In this response to the Scottish Government Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s inquiry into the role of local government and its cross-sectoral partners in financing and delivering a net-zero Scotland, Jess Britton and Jan Webb highlight that local and regional authorities can contribute substantively to delivering net-zero commitments in their area, supporting central governments in meeting nationally determined targets. Despite this potential, local government action varies considerably and is hampered by a lack of clarity in the allocation of responsibilities between central and local government (and other local actors) and by limited resources at the local level.

Skills and Capacity

Our research has indicated that there are capacity gaps in the ability of local government to deliver net zero. Whilst considerable skills relevant to net zero delivery already exist within some local authorities, this is often patchy and funding for teams competes with numerous other priorities. Evaluation of the Scottish Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy (LHEES) pilots has demonstrated a number of examples where the current staffing capacity and expertise within local authorities was not sufficient to develop and deliver an LHEES. Additional skills are particularly required relating to finance and business case development (including robust methodologies for incorporating social value), and modelling and scenario development

Leveraging private sector investment

Our analysis of the EU ELENA technical assistance programme demonstrates the potential benefits of investment in local energy teams, indicating that investment in local government officer time and technical support has the ability to leverage in finance from the private sector at a 1:37 investment ratio. This investment ratio suggests that a £1m investment in each of the 32 local authorities in Scotland would produce investment of around £1.2bn. Analysis of the ELENA local support programme also indicated that such investment enables projects to attract finance on affordable terms.

In terms of local growth deals agreed between the Central/Devolved Governments and local governments, analysis suggests that the City Deals agreed to date have not prioritised climate action. Although climate change mitigation and adaption priorities are evident in the high level themes of some City Deals they tend to be less prominent than priorities relating to growth and investment, skills, transport, housing and innovation. In Scottish Deals climate change mitigation and adaption were the 7th and 8th ranked priorities. Climate change has not increased in priority level within these strategies between 2012 and 2020. Despite this there are some areas of good practice that may provide scope for further learning, this includes Stirling and Tay Cities Deals demonstrating strong integration of climate mitigation and transport priorities through the promotion of active travel and living labs. However, overall the City Deal process appears so far not to be an effective means to enable joint working on net zero and integration with innovation and enterprise.

Involving local communities in net zero

The Scottish Government have demonstrated considerable commitment to social justice and place-based climate action through the development of the Just Transition Commission and the ongoing roll out of LHEES. Local government could play an important role in delivering energy justice through local place-based policymaking and strategies if properly enabled to do so. However, research suggests that LAs would currently struggle to deliver on this due to a lack of statutory powers, funding constraints, local political disagreements and other competing operational priorities. The Just Transition Commission report highlights the need to ‘empower and resource local authorities to deliver a just and green recovery’ and the Scottish Government need to continue to develop work with CoSLA and council executive teams to understand the spatial dimensions of a just transition, integrate the recommendations of the Commission, and complete the local governance review.

LHEES represent a significant opportunity to work with local communities on net zero planning. Mechanisms that give local people a say over choices made in LHEES (such as citizens juries) would mean they both respond to local conditions and are more likely to be broadly acceptable to the public. Indeed, local authority officers involved in the Energy Efficient Scotland pilots have told us they see local public engagement around LHEES as critical. There is growing experience of participatory approaches to net zero within local governments (for example through local climate assemblies) and ongoing research into various approaches. However local governments would benefit from best practice and case studies being brought together into easily accessible resources.

Scottish Government support for local governments on net zero

In Scotland, the reporting requirements for local governments and other public bodies under the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, and the proposed duty for local governments to produce a LHEES, represent important developments in the framework for local delivery of net zero. However, there remains a lack of clarity regarding the division of responsibility between the Scottish Government and local authorities on delivering net zero. Based on our research, we conclude that the following are needed to make local authority energy ambition a reality:

  • A policy mandate for net zero carbon localities. Explicit (stable) policy to establish coordination across national, regional and local governments. This will reduce uncertainties for businesses, investors and communities.
  • Establish local ‘net zero carbon’ planning and implementation through statutory powers and resources for long term benefits. Back this up with regional and national coordination and support functions.
  • Invest in local authority net zero teams. Make funds available for technical assistance, and development capital, to implement net zero carbon plans.
  • Require all local and regional public spending to be evaluated against net zero principles. This requires new metrics for decision making across local development planning, services and spending.
  • The proposed National Public Energy Agency should lead the co-ordination national, regional and local government delivery of heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency, including clarifying relationships with local government. The Agency should provide an aggregate perspective on LHEES to ensure a whole-systems approach is taken and administrative boundaries do not prevent development of effective schemes.