Five ways to build a low-carbon Britain

Sensemaking / Five ways to build a low-carbon Britain

Cornwall Council has shown defiant leadership in the move towards low-carbon energy. Five strategic recommendations could help others follow.

15 Jul 2011

Cornwall Council has shown defiant leadership in the move towards low-carbon energy. Five strategic recommendations could help others follow

The Government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) review has sent many potential investors in large-scale solar packing. But steaming on with the 5MW Kernow Solar Park is Cornwall Council. As extensive budget cuts take the wind out of the sails for many local governments, this defiant leadership is pretty astonishing. The UK’s first council-owned solar park had been planned as an income-generator, with a payback period of ten years at the current FiT levels. Whether revised rates will prevent its success remains to be seen.

As the Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Julian German, points out, the Kernow Solar Park is not simply a profit-led initiative, it’s “part of our effort to cut carbon emissions and stimulate a low carbon economy for Cornwall”. And this bold investment in the future on the part of local governments is exactly what we need if we’re going to hit our 2030 carbon reduction targets. That’s the conclusion of a new study led by Forum for the Future with funding from the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT).

Building a Low-Carbon Britain considers the kind of local policies that could tackle the challenge of climate change over the next
20 years and meet the needs of communities. Quite what a low-carbon local economy looks like is up for grabs: will it have wellbeing and low-impact lifestyles at its heart, or will it rely primarily on new technology to deliver the emissions cuts and be a motor for growth? Will a high price for carbon drive sustainable business, or will government have to stamp on commercial opportunities for the sake of the climate?

These questions and scenarios feed into the study’s five strategic recommendations for local government bodies, to help them play their part in getting us to a low-carbon 2030:

  1. Rethink your role Financial hardship will prompt a rigorous search for new revenue streams and business models. Councils need to get to grips with carbon monitoring, taxation and incentives to ensure the changes are for the better.
  2. Invest in the future Councils should shift their own spend towards energy-saving solutions, and create planning conditions favourable to large-scale renewables.
  3. Build local resilience Keep risks to a minimum by investing in climate change adaptation and emergency planning, and look after valuable ecosystems and water resources.
  4. Prevent social exclusion Vulnerable groups could be isolated by higher carbon and oil prices. Make sure those at risk have the necessary skills and access to the relevant technology.
  5. Foster innovation Public services will have to undergo radical changes. Ask which ones we really need, and how they can best be delivered. Then support businesses and communities through the transition.

Zoe Le Grand offers public and private sector bodies strategic advice on sustainability at Forum for the Future. 

Image credit:antb/istock

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