Nearly half of UK adults believe the government isn’t doing enough to tackle climate change, according to YouGov. Thankfully, some councils aren’t waiting around to take their lead from the top – they’re creating policies that slash emissions and save money
Whatever you might think of the group, Insulate Britain is right about one thing: making homes more energy efficient is a surefire way to slash emissions. Domestic heating accounts for around 14 per cent of the UK’s carbon output, with much hot air escaping from leaky lofts.
Enter Manchester, which plans to retrofit 1.2m homes to help it achieve carbon neutrality by 2038 (which they estimate will create 55,000 jobs in the region over that time). They are putting thousands of people through retrofit training at their Low Carbon Academy.
Updating even 20 per cent of Manchester’s homes would generate economic activity estimated to be worth up to £5.4bn – a win-win for people and planet.
Image: Chris Curry
Transforming the planet-trashing linear economy into a zero-waste circle is essential if we are to decarbonise. Showing leadership in such matters is Derry City and Strabane district council, which is one of the first to develop a circular economy strategy.
Having a plan is one thing, implementing it another, and recent figures suggest that landfill waste is still rising. Nevertheless, the authority has launched some commendable initiatives to help people reduce waste.
One of them is New2You Reuse Centre, which educates residents on how to fix furniture and electrical products. Another is the She Shed Project, which trains young women in joinery, mechanics and upcycling. Meanwhile, a laptop donation scheme has refurbished 400 computers for children homeschooling during the pandemic.
The council is also supporting a local food growing movement with the ultimate aim that the city can feed itself.
Image: Gary Chan
Waltham Forest’s ‘mini-Holland’ road schemes have transformed parts of the London borough, making the streets safer for cyclists. But the council has also been busy driving through a pioneering fossil fuel divestment programme.
In 2016, they pledged to be the first local authority to end investments in oil, gas and coal held through its pension fund, earning them praise from Friends of the Earth for “leading the way”.
This September, the borough announced that the job was finally done – a first among UK councils. Other local authorities, particularly those that have declared climate emergencies, are being urged to do the same.
Image: Sheggeor laker
Plenty of councils have strapped solar panels to the roofs of civic buildings, but Cambridgeshire county council has gone even further – by opening its own solar farms.
The first, Triangle Solar Farm in Soham, went live in 2017. The 45,000-panel installation was funded by a loan, and generates 12MW annually, enough to power around 3,000 homes. The facility raises around £350,000 for the council coffers annually, which has gone to fund adult social care services, and will rise to a cool £1m when the loan has been repaid.
Every year, Triangle Farm is saving emissions equal to removing 695 cars from the road. The council now has plans to build a further 42MW of new solar projects, contributing to a local green recovery from the pandemic.
Image: Red Zeppelin
When Nottingham city council introduced a workplace parking levy in 2012, it had congestion in its crosshairs, not carbon. Endless traffic jams cost the city around £160m annually, while public transport was in dire need of investment.
So, the council decided to become the first European city to charge employers who provide parking spaces.
A decade on, the levy has raised almost £100m, helping fund an extension to the city’s tram network, plus improvements to Nottingham train station, and the bus network.
The scheme is estimated to have reduced local carbon emissions by 33 per cent, while creating 1,200 jobs. “There were fears it would drive businesses out, but we see no evidence of that,” said Chris Carter, the council’s head of transport.
Image: Connor Lunsford
School dinners – some people of a certain age have bad memories. However, Leeds city council is working to make them more palatable for pupils and the planet.
It’s been collaborating with schools to develop menus that champion seasonal, Yorkshire-grown ingredients (particularly plant-based produce), while outlawing air-freighted foodstuffs. Catering staff are given simple data so they can compare the carbon footprints of their meals. The aim is to halve the emissions of school dinners and improve nutrition.
The council also helped fund another welcome initiative: a school uniform exchange. Run by Zero Waste Leeds, it helps parents to source secondhand uniforms instead of forking out for new ones. There are now 276 active exchanges in the city.
Image: Markus Spiske
Main image: Leeds city centre. Credit: Benjamin Elliott