Debate: Role of local government in reaching net zero, June 2023

  • By Amy Leppänen


London boroughs have a crucial role in tackling carbon emissions and helping the country to reach net zero. Boroughs are supporting the transition to a net zero economy by delivering placemaking projects, convening local investment and creating thriving local neighbourhoods. The government must reduce the complexity of net zero funding available to local government, whilst increasing investment and making long-term commitments to future programmes. Clarity on the role of local government in reaching net zero, accompanied by stronger policy frameworks would also help to unlock investment and economic growth. The government should also recognise and engage with local government as key net zero delivery partners, trusted place-centred leaders that can take holistic action and holders of significant direct control over emissions.

London boroughs’ role in reaching net zero

Empowering local government is essential to delivering long-term, sustainable emissions reductions in local places and growing local economies. Local authorities have a high level of trust among the public and can garner community support. Local authorities can also collaborate across their functions and ensure the action they take on decarbonisation doesn’t have detrimental impacts elsewhere,

London boroughs have adopted a variety of targets in respect of reducing council-generated emissions, though the majority have adopted a target of net zero emissions by 2030, and all have published Climate Action Plans setting out how they will meet their ambitions and drive carbon reductions across their borough.

London Councils Climate Change Programmes 

To achieve net zero and adapt to the changing climate, local government must show strong leadership and work together, as well as with a diverse range of partners. This is why London boroughs have launched a range of collaborative programmes – from  retrofitting our buildings to make them cheaper to heat and reduce their impact on the environment, to increasing the number of Londoners employed in the green economy, and from ramping up local renewable power to ensuring that all new developments have a minimal carbon footprint, the rapid development of low carbon transport and working with residents and businesses to reduce their consumption-based emissions. London boroughs are also ensuring that the capital develops the resilience to cope with the extreme weather shocks that come more frequently and severely with climate change.

These programmes are working to share best practice, join up activity and grasp economies of scale. The government should support these innovative collaborative efforts to ensure boroughs deliver the maximum possible economic, environmental, health and social benefits. See the Annex below for more information on these programmes.

3Ci - Cities Commission for Climate Investment 

3Ci – Cities Commission for Climate Investment – is a partnership founded by London Councils, Connected Places Catapult and Core Cities UK. Working together with the wider local government sector and the M10 mayoral group, 3Ci is developing innovative approaches to securing private investment into place-based net zero delivery.  It is actively supported by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Local Government Association, Scottish Cities Alliance, UK Infrastructure Bank, and an increasing number of major businesses across finance, investment, built environment, and engineering sectors. 3Ci’s aim is to ensure that urban investment plays a critical role in delivering the UK’s ambitious net zero commitment, city by city and neighbourhood by neighbourhood. 

3Ci proposes a programme of placed-based, multi-intervention, net zero neighbourhoods, supported by a blended finance model:

  • Promoting a place-based approach to decarbonisation that promotes community and local authority buy-in and participation. 
  • Facilitating the delivery of multiple interventions in one place in order to scale up-delivery, generate efficiencies and ​derive​​ wider socio-economic benefits. 
  • Providing a blended funding model, which combines government and outcome-seeking funding, with profit seeking private investment. It also provides a cost savings to the government, possibly reducing what could a 70-80% subsidy, to around 35%, 
  • Generating revenues that can be used to fund the programme (repayable finance) and remove the need for individual residents and asset owners to personally fund the significant costs of decarbonisation through debt, whilst providing an incentive to participate (reduced energy bills).

The next phase of work, which is a programme of demonstrators, requires government support and funding, with the view to unlocking £200 billion of private investment.

Challenges facing London boroughs in reaching net zero

Funding, finance and resources  

Current net zero funding for local authorities is primarily distributed through limited pots of money which are accessed via competitive funding processes. Crafting bids can take a large amount of limited staff time and are often unsuccessful. Funding pots also usually have narrow windows for applications and timescales for the delivery of funded work are often extremely challenging. This means local authorities can’t strategically plan how to decarbonise their areas most effectively.  All areas must reach net zero, so providing funds to limited local authorities is not only inefficient, but also hinders the national net zero effort.

Delineating the role of local authorities 

There is no clear guidance on the role of local authorities in reaching net zero. For local authorities, this leads to avoidable confusion as to what actions they should be taking to tackle carbon emissions in their area and creates avoidable duplication in work. In some cases, this uncertainly from the government has also led to understandable delays in action from local government. Every public body needs to play a role in reaching net zero, so we would support a statutory duty on all public bodies to contribute to reaching net zero if it is joined with the required powers and resources to act.  

