Local governments are in a unique position in the race to net-zero

Chris Bowden, managing director of Squeaky, a B2B marketplace for clean energy explains how local governments can capitalise on their unique position in the race to net zero.

The UK Government has announced it will be enshrining the world’s most ambitious climate change target in law – cutting emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels.

Certainly, there is no doubt that the UK has raised the bar on tackling climate change. This is a pioneering move and one that couldn’t come soon enough.

Since the announcement, a group of metro mayors and council leaders have written to the PM calling for ‘further and faster’ action to protect the environment. They say without a locally-led approach, the UK will struggle to reach its new climate change target.

There is no doubt that local authorities are critical in the achievement of emissions reductions.

In fact, their deep knowledge of the areas they serve makes them perfectly placed to tackle regional decarbonisation challenges.

Indeed, work to tackle climate change has been underway in local governments for some time – more than 300 councils had declared a Climate Emergency even before the government enacted this new target.

Whether central government grants additional powers and resources or not, the new, net-zero goal, will require all local leaders to acknowledge and capitalise on their unique advantage as a public sector organisation and embrace this as an opportunity, rather than a necessity. Quite frankly, this is no longer a space for reactive, token pledges.

The question is, therefore, how can leaders in local government set their councils up to reach net zero, contribute to the bigger goal of limiting global warming and, ultimately, limit the further impact of the climate disaster?

1. Make collaboration a priority.

Tackling climate change is impossible without government-industry collaboration and a willingness to unite.

We all share the same planet and we are all marching towards the same goal.

We’ve already seen fruitful examples of the cooperation between public sector bodies who have proven it is not only entirely possible, but it is also of huge commercial and environmental benefit.

In a UK first, 20 leading universities joined forces to strike a landmark renewable energy deal that would reduce both their bills and carbon footprints.

It was a ground-breaking corporate power purchase agreement (CPPA) which saw the university cohort buy £50m of renewable energy from a portfolio of wind farms.

Until this deal, the CPPA market had largely been the preserve of large corporations, but navigating this previously inaccessible market together enables these public sector bodies to make a genuinely progressive deal.

2. Standardise your deals.

Complex and lengthy documentation can be the achilles heal to securing the most advantageous and progressive deals.

Standardising and shrinking the legal and contractual process will lower transaction costs to an affordable level, ensuring the market is decentralised and open to all. We must make 100+page documents a thing of the past – it is a crying shame to think admin is a barrier to progression.

3. Use your healthy balance sheet as a superpower.

Local and public sector bodies are in an entirely unique position compared to private sector organisations.

Due to their AAA credit rating, they can strike better energy deals and jump through fewer hoops than those in the private sector. Plus, government bodies can take advantage of longer contracts, fixing power prices at competitive rates for 10, 20 or even 25 years, minimising their exposure to market volatility.

4. Simplify your strategy.

Whilst long term policy frameworks allow for governments to plan for change, these objectives must be linked to a series of executable strategies and projects and short-term targets.

Unfortunately, paralysis by overwhelm is rife, but providing credible, step-by-step plans to reach net-zero goals will build confidence among constituents and government and ensure councils are travelling forward only. A quote from Creighton Abrams springs to mind, ‘When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.’

5. Lead with the mindset of a start-up.

Ultimately, technology plays only a partial role in innovation.

Local government leaders must innovate their thinking too. They need to be open to and commit to collaborating in finance and green technology and using their powerful voices to back social movements that initiate behavioural change amongst their communities.

But even in the best-case scenario, the transition to a low-carbon world will take time. Local governments and public sector bodies have the opportunity to lead the charge on climate change, use their buying power and balance sheets to stimulate the growth of green energy and pave the way for change at a local level.



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