Monday, 15 November 2021

COP26 - What did it mean for Local and Regional Government?

COP26 resulted in what is officially known as the Glasgow Climate Pact. This is the document that included the now infamous ‘phasing down’ rather than ‘phasing out of coal reference. Many of us feel immense dismay about the COP26 outcome but within the document it is worth knowing what is in it that is relevant to our local Councils.

There are several key references in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ document. There is a mention in
the Preamble to the pact

“Recognizing the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil
society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and
highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action”

Multilevel action means local government and it’s important it is recognised in the preamble to the Glasgow Climate Pact as it gives legitimacy and recognition to national government for the role councils play in addressing climate change.

At the UK level the key body we have to key into is the Local Net Zero Forum which is a body where national and local government come together to work on action to address climate change from a local perspective. This was announced as part of the Net Zero Strategy in October so we know nothing about how it will operate or it’s terms of reference. The Local Net Zero Forum has its roots in the agreement at COP24, 3 years ago. As well as Government Departments it includes the Local Government Association so we Greens have the opportunity to get our input through that route as members of the LGA Independent Group.

The importance of involving local communities on action to address climate change is also mentioned,

“Emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture
and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve
indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action and
to engage with the second three-year workplan for implementing the functions of the Local
Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, for 2022–2024;”

The only way that local communities can be effectively engaged is through the facilitating role that local Councils play as the body that works most closely with local communities. There is no structured way that this would happen coming from a national level so each Council will do it in its own way. There needs to be a more organised and structured way for Councils to engage their communities in climate action.

Getting the Local Government Association to do some work on this and get it recognised by national government would be one way to progress this.

There is a special mention for ‘youth’ and in the context of local government

“Urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the Convention and the Paris Agreement;”

This is the first time I’ve seen a specific role for youth in a COP outcome document and also in reference to local decision making processes. As with local communities it seems it is up to local councils as to how they do this with no specific guidance from national government. Again some guidance on how this can be done meaningfully would be helpful.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

COP26 countries cop out!

This hygiene kit isn't working. COP26 still stinks

 At COP26 yesterday I went to the UN Environment Programme's Press Conference to watch them present the findings of their 2021 Emissions Gap report. This is where UN scientists get their chance to number crunch the pledges that countries have made to reduce their carbon emissions and see if they have any significant impact on helping achieve the Paris Climate goals. The short answer is a big NO.

The panel were pretty scathing. " There's a leadership gap not an emissions gap" was damning of the world's political leaders. One particular point they made was countries that were making Net Zero by 2050 statements with no convincing plan to achieve them. Australia being the most obvious example.

If (and it is a very big if) we believe all the countries statements produce the emissions then we are still heading to miss both the 1.5 and 2 degree C Paris Climate goals. The UNEP report says we need a 4 fold increase in ambition to reach 4 degrees temperature rise and a 7 fold increase to achieve 1.5 degrees. It is that stark.  That is all if they keep to their promises. 7 of the G20 countries are currently 'off track' with their carbon savings so that is to say the least unhelpful.

What now? We have 3 days left. Apparently Boris is coming back to the COP summit. Given a large part of this process is about keeping commitments and trust  why does that not fill me with confidence?

Here's Juice Media's from Australia's take

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Sunday, 7 November 2021

UK Government finally implements COP24 - 3 years later

COP24 in Katowice, Poland was 3 years ago now and I'm now sitting in my son's flat in Glasgow as a delegate to COP26. Back then I was a delegate for the EU Committee of the Regions but Brexit has closed that avenue to me and I'm now a delegate with the Green Economics Institute so "Thanks" to Miriam Kennet of the GEI for that.

At COP24 I was on a mission to get the concept of Locally Determined Contributions (LDCs) accepted by the UNFCCC. LDCs were to give the ability for Local and Regional Authorities to set their own carbon reduction targets in conjunction with Nationally Determined Contributions which are the responsibility of national governments. This would establish a clearer role for sub-national bodies like Councils and Devolved Administrations in taking action to reduce carbon emissions and help towards achieving the Paris Climate goals. I had some excellent support from staff at the EU Committee of the Regions and Locally and Regionally Determined Contributions were backed by the LGMA, the body that represented Local Government globally. 

