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Parliamentary update – November 2020 | Sophie Lethier

Parliamentary update – November 2020 | Sophie Lethier

Sophie Lethier’s November parliamentary update covers her analysis of the Chancellor’s Spending Review and an update on the Pensions Schemes Bill and Financial Services Bill.

This month saw the Prime Minister announce unprecedented measures to tackle the climate crisis through his ‘ten point plan’. It was encouraging to see the UK position itself as a climate and green finance leader ahead of its COP26 Presidency. But what really matters is the policy detail behind the soundbites.

Green finance updates from the Chancellor

The Chancellor announced several green finance measures on 9 November, including a green sovereign bond and a new green taxonomy following the UK’s exit from the EU.

He also announced TCFD aligned mandatory disclosure by 2025. This should be celebrated, but many will be pushing for what comes after disclosure, and for plans that require companies to disclose their strategy to meet the UK’s Net Zero target.

The Spending Review last week was a chance to harness the green stimulus opportunity that could set the UK on course to meet its climate targets. Some announcements were welcome, but it did not set out a comprehensive road map to a green recovery.

As Professor Rebecca Willis commented, tackling the climate crisis is “about making sure all money and all policy is compatible with a net zero transition”. By this measure, the Spending Review failed to deliver what is truly needed.

While news of a national infrastructure bank is welcome, the details matter greatly before we hail this initiative as the green investment bank 2.0. Will it help to deliver the Government’s large road building plans, seen as inconsistent with both the science and spirit of the UK’s climate and environment targets?

Or will it help to create new markets to crowd private finance and enable the transition to fully sustainable infrastructure? (UK100 and Siemens published an insight report in July setting out the potential for a Net Zero development bank with a green mandate.)

In sum, do the Chancellor’s November announcements represent significant steps in the right direction? Absolutely. Is this level of ambition enough to meet Net Zero emissions by 2050? No.

Green finance legislation update

The Pensions Schemes Bill completed its final stages in the Commons, reporting to the House on 26 November. It has now gone back to the House of Lords for consideration of the Commons amendments, also known as ping pong.

To the disappointment of campaigners, the Pensions Minister Guy Opperman recently reinforced the Government’s position that it would not seek to mandate Paris Climate Agreement alignment in pensions schemes, due to a concern it could lead to divestment.

An opposition amendment speaking to this was unabated at the Commons report stage of the Bill. It was narrowly defeated, with some MPs voicing concerns that it would force schemes to divest from high carbon companies.

In fact, ‘Paris alignment’ allows for a much more nuanced approach. Pension schemes could achieve it, for example, by engagement with these companies, or by diversifying their portfolios to include green energy companies as well.

The Financial Services Bill entered committee stage this month. Like much of the legislation introduced to Parliament in recent years, the Bill aims to plug regulatory gaps resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU.

As it stands the Bill makes no mention of climate change, despite being introduced in the Commons following the Chancellor’s announcement on green finance on 9 November. Giving evidence as an expert witness, Director of Positive Money Fran Boait argued that ESG factors should be at the heart of this Bill.

She said: “It is worth noting that the UK’s financial institutions are among the worst culprits in Europe for fossil fuel financing… If the UK really wants to be a leader in green finance in a serious way, we need our regulators to be on board with that mission.”

The Commons committee stage of the Bill continues on Tuesday 1 December.

Sophie Lethier, Parliamentary Officer

Why local leaders hold the key to reaching Net Zero

Why local leaders hold the key to reaching Net Zero

As we set off on the local pathway to COP26, UK100 Director Polly Billington talks about why local authorities hold the key to the UK’s Net Zero ambition, and why we’re signing up members to a new, more ambitious pledge. 

Setbacks and success since COP21 – and why local authorities are key to further progress

When the world came together in late 2015 and agreed to keep warming to well below 2C, it was hailed as a massive win in the fight against climate change. But in the five years since that defining moment, the world stage has been beset with significant challenges.

Donald Trump announced the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement while the ink was still drying, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro’s climate change denial led to more destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

But there is good news. China, the second biggest economy in the world, pledged in September to go Net Zero by 2060, and President-elect Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement.

