Blog by Gabi Gershuny and Emma Andrews

In July 2020, Regen published ‘Local leadership to transform our energy system’, the latest paper in its ‘Decade to Make a Difference’ series.  The paper highlights the central role of the UK’s cities and regions in driving the energy transition required to meet the country’s legally binding net zero target, and in ensuring a ‘green recovery’ from Covid-19.

The paper was launched at a virtual event held on 22 September, which brought together key actors in local and central government, and the energy industry to explore the role of localism in the energy transition.  The key messages that we took from the paper and event are:

  • Leadership at all levels of society is needed to drive the transition, and local government must play a pivotal role in coordinating local action.  This is neatly represented in Regen’s ‘net zero city hall diagram’, which maps the component elements required to enable local leadership to address the climate crisis and support a green recovery.  The diagram captures the foundations needed to foster effective leadership in local government; the pillars of transformational change required to decarbonise our energy system; and some innovative approaches to delivering energy projects.  
  • The scale of the challenge necessitates the local insight and ‘hands on’ involvement of local government, from monitoring local demands to integrating the net zero commitment into local infrastructure, including housing, planning and transport.  Local leadership will also be vital for building social permission for the transition amongst communities, engendering a much needed cultural shift away from carbon-based living.
  • Decarbonising heat is our biggest challenge.  A coherent national strategy on decarbonising heat - for example, in relation to the role of hydrogen – is needed in order to pave the way for local action.  We wrote recently about the Government’s aim to introduce the Future Homes Standard by 2025, which will improve the carbon efficiency of new homes (see here).  The first stage of the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government’s consultation on this closed in February 2020, but progress has since stalled.  
  • Local authorities have started to collaborate with network operators to create distributed energy scenarios, and this trend is set to continue.  This promises innovative and flexible approaches to local network planning and smart connection solutions that align with local needs.  Local Area Energy Plans - roadmaps for decarbonising the energy system in a local area - will likely be a vital tool in connecting key stakeholders in local government, and gas and electricity network operators.     
  • The Government is called upon to deliver new funding mechanisms and to devolve powers to support local government and network operators in facilitating the energy transition.  It is anticipated that the Government’s long awaited Energy White Paper, alongside the  Local Economic Recovery and Devolution White Paper, as well as The Committee on Climate Change’s upcoming Sixth Carbon Budget, will lend support to local leadership.  Whether these will meet the ambition required remains to be seen.

It is clear that there is great ambition at local level to drive the energy transition and a green economic recovery, as can be seen by the actions of many local authorities to date including Bristol City Council’s pledge for the city to become carbon neutral by 2030.  Central government must now provide the powers and resources to enable that ambition.