Local authorities put on notice over climate inaction

Lawyers from ClientEarth are putting 100 local authorities across England on notice, warning that they will violate their legal obligations and risk legal challenge if they do not introduce proper climate change plans.

Environmental lawyers have written to each local authority that is currently developing a new local plan, giving them eight weeks to explain how they will set evidence-based carbon reduction targets and ensure these targets are then central to their new planning policy.

Amid growing pressure for local governments to declare ‘climate emergencies’, ClientEarth launched the campaign to advise authorities of their legal duties under planning and environmental law.

The environmental group claims that, while many local authorities face difficult economic conditions, there are substantial benefits to climate-sensitive planning, such as improving local economies and creating jobs.

Sam Hunter Jones, a climate lawyer, said: “There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change. Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government. Clearly central government needs to do more, as the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) progress reports stress. Yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. All of these decisions will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.

“Scientists warn that we have 10 years to transform our economies and avoid catastrophic climate change, but decisions that will have ramifications for decades are being made now by authorities with no idea if these decisions are consistent with national and international commitments to limit emissions. In July this year, the CCC criticised the UK’s continued failure to take action on emissions from buildings and transport – two sectors where local planning plays a critical role.”

David Renard, the LGA’s Environment spokesman, said: “Councils are already doing a great deal to protect the environment and health of our communities, including mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. This includes tackling harmful air pollution by devising clean air zones and protecting at-risk areas outside schools, encouraging the use of electric vehicles through promoting recharging points, and investing in cycling.

“However, councils can do so much more if they are properly and sustainably funded, allowed to set planning fees locally and if policies such as permitted development rights are scrapped as they allow developers to ignore community needs and undermine local plans.

“The forthcoming Spending Round needs to ensure councils have adequate funding to protect local services next year to help improve residents’ lives, including through proactive environmental protection work.”

A number of local authorities have declared a climate emergency. Details of this can be seen here.