Right Place, Right Time: five points to square the net zero circle

Work in progress

Right Place, Right Time: five points to square the net zero circle

Like ‘Building Back Better’ or ‘Levelling Up’, the ambitious cross-government  Net Zero Strategy risks a fate as a vapid if effective slogan if the overriding domestic political issues, the long-term failures in economic, energy and social policy are not addressed at the level of place.

According to the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy, central and local government will need to work closely together to deliver net zero and our interim carbon budgets.  Government forecasts indicate that local authorities are responsible for more than 30% of the emissions reductions needed across all sectors to deliver on Carbon Budget targets.  In the words of the Climate Change Commission, the extent to which our local authorities are responsible for in delivering net zero ‘represents a positive first step in acknowledging the role that local leaders can play in engaging their communities and delivering change that works within their local contexts, and in identifying steps to unlock effective local delivery.’

However, with all the best goodwill in the world, the local state – in the way it is currently configured and resourced – will be unable to square this net zero circle.  Recognising the scale and depth of this problem forces us to confront how it might be possible, and what kind of approach would be needed, to solve and complete the gaps in how we go about adapting many aspects of our daily life to achieve a decarbonised future.

So at a practical level, we must address how zero carbon can realistically be achieved and supported by the local state.  To begin will involve getting to grips – at a whole place level – of the problems and the solutions faced today and as they will likely develop on the road to net zero  over the next decade.

At heart, this is an issue of how as much as where we live.  What future we wish to create for the society we wish to build our lives into?  And how might the ‘under the bonnet’, but crucial and intensely interdependent issues of community engagement, council financing, heating, infrastructure and skills cohere as interdependent strands that can accelerate sustainable place-based approaches to delivering Net Zero?

Once this is understood, we can ask what role there might be for improved national and local coordination to help all stakeholders – developers and regulators, Whitehall departments and local authorities and their communities alike – to navigate a direct path to an attainable and values-driven built environment agenda for Net Zero.

More than anything, Net Zero is a consummate place policy problem waiting to be cracked collaboratively by a slew of local actors, from councils to communities, from businesses to charities, which can in their various roles as convenors, placemakers and economic anchors, effect a revolution in how we co-ordinate and marshal efforts at the local level.

In this research project, Localis will take into consideration five major areas which are currently obstacles to attaining Net Zero, which contain within them the transformational power, if properly co-ordinated at local level, to fill in some of the major gaps to achieving a low carbon economy.

  • Sustainable warmth: fuel poverty and carbon investment
  • Finance/HRA
  • Infrastructure provision and innovation
  • Skills gap
  • Resident engagement

Research project kindly sponsored by: