Flooding in Newham, east London Photo: Niall Mulholland

Flooding in Newham, east London Photo: Niall Mulholland   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Mia Wroe, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

With COP26 Glasgow looming ever closer, the spotlight is on the UK and whether its climate policies are fit to achieve ‘net zero by 2050’. Approximately two in three councils in the UK have declared a climate emergency, with one in five councils having some version of a net zero pledge in place.

However, it is hard to have much faith in these pledges when those same councils support policies likely to increase carbon emissions; an expansion to Leeds-Bradford airport seems counterintuitive to Leeds Council’s ‘net zero by 2030’ pledge, while the construction of the new Silvertown tunnel in Tower Hamlets probably isn’t conducive to ‘net zero by 2025’.

No plan

Councils lack accountability in actually upholding their promises. The lack of a framework to bring councils together and plan their climate policy, has resulted in already inadequate funding being fragmented. Councils competing against each other for grants to fund climate projects makes planning in the long term difficult. Projects typically end up expensive and ineffective.

However, there are numerous important ways in which councils could act: ensuring that their premises run on green energy and that pension funds disinvest from fossil fuels; exercising their powers over buses and taxi licensing to reduce emissions; and creating safe cycle routes.

Councils could fund street-by-street insulation programmes and tram network development by exercising their borrowing powers, as well as investing in parks, nature reserves and local agriculture for the benefit of their own residents, as well as to meet their climate goals.

This would mean setting council budgets to meet the needs of people and the environment. It would mean mobilising popular support for the measures and demanding the necessary funds from the government. This is the approach needed to start to deal with the climate emergency.