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A survey of 50 UK-wide council representatives (from 45 separate councils) by strategic property advisers Cluttons and sustainability consultants AESG has found that the majority need support on kickstarting and accelerating their Net Zero strategies. 

The representatives – all ACES members – were asked about their current Net Zero journeys, the most important factors, challenges they faced, their understanding of their own council’s carbon footprint and offsetting proportions. 

The research found that 58% of council respondents were still in the initial stages of their net zero strategies, while 11% had not yet started their journey. Just over a quarter were in the ‘delivery’ phase of their strategy to date. 

When it came to the main drivers for councils setting their net-zero strategies, most cited the financial savings that came from achieving carbon reductions and the environmental benefits that it would bring to the local area. Government regulations were next on the list, a driver that was especially prominent for councils with ambitious net-zero targets of 2030. 

On obstacles on the path to net zero, over two thirds of respondents (71%) cited financing the journey as their greatest challenge, with ‘skills to implement’ and ‘time’ following close behind. This supported the idea that councils within the UK do not currently have the resources available to meet their net-zero goals and without further governmental assistance, the most ambitious targets may not be met.   

Niall Keighron, sustainability practitioner at Cluttons, said: “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 lead 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. 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.” 

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When it came to levels of understanding, only 24% of councils and government representatives had a ‘clear’ or ‘comprehensive’ understanding of their current carbon footprint, with 37% stating they did not understand their carbon footprint. On strategy, levels of understanding were also lower than expected with 69% of respondents stating they only had a ‘not clear’ or ‘average; understanding of their own council’s net-zero strategy and roadmap for implementation. Only 27% had a ‘clear’ or ‘very clear’ understanding. This issue of a lack of clarity continued into the levels of carbon offsetting’ in their council’s climate strategy. Unfortunately, 68% did not know if their strategy included offsetting – supporting the earlier result that many respondents did not understand their own climate strategy. Of the respondents that knew offsetting was included in their strategy, 20% was the average figure suggested, however the majority stated their council’s exact offsetting figure was yet to be determined 

Keighron continues; “These results highlight the challenges that most councils are currently facing. 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. 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.”  

Overall, the findings from the net-zero survey, distributed amongst councils across the UK, suggest that despite over 75% of local authorities in the UK 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 governmental assistance in order to do so.  

Sam Luker, 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.” 


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