The UK is considered the world leader for offshore wind, dominating the market with a pipeline of 38.9GW – a quarter of the global total. A surge in wind power helped us generate almost half our electricity from renewables in the first quarter of 2020. This didn’t happen by accident, but by long term commitment to the industry by governments of all political stripes.

This all shows that with strong political consensus, the needle can actually start to shift. But while there has been significant progress since COP21 despite the setbacks, two key hurdles remain to growing a greener, more resilient economy.

The first is that despite holding pole position for offshore wind, the government can’t just offshore its decarbonization strategy. The two biggest challenges to going Net Zero – heat and transport – are very much onshore, warming people’s homes, workplaces and communities, and linking them all together.

The second is that the government simply doesn’t yet have a plan for how it’s going to reach Net Zero by 2050. The answer to both these questions lies with local government.

And you can’t just leave it to a few local authorities to do it well and leave everybody behind. This work needs to happen in places as different as Salisbury and Sunderland and as Brighton and Bassetlaw. To get every single local authority to act is a tall order, but you can make sure that those who do want to do it well learn fast from each other, and share learning with those who are ready to catch up.

The reality, however, is that the UK’s current rules do not enable local authorities to do what they need to get to Net Zero locally, and not even to effectively work together to be able to achieve it nationally. Put simply, the UK government won’t be able to achieve what they want to do unless they work with local authorities and change the rules to allow them what they want to do.

In response to this challenge, we see next year’s COP26 summit as an important way of extracting those changes out of the government.

Why is UK100 asking its members to sign a new, more ambitious pledge? 

Our original pledge was all about switching to 100% clean energy – but in the four years since UK100 officially formed, committing to clean energy has become much easier.

Councils can switch to clean energy tariffs now – and while it may take a few years on procurement timeframes, and still cost you a bit, it’s far simpler and cheaper affair than what it was a few years ago. It’s now all about changing how our whole energy system works.

With Net Zero now enshrined in law, 310 climate emergencies declared from local authorities, and technologies more available, local politicians are under pressure to take bolder action.

From Cornwall to Glasgow, Cardiff to Belfast, change is already happening. Local authorities are working out how they can generate and store electricity, instal electric vehicle charging points, decarbonise their fleets, procure electric and hydrogen buses, ensure their buildings are energy efficient – from council homes to leisure centres. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Our renewed pledge is a way to reflect the huge progress that has been made by our members, many of whom have commited to reach Net Zero well before the UK’s legislated target of 2050. This will demonstrate to the government, as well as those across the world, the commitment of local leaders in the UK to limit the worst impacts of climate change by acting now. And it will create an impetus for national government to enable them to go further, faster.

But despite the progress, proven technologies and political will, the powers and the regulation are still a sticking point. The next thing that has to change is that our network’s political will is turned into more widespread, systemic delivery.

The UK100 Resilient Recovery Taskforce, a group of 24 mayors and local leaders, is calling for an expansion to local powers and a Net Zero Development Bank to enable the national Net Zero effort. Our research with Siemens in July showed how a £5bn investment could unlock £100bn in sustainable energy projects by 2030.

Local authorities cannot do it alone and require the government to work in partnership with them and provide the necessary financial, policy and political support to allow this ambitious local action on climate to flourish.

Our new and ambitious pledge, and our work on the local path to COP26, will send a strong message to the government that local authorities clearly have the conviction to act. But they need its support – and the government needs them.

Polly Billington, UK100 Director

Sign up to our virtual event on 10 December. We’ll be launching a year of activity that supports the ambition and commitment of local authorities to reach Net Zero emissions as soon as possible and in a way that benefits their communities. 

Why Glasgow City Council has joined Race To Zero

Why Glasgow City Council has joined Race To Zero

Leader of Glasgow City Council Councillor Susan Aitken tells UK100 why Scotland’s biggest city has joined Race To Zero, and what opportunity it holds for local authorities on the road to COP26

As the momentum builds in the global Race To Zero and as we head towards COP26, there is a line Glasgow has used regularly, becoming something of a mission statement. “Carbon reduction and sustainability really are the issues of our times. Glasgow can show the world we are becoming the city of our times on the issues of our times.”

