Thursday, 6 October

By Tomas Gonzalez and Blair Parkinson


There’s a lot of talk generally about growth right now. But where is the focus on growth that creates sustainable and equal outcomes? As our ICC vision statement says, we’re always looking to unlock better futures so that the future is better for everyone. So we’re particularly interested in clean growth.

The UK clean growth strategy, published in 2017, set out this approach as the way to grow national income while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in order to boost productivity, create good jobs, lift earning power and protect the climate and environment. It’s often understood as large scale interventions through national policy and industries like wind, solar and hydrogen – but there is also an important role for local authorities to play.

This is particularly relevant as we head into another period of central government budget-cutting. Councils that have already weathered a decade of austerity and the challenges of Covid are now looking at thin resourcing for a cost of living and energy prices challenge. Implementing a clean growth strategy can help them benefit from new sources of finance and grow new green local industries – ultimately helping to ensure an affordable energy supply for businesses and consumers.

If this still feels like a leap, consider: Climate change is the single greatest threat to a sustainable future. Thus, it follows that investing in climate action is vital to prosperity. Local authorities must weigh what feels like competing priorities. But investing in net zero can help them deliver across all of them because this strategy supports jobs, housing, the economy and every facet of community life.

Two hundred and thirty local and combined authorities in England had declared climate emergencies by July 2019. Including the net zero goal of cutting carbon emissions at the heart of local planning can help them walk the talk. And councils have more power to do this than they may realise.

Local authorities have influence over key areas that need to decarbonise in order to meet everyone’s climate goals. For example, heating our homes and workplaces accounts for almost 20 percent of national emissions. Councils can take the lead in decarbonising existing buildings and housing stock and can set policy to ensure new builds are net zero.

Local authorities can also affect the way that local energy centres are managed and provide a blueprint for decarbonising heat in potential future schemes. As an example, Bunhill II Energy Centre in London utilises warm air from a disbanded tube station to pre-heat the Bunhill district heat network – a way to reduce heating bills and carbon emissions while improving air quality and energy self-sufficiency.

Cornwall Council is also developing a heat strategy for Truro, kickstarted by a new development in the city centre but spanning out to provide heat for council buildings, high street shops, and eventually individual homes and businesses. The strategy removes one of the largest barriers to ground-source heat pumps which is the cost of digging into the ground and uses economies of scale in order to make the technology affordable at an individual level.

Councils can similarly influence transport and renewable energy projects locally. Electrifying local fleets as Islington Council is working to do will help it reach its local 2030 net zero commitment, improve air quality for residents and encourage residents and local businesses to electrify their own vehicles by ensuring the appropriate infrastructure is in place.

At ICC we have another, complementary approach to help councils implement clean growth: the ICC Climate Action Social Economic Value Framework (CASE). This is the result of investing in our data analysis capabilities to help our clients and partners in national and local government analyse and understand the wider socio-economic impact of their investment in decarbonisation and the race to zero.

CASE helps us to help you create employment and training, improve the environment and health of your communities, deliver better homes, and better air, and help alleviate fuel poverty.

Clean growth has been highlighted by the UN as its 7th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in order to mobilise a concerted global effort to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. An investment in clean growth is an investment not just in the climate and environment upon which we and future generations depend, but also in good jobs and earning power for people right across the country.

Clean growth should be at the heart of every local authority strategy. It’s time for local governments to take the lead on delivering clean growth in our cities and towns. We’ll be right beside them.