 In the end we didn't get LDC's adopted but we had moved the debate significantly and there was a statement in the final text on how to assess  Nationally Determined Contributions that referred to "preparing implementation plans to include domestic institutional arrangements, public participation and engagement with local communities”. In the UK context this basically meant Governments would have to work more closely with Councils on action to address climate change. Then (in the UK at least) nothing happened. Councils still had no official role. the UK Government continued to make statements and policy about climate change with no significant involvement with Local and Regional Authorities.  

The Green Party made one of our goals in the run up to COP26 to push Government to set up a joint Central/Local Government Taskforce to put pressure on Government to act. Then at the end of last month the Government produced their Net Zero Strategy and in it there was a statement saying they would establish a,

"Local Net Zero Forum to ensure that there is direct input from local leaders. Chaired by BEIS, the Forum will be cross departmental and bring together national and local government senior officials on a regular basis to discuss policy and delivery options on net zero. The forum will build on our current engagement mechanisms through the representative bodies such as the Local Government Association (LGA), Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), Core Cities and the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT)".

So a Taskforce and a success of sorts! 

I first raised the need for National and Local Governments  to work more closely together in Paris at COP21 back in 2015 in a side event where I was representing the EU Committee of the Regions. So my own involvement in calling for something like this degree of cooperation is nearly 7 years old. All that really has happened, with the establishment of the Net Zero Forum is that a structure is now in place so we can have discussions, there is still a lot of actual work to do! Though the Forum will be chaired by BEIS the culture of the Forum should be that all participants come to the table as equals and that it is not dominated by national government. We need initiatives for policy change to be able to come forward from local government. After all it will be councils that will have to deliver a lot of the action needed to reduce emissions so why not allow the practitioners the chance to be the policy makers as well?

There is a lot to do. Changes to Building Regulations, a revised National Planning Policy Framework that takes into account climate change, addressing skills gaps and the need for a large scale domestic retrofit programme, all these need serious attention to get us on track towards a genuinely Zero Carbon Strategy for the UK. 

Lets get to work!

Saturday, 6 November 2021

And the award for missed opportunities goes to........ Kirklees Council


The word on the street is that Kirklees Council is Award chasing. Don't get me wrong I think it is important that work by some of Kirklees Council's excellent staff is recognised but it would be interesting to see the ratio of awards applied for, how many were shortlisted and how many resulted in winners. Among other things Kirklees Council has recently won Catering Business of the Year which I'm sure is well deserved but if there is a push to chase awards for their own sake that would be worrying

Another Council that has received recognition this week is the Green Party /Lib Dem Administration in York. It has been named by the United Nations as a Global Centre of Excellence for high performance buildings - one of 26 around the world to mark COP26 including New York, Pittsburgh and Renfewshire in Scotland. This has been lead by Green Party Councillor Denise Craghill the Cabinet Member responsible for housing and is a recognition of the Councils plans to build an impressive 600 houses to the Passivhaus standard There has been a big push in the Green Party to get action the Passivhaus Standard more widely adopted and I wrote a Passivhaus  Flatpack Campaign Pack back in 2016 and around the same time I chaired an All-Party Policy Group at Kirklees Council which in It's final report recommended the following to Kirklees Labour Cabinet:-

 Repeated question on how the Cabinet would respond to the recommendations were met with silence or misinformed myths about the Passivhaus standard. Now 5 years later the Council is carrying out a 12 house pilot project. At the last Council meeting I asked what the point of the pilot was? What will we learn that we don't already know from the now numerous projects around the country and places where they are now working to mainstream the standard. We should drop the pilot and go straight to more ambitious passivhaus projects at scale.

To say I am frustrated at the timidity and lack of ambition by Labour politicians on action to reduce carbon emissions is an understatement. Political power is a precious thing and wasting the opportunities it brings to bring positive change is a crime.

Here's "Drop the pilot" by Joan Armatrading

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