Local Authorities: The challenges facing local authorities in delivering net-zero

More than half of the UK’s principal local authorities have declared a climate emergency in the last eight months. The impact of climate change is already being widely felt and action at a local and regional level is necessary if we are to reduce the risks of climate change.

Environmental concerns continue to move further up the governments priorities and local government play a vital part in tackling them, particularly in transport but also other areas such as buildings, energy, and waste. Many councils have set net zero targets, with some declaring that they will reach net-zero by 2030 (Carbon Trust).

However, many councils who have committed to going carbon neutral face numerous challenges including: financial restrictions, limited cross-government support, unclear strategy and targets, and lack of awareness within the sector of the benefits it can provide to local activity.


Local authorities have experienced numerous cuts to funding which has not only made budgets tighter, but also reduced their ability to act.

As a result, considering doing much in areas other than statutory requirements is limited, and in many cases it may be a challenge to even deliver the minimum in areas such as social care. This means budget spending and taking action on climate change could fall behind. Alongside budget reductions, staff cuts have increased, effecting staff capacity and expertise within councils.

This said, there are some no cost/low cost actions local authorities can take on climate change, including partnerships and fundraising. For example Nottingham City Council used the money raised from the WPL (Workplace Parking Levy), a type of congestion charging scheme, to fund extensions to the existing tram system that would improve public transport.


Local authorities are under pressure to meet targets that have been set in order to meet wider political and public goals, rather than based on evidence or science (Carbon Trust).

Net-zero or zero carbon? For many net-zero carbon (or carbon-neutral) and zero carbon will mean the same thing but both are very different and come with significant challenges. Many local authorities also face confusion around what the 2030 target means in terms of their council, whether the time constraints are achievable, and what budget will be needed in the process.

Responsibilities and power

Lacking consistent, coherent political and corporate leadership on climate change is a challenge facing local authorities (Carbon Trust).

As well as the financial challenges, local authorities face deregulation which constrains their power and responsibilities and affects their efforts towards net-zero. The weakening of housing standards and decision making over on-shore wind farms are some of examples of this deregulation.

However, local authorities still have the power to overcome some of the challenges facing them today by developing a localised approach. This could involve local authorities bringing together partners to deliver leadership and direction on specific environmental issues.

Project funding is also an option and can be done using efforts such as car parking tickets and through congestion charging schemes as mentioned earlier by Nottingham County Council. However, fundraising for projects could still be a challenge especially as a result of the reduced staff capacity.

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