Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative’ to gain funding for clean transportation.

  • The central government’s Heat Networks Delivery Units and GLA Decentralised Energy Enabling Project can provide funding for the development of low-carbon heat networks. 

  • In Milton Keynes they require housing developers to pay £200 per tonne of first year emissions from each house which is used for energy efficiency measures elsewhere, like retrofitting homes.


  • Due to the Green Building Council and Core Cities, local authorities have the power to require energy efficiency standards above national building regulations - they could mandate that all new homes must be zero carbon, which has been done in London.

  • The Buses Act can be used to work with bus companies to move towards low-carbon buses, and require all subsidised bus routes to transition to using electric or hydrogen buses. The Buses Services Act has given councils more power in formulating enhanced or advanced partnerships or franchising with bus operators to improve bus services.

  • Licensing which requires all taxis to be EV by a certain date.

  • Part of the obligations for energy companies are to insulate the homes of low-income households, the government has provided guidance on how local authorities can identify these groups to energy companies:

Council Plans and Actions

  • Greater Manchester has invested in a 10 year plan to build separate cycle lanes on all main roads.

  • Local councils should retrofit all council housing to Energy Performance Criteria C or higher.

  • In waste disposal contracts - ensure food waste is composted or used to generate biogas and adopt circular economy waste management plans.

  • Brighton, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall and Bristol councils have developed their own renewable energy companies or cooperatives, meaning that they can offer clean, affordable energy to local people. Brighton’s energy cooperative is installing free solar on school roofs and Bristol and Brighton have funded the development of low-carbon community energy projects. Cambridgeshire council have developed a solar-plus-storage project on landfill sites, with the revenue raised being used to fund the council’s frontline services. Councils could install solar PV on all their buildings/land.

  • Kirklees Council had the first ever universally free insulation scheme which insulated over 50,000 homes with cavity wall and loft insulation.

  • Use council land/spare land for tree planting to sequester carbon, alongside expanding green spaces and developing green architecture/ green roofs. If this is within the council’s remit - peat bog restoration can sequester significant amounts of CO2. 

  • Low-carbon district heating schemes are being developed in Devon and Leicester, with heat pumps/networks for the electrification of heat. Enfield council have invested £58 million in their local energy company ‘Energetik’ to develop community energy networks which will provide low-carbon heating and hot water to 15,000 homes.

  • Limit public parking around the city centre - close council owned car parks/metered parking bays or make parking more expensive to incentivise people to use public transport instead.

  • Cancel plans which will increase emissions, e.g. road expansion which is also costly and money could be diverted into funding public transport and cycle lane expansion.

  • Nottingham city council - invested in one of UK’s largest electric and biogas bus fleets and expanded the tram network which is powered by the council’s not-for-profit energy company using renewable energy - all paid for through the workplace parking levy. They have been installing solar panels on council homes, have developed a cycle hire scheme, are aiming to plant 10, 000 trees, and their waste collection depot has solar panels on to charge the council’s waste collection vehicles. 

  • Pedestrianise the city centre or introduce a low-emission zone with only ultra low emission vehicles allowed to enter.

  • Shroud is planning to retrofit all homes (not just council homes) to meet high energy efficiency standards, alongside ensuring that all council vehicles are electric/hydrogen.

  • Oxford - planning to introduce a zero-emission zone in the city centre and will be trialling a battery to power ground-source heat pumps scheme serving 300 homes. They are holding a citizens’ assembly on addressing the climate emergency.

  • Councils can learn from other councils that are in the process of planning or running citizens assemblies upon climate change mitigation, to hold their own citizens assembly: 

  • Camden: Camden have held a citizens assembly on climate change mitigation, and Oxford is planning how to hold a citizens assembly.

Support Resources

This article evidences what local councils like Shroud, Oxford and Nottingham are doing to tackle the climate emergency.

Ashden has developed a City Region Sustainability Network for cities to share ideas and get support, and also a toolkit for local authorities on the various co-benefits of climate action and how to make the case for climate action in an appealing way:

This report by the Climate Change Committee (an independent body informing the government on how to meet the Climate Act targets) outlines how Local Authorities can reduce emissions

This document by Bristol Councillors outlines their plans for how to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030

This document by Friends of the Earth explores actions that councils can take within the context of austerity to tackle the climate emergency 

The variety of measures which numerous local councils are taking to tackle the climate emergency are outlined in this report

This report documents extensive research on how to reach zero carbon emissions in Britain

Resources on holding citizens assemblies:

https://sites.google.com/view/xrca/ https://public.3.basecamp.com/p/wJdyoMGPQxyx29R1dz32Z4gB https://citizensassemblies.org/