The research found that just over a quarter was in the ‘delivery’ phase of their strategy to date, while 11% had not yet started their journey and 58% of council representatives were still in the initial stages of their net-zero strategies.
Most cited that the main drivers for councils setting their net-zero strategies were the financial savings that came from achieving carbon reductions and the environmental benefits it would bring to the general local area.
Next on the list were government regulations; a driver that was particularly prominent for councils with ambitious net-zero targets of 2030.
What challenges could council representatives face?
With regards to barriers on the path to net-zero, over two-thirds of respondents (71%) cited financing the journey as their greatest obstacle, with ‘skills to implement’ and ‘time’ following in close suit.
There has been speculation throughout the nation that the councils within the UK do not currently have adequate resources available to meet their net-zero goals and, unfortunately, without further governmental assistance, the most ambitious targets may not be met.
Niall Keighron, the sustainability practitioner at Cluttons, commented: “With the UK government’s commitment to net-zero, the implementation of ESG strategies across the country is crucial. Yet it is clear that councils need a lot more support and resource - not just for implementing the strategies but to help create them, understand what’s needed and accelerate towards delivery.”
He added: “The council representatives themselves state that finance, skills and time/resource are the biggest obstacles to overcome. By sharing expert insight and practical know-how we can work with councils to meet net-zero challenges head-on and supercharge the UK’s drive towards net zero.”
The study details that when it comes to levels of understanding, only 24% of councils and government representatives have a ‘clear’ or ‘comprehensive’ understanding of their current carbon footprint, with 37% stating that they do not understand their carbon footprint.
Levels of understanding regarding strategy were also lower than expected with 69% of respondents stating that they only had an ‘average’ or ‘not clear’ understanding, an issue of clarity which continued into the levels of carbon offsetting which was included in their strategy.
Of the respondents that knew offsetting was included in their strategy, the average figure suggested was 20%, however, the majority stated that their council’s exact offsetting figure was yet to be determined.
“These results highlight the challenges that most councils are currently facing,” Keighron continued. “Despite net-zero targets rapidly approaching, the majority of local councils are still unaware as to how they will be expected to meet these, questioning whether these targets and declaration of climate emergencies were made as they were seen as achievable goals or in response to public pressure and statuary obligations.”
He went on: “Again, this is where the private sector can help bridge the gap between what’s expected and what is practical and engage councils and communities accordingly.”
Declaration of a climate emergency with few strategies in place
Overall, the findings from the net-zero survey, distributed amongst councils across the UK, suggest that although over 75% of local authorities in the UK are now declaring a climate emergency, very few have a clear understanding of how their targets will be achieved.
The most ambitious of commitments may have been made in response to public pressure and statuary obligations, rather than a sincere belief that net-zero targets will be met.
Despite the majority of councils being unaware as to how much carbon offsetting will contribute towards their net-zero strategy, it is felt that without greater financial assistance, and significant and rapid progress, offsetting may be heavily relied on.
However, with the price of carbon offsetting due to rise significantly in the coming years, councils will be forced to look at reducing their own emissions first but will require further government assistance in order to do so.
Sam Luker, the consultant at AESG, concluded: “Cluttons and AESG decided to run this research to highlight the serious challenges facing the country when it comes to achieving net-zero - not to criticise the lack of progress to date.”
“Our aim is to foster greater collaboration between the public and private sector and support an acceleration towards net zero. It is good to see that there is a realisation that significant changes are necessary if UK councils are to be anywhere near their targets in the next eight years. Now is the time to support these changes and really move the dial on the UK’s net-zero ambitions.”