A graphic with a picture of UK100 Chief Executive reads "Reflecting on significant general election manifesto wins"
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With the general election only three weeks away, the main parties have now published their manifesto plans. While climate change has not been a central focus of the campaign, it presents a significant economic opportunity that the UK cannot afford to ignore.

UK100's recent Zero In report shows that local climate action can drive both emissions reduction and economic prosperity. The UK's Net Zero economy outpaced the wider economy in 2023, growing 9% compared to just 0.1% overall. 

As voters prioritise climate action at the polls, it is crucial that all parties recognise the vital role of local authorities in unlocking this economic potential.

To meet the UK's world-leading climate goals — we will mark the fifth anniversary of the UK becoming the first major economy to sign Net Zero into law later this month — we need to move up a gear in both our ambition and delivery. 

Political party manifestos are the shop fronts to lure voters with their plan for power. This week as the curtains were moved aside, it was clear that the majority of parties have - to varying degrees - accepted this reality and the pivotal role local authorities have in driving effective climate action, with commitments to improve funding arrangements, put decision making the hands of local people, and provide resources to make the transition a reality.

Labour’s commitment to end competitive bidding and move to multi-year funding settlements could be the most transformative change to speed up climate projects in communities up and down the country. It won’t make the headlines. But it can’t be overstated how difficult it is to plan multi-year programmes of work, be that insulating our homes, innovating our transport systems or building a local energy network, with small pots of money that are tied up in bureaucratic strings. The ‘hunger games’ model of forcing local authorities to compete for funding has proven a colossal waste of time and money for local communities, and their councils, across the UK. It’s one among a number of significant proposals alongside setting up GB Energy, with £3.3bn promised for municipal and community energy. 

The Conservative’s commitment to devolution in the last Parliament loosened the shackles on local ambition and acknowledged that local communities deserve greater control over their lives. Central diktats from London only slow policy delivery of political ambition. Giving every community across the UK more say about how they are run by 2030 will help deliver climate action faster, cheaper and better than the Whitehall focused system we currently have.

The new commitments to treble offshore wind, cut grid connection waiting times and introduce more efficient local markets for electricity will help local authorities develop and produce renewable energy cheaper and faster. The £ 1 billion investment in bus networks across the North and Midlands will drastically reduce transport emissions for and go someway to reducing transport service inequality throughout England.

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto outlines ambitious plans to shift power from Whitehall and empower local communities with decision making powers, including highlighting the importance of deliberative engagement of local projects with the promise of citizen assemblies. The promise to move power to local authorities is backed by a canny proposal to end the silos in Whitehall and establish a cross-departmental Net Zero Delivery Authority.

This is a key ask from UK100’s Five Priorities for the next Government, the body would ensure departments and local authorities talk to each other when developing climate programmes and developing funding opportunities. You would be shocked and surprised how little interaction there currently is between local and national government in the UK. National government is a big beast, but too often the right-hand doesn’t know what the left is doing — a delivery authority will ensure climate action is knitted together with a golden thread.

The Green Party's headline tax proposals will either anger or delight in equal measure, but Westminster’s smaller parties are demonstrating they also recognise the importance of locally-led delivery. For example, the party’s expansive energy efficiency programme acknowledges street-by-street is the best approach to upgrading our homes, a key UK100 recommendation from our End the Wait Insulate campaign.

The manifesto also contains bold and specific proposals to ensure new homes are future-proof and built to high emissions standards. The pledge to reform the planning system to ensure an explicit recognition of the Climate Act is long overdue — and something we were calling on MPs and Lords to back in the previous Parliament.

In the devolved nations, Plaid Cymru have requested a change to Barnett formula, advocating for a needs based approach to funding and promised fairness at the heart of the party’s climate policies. 

The SNP has yet to release its manifesto but recently signalled some backsliding on its ambitious climate ambitions in Holyrood

Also yet to publish its manifesto, Reform remains the real outlier, with proposals that flirt with denialism and pledge to ditch Net Zero, despite key Conservative to Reform switchers backing the UK’s climate goals

While it has not been a focus of the election, then, the key message has landed with parties of most stripes: local people should make the decisions and reap the rewards for unlocking the economic opportunities of climate action. 

UK100 and our members have been clear on the steps needed to get there: put climate action at the heart of devolution, end competitive and short term funding, reform the planning system to deliver sustainable homes and unlock renewable energy projects, design policies in partnership with local authorities and support them to deliver deliberative engagement with communities. 

It’s easy to bemoan what is not there, but, on the whole, the manifestos contain significant wins. They recognise that the UK’s climate goals will be delivered faster, better, and cheaper with local government. However, we can manifest it all we want. After July 4, the real work begins. 

As a cross-party network, we look forward to working with whoever takes the keys to No 10 to deliver an ambitious legislative programme that unlocks local climate ambition.