Shallow engagement between local and central government

London Councils has welcomed the opportunity through the Local Net Zero Forum to engage with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and other departments, however there is more to do to enable local government to support the delivery of net zero ambitions. In addition, not all government departments understand or invest in local government as a crucial delivery partner to reach net zero.

Key asks of the government

  • Simplify the net zero funding landscape and processes to reduce costs for local authorities, improve efficiency and value for money for taxpayers. The government should also reduce monitoring requirements for funding schemes to reflect the role of local authorities as trusted partners.
  • Increase the amount of net zero funding and finance available to local authorities and give them more control over spending to support strategic local delivery. The government should also make long-term commitments (at least three years) to future funding programmes to provide certainty for suppliers, skills providers, and employers.
  • Engage with 3Ci – Cities Commission for Climate Investment – and support the move to a full business case for their innovative net zero neighbourhoods model.
  • Ensure all government departments understand and invest in local government as a delivery partner in reaching net zero.
  • Work effectively with local government through the Local Net Zero Forum, which is yet to reach its potential.
  • Publish a high-level framework which recognises and clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of local government in reaching net zero.


Retrofit London: Led by the London Boroughs of Enfield and Waltham Forest

This programme’s focus is on scaling residential retrofit across London, increasing the number of homes retrofitted to EPC B or above. The programme has already won two awards for its work; over the next two years it will become the centre of collaboration and innovation for our city; a trusted partner to regional and central government and the private sector, with the ability to bring knowledge of delivery to policy and investment discussions. It will focus on growing London’s capacity to deliver on retrofit and removing barriers – such as policy, partnerships, finance, skills, technical expertise - that are currently holding us back.

Low carbon development: Led by London Borough of Hackney

This programme’s focus is on supporting boroughs to collaborate on this agenda, to ensure that low carbon development will not only reduce emissions but help create buildings that enable occupants to have healthier, more sustainable lives and to better cope with a changing climate. The programme has already created an evidence base for low carbon development in Local Plans. Over the next two years this programme will focus on removing barriers to low carbon development, equipping boroughs with the knowledge and skills they need and developing shared definitions, data, and monitoring approaches.

Low carbon transport: Led by the Royal Borough of Kingston and Westminster City Council

This programme’s focus is to halve road journeys made by petrol and diesel and encourage sustainable and active travel options. The programme has already developed baseline data modelling to show boroughs what transport actions they’ll need to take to hit net zero. Over the next two years it will become the centre of practice, data, and expertise for London local government on transport decarbonisation.

Renewable power for London: Led by London Borough of Islington

This programme’s focus is on increasing the use of renewable power across London’s public sector and households. It has already built momentum around Power Purchase Agreements. Over the next two years it will develop a model for collective Power Purchase Agreements that can be replicated by groups of boroughs, work with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and others to review London’s energy advice services to ensure they are supporting residents to access renewable power effectively, and support boroughs to access best practice on local area energy planning while acting as a strategic partner to the GLA, ESNZ and UK Power Networks to develop a suitable model for London.

One World Living: Led by London Borough of Harrow

This programme’s focus is on creating a city-wide and bottom-up model of consumption-based emissions reduction. It has already launched a pan-London campaign to promote low-carbon diets and reduce food waste. Over the next two years it will be focus on strengthening council leadership on the circular economy and enabling community level change.

Building the green economy: Led by London Borough of Hounslow

This programme’s focus is on doubling the size of the green economy in London. It has already commissioned metrics to allow London to track progress against this aim. Over the next two years, the programme will focus on building a robust evidence base for boroughs to take action on their own green economy work, and will develop funding models for delivery across all workstreams.

Resilient and Green London: Led by London Borough of Southwark

This programme’s focus is on developing a strong shared vision for a climate resilient London and strengthening London local government’s strategic adaptation capacity. It has already started to codify the leadership capacity needed on adaptation, and over the next two years it will development effective partnership, governance, and leadership arrangements to manage London’s key climate risks, supported by the identification, collation and promotion of the data and evidence needed by boroughs to effectively understand climate risks and to assess the impact we are having on London’s resilience.

Amy Leppänen, Parliamentary Officer