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Climate Change blog: Changing year, changing climate and a global pandemic – Nigel Riglar looks back on 2020

18 December 2020

2020 is a year that none of us will forget in a hurry, although we might want to. No review of the year can ignore a global pandemic and nor should we try. It has brought into sharp relief the inter-dependent relationships between the environment, economy, health and deprivation and forced a greater recognition of the imperative to address climate change.

Looking back over the blogs, policy position papers and reports published this year reminds me that ADEPT has continued to press forward on tackling climate change. And we will continue to do so in the lead up to next year’s COP26. 

I began the year by asking if we could plant our way out of climate change and despite government recognition that this must be done, we are little closer to answering how. We’re waiting the Government’s response to the England’s Tree Strategy consultation, but ADEPT is clear that local authorities must play a key role. Responding to that consultation and to the EFRA select committee, we set out ADEPT’s position that we need to protect our existing woodlands, and see planting that encourages habitat restoration, biodiversity and the natural ecosystem. And of course, we need to be resourced to tackle disease and pests such as ash dieback, which must be taken into account to ensure tree planting results in a net increase. We also submitted responses to other related Government consultations including the Environmental Land Management Scheme, flood and water management, and the Planning White Paper. 

Alongside a challenge paper on the future of aviation, we published policy positions on clean growth, active travel, and e-scooters, all areas which have become vital in the response to and recovery from COVID-19. Coronavirus has compelled us all to look more closely at the relationships between the environment, health and wellbeing, social deprivation and economic growth, and as place directors we sit firmly in the intersection between them all.

The relationship between the environment, health and growth has now been recognised by government through the publication of the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. This was a fundamental step change in government thinking, and must be welcomed as such. For all of us who have been calling for a green economic response to post-Covid economic recovery, it was encouraging, even if it was silent on the fundamental role of local authorities. Recovery must be green, fair, and place-based.

That local leadership is essential in tackling climate change and reaching the net zero target, surely shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone? Working with partners, Ashden, Friends of the Earth, Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment (Imperial College London), Greenpeace UK, London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet), Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) at LSE and Solace, we published our updated Blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level

It was promising to see the importance of local leadership and the need for properly resourced and funded local government recognised in the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget supplementary report. Although we would like to have seen the vital role of local authorities highlighted in the main report, we agree that national and local government must work together. This is why the Blueprint partners have called for the setup of a joint local and central government task force on climate change, as first proposed by the LGA. The broad coalition that came together to produce the Blueprint now provides a platform for us to engage with Government in a joined-up way. Please sign up to the Blueprint and show your support. 

A quick read through the blogs shows how much ADEPT works to provide ideas, support and inspiration to members. We organised regional workshops for practitioners, a seminar for our corporate partners, and a webinar for members. From the work of the Excellence in Place Leadership Programme, we published the Green Finance Toolkit and we will continue to develop our work in this area with CIPFA in 2021. We will soon share a report from the final session on climate leadership, but meanwhile,  a quick plug for Kathryn Haworth’s excellent blog How to translate climate change targets to a local level. We’ve had contributions from Autumn conference speaker Bev Hindle on the Ox-Cam Green Arc, and before the Government’s announcement of £3bn for housing retrofit, we had Warmer Sussex’ Cath Geoghegan on the importance of retrofit and the potential impact of local authorities. And of course, there is the Live Labs Programme – I’d encourage you all to look at the blogs and find out how the trials are throwing a spotlight on the potential for local authorities to transform out local places. We are currently working on a proposal for a Net Zero Live Labs Programme, so watch this space!

In this, the final climate change blog of the year, I’d like to thank all our contributors and wish you all a Happy Christmas, however you are spending it this year.