Government must help councils face up to the climate crisis

BBC survey finds almost 9 out of 10 councils have declared a climate emergency but more than a third support policies that increase emissions
  Published:  13 Aug 2021    |      2 minute read

The government must do more to enable councils to play their part in decarbonising the UK, Friends of the Earth has said today.

The call comes after a new BBC survey found that over a third of councils are supporting policies that could increase carbon emissions, such as new roads or airport expansion, despite almost 90% of them having declared a climate emergency.

Without proper funding, powers and resources from central government, local authorities will be left unable to meet ambitious climate targets set locally, as well as those internationally agreed by the Prime Minister.

That is why Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to commit to a simple set of measures which will help local authorities deliver on the UK’s climate commitments, including:

  1. A legal requirement making absolutely clear that local authorities have to take UK climate targets into account when considering planning applications, giving them extra powers to refuse developments which would increase carbon emissions and insist that all new houses are zero carbon.
  2. A clear role for local authorities set out in its forthcoming Net Zero Strategy, backed up by the long-term funding to match so that important climate solutions, like retrofitting houses, can be achieved.
  3. The scrapping of its £27bn roads programme. Funding should instead be reallocated to make infrastructure for public transport, as well as active travel on foot and bike, more reliable, safe and affordable for all.

Local authorities are best placed to work with their communities and businesses to deliver a low-carbon future. The majority of councils (78%) have gone beyond declaring a climate emergency by publishing their own Climate Action Plans, but in many cases progress is still hampered by a lack of power and resources.

Investment from the top down will not only help local leaders do best by their constituents, but will also result in co-benefits, including the creation of quality, long-term green jobs, as well as better health as a result of cleaner air, warmer homes and access to green space, which could have cost savings for the NHS.

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Sandra Bell, said:

“Councils have a vital role to play in confronting the climate emergency. It’s really important they show their willingness to act, but they also need the necessary powers, funds and resources to build a greener future. “Planning reform is an over-looked but crucial element in this. There should be a legal requirement that local authorities have to take UK climate targets into account when considering planning applications. We won’t come close to confronting the climate crisis if coal mines and airport expansions are approved and more car-dependent housing is built that fails to meet high energy efficiency standards.

“Ministers should put councils at the heart of their climate strategy, so they can fulfil their potential to create the green jobs and healthy, resilient communities needed for the challenges of the 21st century.”


  • The National Audit Office recently concluded that existing funding is too fragmented, short-term, and competitive to guarantee national net zero targets will be met across the UK
  • To find out which councils have published Climate Action Plans, please visit:
  • High standards of energy efficiency could help prevent 3,200 deaths a year related to cold damp homes. Up to 36,000 premature deaths each year are linked to air pollution
  • Friends of the Earth is part of a coalition of local government organisations, environmental groups and research organisations that have set out a blueprint for how the government can accelerate climate action and a green recovery at the local level. The Blueprint Coalition recently set out a set of demands to ensure that local authorities are key partners in the government’s Net Zero Strategy