Magazine article Public Finance

Local Government Lagging Behind on Climate Change

Magazine article Public Finance

Local Government Lagging Behind on Climate Change

Article excerpt

A statutory duty should be placed on councils that fail to respond to the challenge of climate change, experts said this week as they painted a gloomy picture of progress to date.

The call came from the Climate Change Commission, an independent expert committee convened by the Local Government Association to assess how well councils are facing up to the issue of climate change.

The commission, chaired by economist and energy expert Professor John Chesshire, examined progress across two fronts: reducing carbon emissions and adapting the local estate to withstand the forces of extreme weather. After a nine-month inquiry it issued its final report on December 5 at a climate change conference in Leicester.

Despite a few examples of good practice, the majority of councils still do not have a strategy to reduce their carbon emissions, while progress on 'resilience' issues such as flood prevention is even less encouraging.

Chesshire told Public Finance that the commission had thought long and hard over how to reconcile the need to face up to climate change with the trend towards localism and decentralisation.

'The majority of our written evidence from councils made the point that without a statutory duty they're not likely to treat [climate change] seriously' he said. 'Councils have competing agendas, they have enormous pressure on resources and they don't necessarily have the skills base they need.'

But the commission resisted recommending a blanket statutory duty for all local authorities, suggesting instead that it should be targeted at those failing to take the necessary action.

The commission wants significant and measurable improvements in local government's response to climate change and is asking the LGA to be allowed to reconvene in 2009 to assess progress and make further recommendations.

"This report is really a bit of a wake-up call [ for councils] to get serious and build on the work already in progress,' Chesshire said.

Responding to the report, LGA chair Sir Simon Milton said climate change was the most important long-term priority for local government. 'It is a test of the sector's credibility and reputation,' he said. 'It is as important now as public health and sanitation were to our Victorian predecessors'

The LGA is inviting its members to comment on the recommendations and will publish a plan in the spring. …

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