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Ministers ‘risking net zero by prioritising cities over counties’


The government is putting efforts to get to net-zero emissions at risk by ignoring counties in favour of large cities, a new report argues.

CO2 emissions in London and other large cities in England fell by 39 per cent between 2005 and 2020, the report says. However, in England’s county areas, emissions fell by just 30 per cent.

The report from the County Councils Network (CCN), a group representing England’s county councils, argues that the government is too “city-focused in its climate action”.

Westminster has not yet recognised that the challenge of cutting emissions in rural areas is different to that in cities, the report says.

It argues that people living in England’s county and rural areas are more reliant on cars and face fewer public transport options.

Only 15 per cent of all bus journeys in England are currently made in county areas, the report says – and investment in services is currently decreasing at a faster rate than in urban areas.

It adds that people in county and rural areas can face higher costs when looking to cut pollution from their homes.

“A large proportion of housing stock is remote, off gas grid, expensive to retrofit, and electricity supplies cannot always be guaranteed – making many of the required changes to reduce emissions uneconomic,” the report says.

Sam Corcoran, leader of Cheshire East Council and climate spokesperson for County Councils Network, said: “England’s counties create more emissions in one year than the country’s eight biggest cities do in over seven years, excluding London.

“Even if we add the capital to the equation, it will still take close to three years for those nine cities to create the same level of yearly county emissions.

“The government is at a real risk of undermining its own net-zero target unless rural England receives funding and the policy attention that addresses the size of the challenge that we county leaders face.”

The report comes just a day after the UK’s top climate adviser warned that the government is not doing enough to help local authorities make the changes needed to get the country to net-zero by 2050.

Speaking to the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee on Wednesday, Lord Deben said that local authorities currently did not have adequate information on how to make decisions that are in line with the UK’s net zero target – pointing to the Cumbria coal mine controversy as an example of the disconnect.

A public inquiry is currently being held into plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria.

The project was several times approved by Cumbria County Council before it was eventually called in for review. This is despite scientists and campaigners warning that a new mine would be inconsistent with global climate goals and could harm Britain’s reputation ahead of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this November.

“The truth is that Cumbria County Council was relying on what information it had and what was in the Planning Act. Both of those were deficient and that makes it very difficult for a local authority to make the proper decision,” said Lord Deben, the Conservative peer who chairs the UK government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC).

“We cannot have another coal mine. But it’s not fair to put the local authority into the position where it doesn’t have both the statutory backing and the informational backing.”

The Independent approached a government spokesperson for comment.

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