Research Project

Carbon Footprints, Local Steps: How local government can rise to the climate change challenge
10 October, 2007

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A new NLGN report argues that the Government goal of 60 per cent carbon dioxide reduction can be achieved 25 years earlier than currently forecast. It claims that local councils could introduce measures that would save 320 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2025.


The report, supported by Serco and Kirklees Council, identifies a number of viable actions that councils would take to reduce their area’s carbon emissions. These range from converting landfill waste into electricity and offering interest-free loans for people to invest in microgeneration technology, to more radical options such as introducing congestion charging and allocating each local resident with a ‘carbon credit’ to monitor and limit household CO2 emissions. Remarkably, the report also argues that most decisions made could be politically advantageous rather than hurtful through strong local political leadership.

NLGN Director Chris Leslie said:

“If Government Ministers chose today to give new financial incentives and penalties to each town or city depending on their carbon-saving performance, then the UK’s climate change obligations could be met faster and with more”.

The report advocates introducing a carbon trading framework between local authorities, financially rewarding councils that reduce their emissions, and penalising those who don’t. This is based upon a study of eight local authorities who participated in a carbon trading role play to reduce CO2 emissions in their locality. In the study, councils officers were obliged to introduce a number of economically and politically viable policies over a five year period to reduce their carbon emissions, with all authorities registering a reduction. The report concludes that a performance grant system would act as a powerful driver for local actions that would reduce CO2 emissions.

The report’s author, James McGregor argues:

“Local government can take responsibility for reducing carbon emissions. Our research reveals that if the performance of the best local authorities can be matched, councils can reduce CO2 production by 60 per cent by 2025. This is 25 years before central government expects to reach this level of saving. This is a powerful offer that should not be ignored”.

“Councils have the democratic legitimacy to bring together local public bodies, businesses and communities in partnerships. They also offer to influence how citizens behave. Councils must become exemplars of sustainability to be able to influence the behaviour of others. Reducing emissions from council buildings and embedding sustainability in services are vital precursors to exercising leadership. The council must be viewed as a beacon of good practice”.

“Our research also reveals the important roles that targets, competition and finance play in driving improvement. Targets give officers clear goals and benchmarks against which success can be measured. A sense of competition between peers encourages better performance. Consideration of the cost effectiveness of actions to tackle climate change encourages officers to be creative in their approaches. Together, these led to sustained improvement in performance over time”.

“Tackling climate change is overwhelmingly politically popular under the right circumstances. Councils are also capable of winning approval for new local regulations. Long-term actions tended to grow in popularity over time as the benefits were realised. This suggests that strong and bold political leadership is key to realising local government’s potential to tacking climate change”.

Publication Date: 10 October 2007
ISBN: 1 903 447 64 X
Authored by: James MacGregor

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