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There’s no point pretending.  It’s been awful for councils these last few months.The Chancellor took aim at town halls with both barrels, blasting them with 27 per cent spending cuts and unleashing job losses in the tens of thousands. It’s led to very tough choices in local authorities, and the things they’re not legally obliged to do – such as act on climate change – have been first for the chop

The big picture of what this means for the environment is still emerging, but it’s looking bleak.  At Friends of the Earth we’re hearing depressing tales of bus service butchery, redundancies in the teams that help their communities become greener and downsizing of plans to reduce carbon emissions.

And it’s not like most councils were gung-ho about slashing CO2 to begin with. The success stories of projects in pioneering councils like Kirklees (which gave free insulation to all local residents) stood out precisely because they were so rare.
But there were reasons to be optimistic. Under councils’ Local Area Agreements, two-thirds had signed up to National Indicator 186 – the voluntary performance indicator on local carbon reduction in the area. It existed because councils are closest to people’s everyday lives and need a central role in cutting the UK’s carbon footprint and building a competitive green economy.

Signing up to NI186 meant agreeing a target with Whitehall. Most of these targets were pretty rubbish – only one in five were higher than national climate programmes would have delivered anyway. But it was an important start. Climate change was creeping up the agenda – prompting “concerted action for the first time”, according to the Audit Commission.

Then came the change of skipper. With gleeful abandon Eric Pickles slung out the LAAs, the targets to which councils had signed up, and with them any expectation from his office that council leadership on climate change was important.Throw in the vicious budget cuts and it’s easy to see why for many councils, going green is yesterday’s problem.

Friends of the Earth recently contacted every council in England and found out that only one in three have any kind of medium-term target – from 2015 to 2035 – to cut carbon emissions.  And the council staff we talk to say even these are in jeopardy - they don’t know what the future holds for their important work cutting carbon and saving energy locally.

The Government says councils are pivotal to meeting emissions targets. You wouldn’t think so, the way they’ve been hung out to dry.The pioneers - councils like Birmingham, Bristol, Islington, Plymouth and Manchester - aren’t waiting to be told. Despite everything, they’re forging ahead with brilliant climate change programmes, because they want to bring new jobs, green power and better transport to their local communities and businesses. 

They’ve got tough emissions reductions targets, joined-up policies and a commitment from the top. Friends of the Earth, the Federation of Small Businesses and the TUC are among the many organisations calling for the Energy Bill - soon to be debated in the Commons - to give all councils a clear responsibility to act on climate change, and for the Committee on Climate Change to advise on what should be done locally.


Already 40 council leaders from all parties have written to Chris Huhne backing this.In the House of Lords, many Peers have shown support for a bigger, better role for councils in meeting the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets. That would also mean giving them some cash to do it, such as from the new Green Investment Bank.


We need all hands on deck. Local economies desperately need green jobs and businesses. They also need better, more efficient transport and a radical improvement in the way we use energy. The Government’s set to scupper councils just as they were starting to get serious on climate change.  The Energy Bill is a chance to put it right.



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Written by David Powell   
Wednesday, 18 May 2011 13:19
Last Updated on Friday, 20 May 2011 14:13
 

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