UK climate action disproportionately focused on cities, councils warn

22nd September 2021

The UK government has been “too city-focused” in its climate action and must provide more funding and support to reduce emissions in rural areas, the County Councils Network (CCN) has said.

In a recent report, the group of 36 county councils argue that the government has “put little thought” into the differences between rural and urban areas, and has not been clear on local government’s role in delivering net zero.

They say that cities have seen a disproportionate amount of funds, despite figures showing that England’s eight largest cities – excluding London – would take over seven years to create the same level of emissions in one year as counties.

This has held back emission reductions, with the 36 CCN members cutting back by 30% between 2005 and 2020, compared to 39% for England’s largest cities and London, and 37% for urban areas in the rest of the country.

And despite their commitments to decarbonise by or before 2050, just three councils surveyed said they were fully confident they could meet their decarbonisation targets, due to a lack of funding.

CCN's climate change spokesperson, Cllr Sam Corcoran, said: “To date, the government has disproportionately focused on the cities, and it has not adequately considered the specific issues in England’s rural and county areas.

“Our emissions are decreasing at a slower rate than anywhere else, and there is a real risk the government undermines its own net-zero target unless county areas receive funding that addresses the size of the challenge they face.”

The councils say that they need long-term funding to retrofit housing, transform public sector buildings, and to encourage and support individuals and businesses to use greener technologies and transport.

Due to the specific challenges in county and rural areas, transport-based emissions have reduced by just 5%, compared to 10% for the rest of the country.

The report highlights some of the problems, with just 38% of electric vehicles being registered in counties – despite those areas being home to almost half of England’s population.

There are fewer public transport options, with the number of bus journeys decreasing in rural areas at a faster rate than anywhere else. At the same time, just one-quarter of total bicycle journeys are in counties.

As well as an uplift in funding, county leaders say that extra powers could accelerate their decarbonisation efforts, and compel all new homes to be zero carbon by 2025.

However, Corcoran said that taking funding away from urban areas and giving it to counties would be “counterproductive”, and that the total pot should be increased.

He added: “County areas can be proud of what they have achieved so far, but net zero cannot be achieved on a shoestring.”

Image credit: iStock

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