Headlines: July 5th, 2004

Ministers are facing calls to lift the barriers that are stifling the role of local authorities in fighting climate change, if the government’s own targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are to be met. It follows new research published today by the Local Government Association.The survey has been supported by the Energy Saving Trust and the Improvement and Development Agency and provides an up-to-date picture of local councils’ work in sustainable energy and climate change. It shows that almost three quarters of councils are exceeding government targets for procuring green electricity and 65 per cent use clean fuel or low carbon vehicles.

The study concludes that energy efficiency has become a core consideration for the majority of authorities and 93 per cent of them have a strategy in place for improving home energy conservation. Almost two thirds have set out plans to tackle the causes of climate change in their own areas.

The results also show, however, that more than eight out of ten councils believe they are prevented from making progress in key areas because shortages of funding and staff are pushing green issues down the agenda by government priorities like education and social services. This means that 80 per cent of local authorities have no current plans to establish energy services companies to supply energy in their areas and only a fifth of councils have targets for developing renewable energy in their area. Only 14 per cent of councils have access to energy consumption data from utility companies to enable them to focus help where it is needed most.

Sir Ron Watson, who chairs the LGA’s environment and regeneration executive, said the survey had put the spotlight on the cocktail of obstacles and contradictions holding councils back in the fight against climate change. “Local councils have huge potential in this area and can make a real difference, even exceeding government targets, if they are enabled to do so,” he added.