This blog post was originally published on 11th November 2021
This month, the eyes of the world will be on the UK and our government as the hosts of COP26. It is a golden opportunity for us as a nation to be bold, ambitious, and honest about what it really takes to tackle the climate and ecological crisis we face.
The consequences of not seizing this moment will be grave, both internationally and here at home; the ramifications for the social fabric of humanity will be catastrophic. And for those who think these are problems for elsewhere, the recent flooding across large parts of the country, including affecting some homes in my own borough of Lambeth, should disabuse them of that fact.
But it is not enough to focus just on action that reduces emissions. COP26 provides us with a huge opportunity to tackle the full range of environmental injustices we face; an opportunity to restructure our society to rid it of the existing inequalities that blight communities right across the UK. And we already know that, like Covid, climate change will disproportionately impact our poorest communities.
As Labour councillors, we not only recognise those injustices exist, but place eradicating them at the core of our mission. Whether it is tackling the scourge of low paid, insecure work, fuel and food poverty, or ensuring that everyone can live in a good quality, warm, safe and dry home – tackling environmental injustice is at the heart of the labour movement.
But we know that a top-down approach from central government which ignores or marginalises local government will fail to achieve this. Government needs to work hand-in-glove with local authorities across the country to make sure that we correct the course of man-made climate change, whilst at the same time build a fairer country.
The government has enshrined in law a 2050 net zero target. Many local authorities, like us here in Lambeth, have set a more ambitious target of 2030 and we are already delivering on it.
Local government is an indispensable partner in achieving net zero. No national strategy can work without a local foundation. Our insight into our communities and local circumstances; the wide-ranging relationships and influence we have and the regulatory functions that we exercise in our places; our ability to join up emissions reductions whilst working to tackle existing injustices by tapping into the expertise at our fingertips from public health, to further education and right through to our teams building new homes.
The decisions we make at a local level, the actions we take, make a difference. Whether that is retrofitting our schools to reduce emissions and save schools money on their bills or doing the same to our social housing whilst also taking people out of fuel poverty.
What is clear is that without a joined-up approach to policy, powers and funding and a national strategy with local government at its heart, the UK will not reach net zero.
This is the message that I, and other local government leaders, are taking to Glasgow. The government, the country, cannot successfully tackle the climate and ecological crisis without local government or local communities. We have the passion, the people, the know-how, and the commitment. We now need the government to back our leadership so we can, together, make net zero a reality and not a hollow soundbite for a few days in November.