The government must support a resilient recovery and a just transition to Net Zero emissions as the UK emerges from Covid19. Chris Stark CEO of the government Committee for Climate Change in an online event organised by the Green Alliance said that lower fossil fuel prices could deliver opportunities for ambitious green policies in the UK.

Local authority practice can influence government and a partnership must develop between the two. Over 280 local authorities have now declared a ’Climate Emergency.’ Two recent policy briefings produced by a body known as Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) make uplifting reading. Policy briefing No 199 contains key issues and new ideas taking place in local and central government.  Policy briefing No 200 runs parallel to this and looks at ideas and ways to move the resources and action plans in the right direction in light of the Covid19 pandemic.

The initiatives are wide-ranging and one size does not fit all. Examples include

  • Retrofitting of whole houses in social housing in Nottingham to lift people out of fuel poverty. Rolling out ‘Energiesprong,’ pioneered in the Netherlands, upgrades include highly insulated walls and windows, a solar roof and an efficient heating system.
  • Solar rooftop systems combined with home smart batteries in a cluster of social housing in Barnsley through a partnership with Northern Grid and Moixa a battery company. This reduces the need for power at expensive and carbon intensive peak evenings.
  • York and Northumberland are planning car -ports with solar panels at Park and Rides with EV chargers.
  • The London Electric Vehicle Company in Coventry (the UK’s only manufacturer of fully electric taxis) is creating a ‘transport lab’ to look at electric vehicles, biomethane and hydrogen for transport. with investment from German engineering company FEV and Coventry University.
  • Use of mine water. A quarter of all UK homes and businesses, 9 million buildings and most large cities sit on coalfields where mine water is a problem. It is often high in iron and pollutants and a threat to drinking water and rivers. Gateshead has the UK’s largest mine water heating scheme. It is pumped from the ground and heated through pipes around a wine warehouse keeping millions of bottles of wine temperate and heating a neighbouring distribution depot. Plans in thus vein are being employed to heat a leisure swimming pool in Durham and community housing in Bridgend.
  • Bristol has used Manchester ‘blockchain technology’ company EnergiMine to reward employees who partake in sustainable actions by using EnergiToken platform (ETK). Tokens can be spent on rewards.
  • Workplace parking levy (WPL) in Nottingham aimed at employers providing 11 or more commuter spaces with an annual rate of £415 per space netted council £61m as well as tackling congestion and pollution. The council used the money to invest in train and tram improvements. Savings made can be transferred between departments e.g. children services. (10)
  • Warwick is offering residents a referendum on whether to pay 3% extra in council tax for a climate fund. An estimated £3m a year is ring fenced for energy efficient housing, improved air quality, and crucially flood defences. (11)
  • Southampton has a Green City Charter in which 76 organisations businesses and individuals are committed to carbon neutral more sustainability and improvements on quality of life. 12)
  • Portsmouth has been named by the Solar Trade Association as one of UKs solar pioneers due to a huge programme – ‘Solar Power for Schools’ – 80 schools with solar panels plus 300 rooftop panels on city council buildings. (13)
  • 1 million trees are being planted before the end of the decade in Edinburgh. Where an ‘Archimedes Screw’ in City Park generates energy for a ground source heat pump. (14) (15)
  • A Citizens Jury of 25 people representing the public of Leeds has made 12 recommendations. This demonstrates that once people are exposed to facts on climate change most will support action. 16)
  • 3000 homes in Cornwall have been supplied with energy efficient improvements, saving more than £500000 for residents with England’s first community energy revolving loan fund. The Council is a key investor in two pioneering geothermal heat and power projects at the Eden Project ad United Downs. (17)

Each local authority must create a Climate Emergency Policy to establish key steps to effective climate action planning and implementation. A cross department approach is essential. All departments must prioritise the environment in business cases for new projects and not put the onus on just one department.

Renewable energy technologies are now the cheapest source of electricity in almost every country in the world. Electric vehicles are a cheaper way to run a system and the cost of EVs is about to reach parity with that of traditional vehicles. The president of the AA Edmund King told the BBC that anecdotal evidence suggests a permanent reduction in the demand for travel due to use of home working technology means road infrastructure funds might be better spent on broadband to support home working. Chris Stark agrees and said other elements of government infrastructure spending would help the UK out of the Covid-19 crisis. They include ‘shovel ready’ projects such as EV charging infrastructure and energy projects such as onshore wind. The big challenge to retrofit housing is labour intensive and would be an essential source of jobs.

The world is at a critical juncture. Government does not have to throw money at fossil -fuel based industry. If these best practises are shared we could see a new type of economics emerge. A ‘green’ recovery stimulus package which recognises the urgency of tackling climate change, building resilience to guard against future pandemics, would overcome the fiction that a liveable future can be driven solely by self- interest. New jobs could be created, new civic virtues established in Covid-19 crisis could be underpinned and essential services protected.

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