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A place based approach to reaching Net-Zero

  • The Net-Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition has warned that national regulation on its own is ‘too blunt an instrument’ and has called for stronger local decision-making if the UK is to achieve its ambition of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

  • The Coalition’s report, A place-based approach to net-zero, has identified current systemic barriers that need to be overcome if cities are to have a critical role in the national drive for net-zero.

The report calls for a change of approach in order to deliver emissions reductions on the scale required to achieve net-zero. Currenlty UK cities are major centres of production, consumption and consquently emissions. However, local authorities do not have the power to directly influence many of these emissions. Cities also feature concentrated and complex infrastructure systems involving multiple stakeholders. 

Clare Wildfire, global practice lead for cities at Mott MacDonald and one of the authors of the report, says: “It’s clear that cities have a critical role to play in support of the national drive for net-zero. Given the importance of local public, private and community buy-in in driving change, city authorities should be well-placed in helping deliver the UK’s targets. Who better to drive forward the changes we need in our cities than those who understand them best?”

The report calls for a greater role for city authorities, and stronger partnerships between cities themselves as well as with central government under a national net-zero framework, which would give cities the power to implement low-carbon interventions where they are best placed to do so, as well as spur private sector interventions. The national framework should set the city net-zero purpose, provide devolved powers at combined authority or city level, and provide the funding necessary to stimulate large-scale low-carbon city schemes.

Clare continues: “National regulation on its own is too blunt an instrument to drive net-zero as it does not allow for the many and varied differences at local level. What we are calling for is the right mandate through a national framework that supports local action and that provides devolved net-zero powers as well as catalytic funding where necessary.”

“We often talk about the importance of public-private partnerships in meeting the funding needed to achieve our net-zero objectives. Local authorities are far better placed than national government to create attractive local investment conditions given their stronger understanding of the local aspect. For example, suppliers of heat pumps are currently facing barriers related to cost and user familiarity. If a local authority was to enable mass local heat-pump roll-out this would catalyse both cost reduction due to economy of scale and improved trust in the system. It would also encourage uptake of additional low-carbon interventions in the properties at the same time, another route to reducing overall cost.”

A place-based approach to net-zero has been led by Mott MacDonald with support from a working group comprising Leeds City Council and the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC). Using a four-pillar strategy of Powers, Partnerships, Platform and People to accelerate the city contribution to net-zero through a place-based approach will require continued and coordinated collaboration to overcome significant systemic barriers:

  • Powers: There needs to be a common and consistent remit for city action and the mandate to facilitate low carbon interventions where cities are best placed to accelerate change. With the right national framework cities are well placed to implement regulation with local knowledge and act as an enabler for locally specific opportunities.

  • Partnerships: New forms of partnerships are required, within national and local government and with the private sector, with the common goal of long-term resilience that comes with investment in local and sustainable approaches.

  • Data platform: System level data must be used to improve planning, the replicability and transparency of decisions making and to track outcomes such as carbon reduction and health and economic benefits.

  • People: must be developed within local authorities to manage these new powers and partnerships, and to act on new data insights.

  • David Houliston stated, “The report identifies the right issues and very much aligns with Manchester’s place-based approach to becoming zero carbon by 2038”

  • You can read the full report on Mott MacDonald's website.