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This new policy brief investigates how local authorities currently access energy information, and the kinds of model or decision-support that would be useful as they embark on increasingly challenging forms of localised energy planning.

The briefing - Policy brief: Tools for Local Government Net Zero Decision Making - reports on research undertaken as part of the Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) by researchers at Durham Energy Institute and SPRU at the University of Sussex.

There is a legal requirement in the UK to eradicate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change by 2050. While central government provides the national policy framework, local authorities undertake many activities and service provisions. However, the level of ambition and degree of effectiveness in net zero emissions delivery is variable across the UK.

The authors identify various challenges that local authorities face. These include; resource constraints, lack of expertise, restrictive national frameworks for decision making, uneven power dynamics between regions and nationally, and conflicting objectives between local authority departments.

The authors propose the following recommendations:

  1. If government mandates local area energy planning, then it is critical that appropriate funding and resourcing are made available, and a national framework is provided that:
    1. Sets out a consistent methodological approach
    2. Enables local authority forward-planning to include energy plans
    3. Integrates decarbonisation goals into local government planning guidance and building regulations
  2. When modellers design tools for decision-support in local energy planning, they need to be complex enough to be of real use, but simple enough to apply at low cost. The limitations of these models also need to be made much clearer so they can be used appropriately.
  3. Local authorities need to embed decarbonisation goals across departments and offices. This will encourage decarbonisation aims to be aligned with other statutory objectives such as care, health and housing.
  4. Central government funding, objectives and policy need to be reliable and sustained. To avoid the most obvious failures, funding schemes must also be more carefully prepared and based on listening to local experience.
  5. Effective and ongoing engagement with stakeholders is essential in the transition to a net zero economy. This necessarily requires both time and resources. Getting engagement right can enable sustained effort towards shared goals both at central and local government.

It is in the interest of central government that all local authorities are appropriately resourced to help bring about a low carbon transition, since this contributes to the legally binding national target for net zero emissions by 2050. Energy responsibilities are currently voluntary at the local and regional government level. That local authorities are choosing to engage in energy and climate planning is reassuring, and this should be encouraged since it helps central government meet the legal target.

Read the policy brief: Policy brief: Tools for Local Government Net Zero Decision Making