Local authorities have important roles to play in tackling climate change and their communities will take a keen interest in how they fulfil these roles, write Tiffany Cloynes and Clare Hardy of law firm Geldards.
The contrast between the pleasure of enjoying the summer sunshine and the devastation caused by recent floods has been a stark reminder of the need to take action to address the problem of climate change.
Many local authorities have declared climate emergencies and set themselves targets of becoming carbon neutral and identified actions to achieve this. These declarations have attracted a lot of interest from local people who will no doubt follow the progress their local authorities are taking and scrutinise their other decisions and actions to ensure that they are consistent with a commitment to tackling climate change.
Local authorities, therefore, to need to ensure that they take decisions which are consistent with their climate change declarations but they must not fetter their discretion to take each decision on its merits.
They will need to have regard to their commitment to tackling climate change alongside the particular issues relevant to each decision and their compliance with all relevant duties. Effective decision making will lead to effective delivery of climate change strategies.
Carrying out works and services.
Local authorities could consider the scope to which they can adopt an environmentally friendly approach to their construction and management of properties and to their delivery of services. In so doing, they must ensure that they comply with any relevant legal requirements and that any decisions that they take are reasonable.
They can also consider imposing relevant requirements when they appoint external contractors but they must adhere to the requirements of public procurement regulations and their own constitutions.
It is therefore important that they consider the implications of climate change at the outset of planning a procurement, so that they build their expectations into the scope of their requirements, rather than trying to force attention to climate change issues at later stages when they have no apparent relevance to the procurement
Local authorities can take action to minimise the effect of climate change in their employment practices. For example, encouraging employees to use public transport rather than providing workplace parking would be a way of limiting emissions.
Providing opportunities for flexible working, such as working from home, could reduce the need for employees to travel and the energy needs of a local authority’s premises.
If suitable practical arrangements are made, flexible working could also help with efficiency. Before taking any steps, a local authority would need to consider employment law issues. If employees are employed on terms and conditions which give them access to free parking, employers would need to go through the appropriate processes before changing them.
Local authorities should consider the forms of energy that will meet their needs most effectively. The availability of renewable energy provides opportunities for local authorities to obtain and use energy efficiently, whilst considering the implications for the future of the environment.
There may also be income generation opportunities if the arrangements a local authority makes for its own energy leads to the potential to sell energy to others.
There will be a range of issues to address in exploring such opportunities, including the need to consider whether a local authority is acting for a commercial purpose and any obligations that will flow from that.
Local authorities need to take a holistic approach to addressing climate change.
They need to consider the implications of their declarations of a climate change emergency on other decisions and the implications of other decisions on addressing climate change.
They need to ensure that all their decisions are reasonable and they consider appropriately the impact of a decision on the persons who will be affected it.
In Wales, legislation already provides an infrastructure for this, with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 obliging local authorities to set objectives aimed at achieving well-being goals which address the needs of future generations. The approach of considering all the relevant issues would be helpful to the decision making of any local authority.
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