This isn’t a statement of ambition. Or, for that matter, a boast of our credentials. Instead, it reflects why Glasgow is an ideal choice as host city for COP. The reason I believe that to be the case is our city’s imperfections. Perhaps more than any other urban centre in western Europe, Glasgow has carried the scars of its high carbon past. Those physical and social legacies are something which, 40 years after the demise of our heavy industry, we are confronted with daily. Derelict and contaminated land, congestion, poor planning decisions from previous generations and high levels of social deprivation are the more visible reminders.

As anyone who has visited Glasgow will know, we have made incredible inroads, particularly in the past two decades. But our transition to carbon neutrality by 2030 gives us much more to do. Our remarkable transformation from Europe’s preeminent post-industrial city has another, equally dramatic, stage in its journey. So, we have a powerful and compelling story to tell, one which charts the course from that past to the low carbon and sustainable developments of the present. It is a story which is resonating across the world and makes Glasgow the template for so many other cities.

What this past year has also shown us is the willingness of the international family of cities to share and collaborate on critical policy discussions and desire to find common cause on solutions to global climate challenges. There’s a unity of purpose emerging which has the potential to be one of the single biggest contributors to the well-being – indeed the survival – of our planet. And what is increasingly crystalised is the absolutely critical role of cities in the race to zero. Perhaps unlike any previous COPs, Glasgow will ensure that the voices of cities must be heard.

Race To Zero therefore is an ideal platform to build on – and accelerate – that tangible momentum Glasgow is experiencing in the global conversations COP has given us the privilege of taking centre stage in. It is an opportunity for authorities from throughout the UK to embrace the common cause of addressing and responding to the climate emergency. There is a commonality of past and experience which perhaps we don’t always have at an international level and these can and should lend themselves to the sharing of agendas and to collaboration.

The Glasgow Story is one which all the titans of the industrial age from across these islands will recognise and can draw from. As Glasgow and our peers put in place the innovative solutions to address those legacies and to build new, decarbonised economies and communities we need to foster a sense of partnership. Future generations will look dimly on us if we allow insularity and narrow agendas, be that at local, regional, national or international level, to create barriers to climate action.

The privilege and responsibility of hosting COP26 has given Glasgow the opportunity to help lead that global movement committed to a fairer, greener and more just planetary course. Race To Zero allows cities, region and local authorities to take their place at that table. It provides an opportunity for all of us to show real leadership on the climate emergency and prioritise economic social and environmental justice. For all our people. Our voices must be heard.

COP provides all of us in the UK with an opportunity to push forward with our own ambitions on carbon neutrality. Amongst the many projects underway here in Glasgow is the acceleration of the redesign of our distinctive Victorian streets and public spaces and the promotion of new, sustainable modes of transport. It is about addressing the contribution to our carbon neutrality by our hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings – very many of which are over a century old.

It’s about addressing our high levels of vacant and derelict land and repurposing them for affordable housing or as green spaces, woodland, nature havens and for food growing. And its about investment in flood prevention measures to not only help protect Glasgow against rising temperatures but also to open up more land for recreational, economic and residential use, while restoring the River Clyde to the heart of city life.

But its also about social justice, about making COP and carbon neutrality relevant to the lives of our ordinary citizens. I mentioned previously the responsibility of hosting COP.

As Glasgow’s profile within international networks increases, our repeated message, ‘the Glasgow Message’, is that social equity must be an equal consideration. Fairness must be core to our transition and to our recovery from the Covid pandemic. Climate change already threatens to have a disproportionate impact on the young and the poorest communities, factors being exacerbated by Covid.

The young of 2020 face considerable challenges and issues not been experienced to the same extent by previous generations – from mental and physical health, difficulties entering the job market and accessing social and cultural opportunities. Climate change has a similarly disproportionate impact on low income groups, those who contribute least to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, but are least able to prepare, respond and recover from its impacts. I have been explicit in raising the concern about the impact on jobs which an economy moving away from its dependency on fossil fuels will have. And I have spoken many times of the need to protect workers from the shocks of transition and to maximise opportunities for the future workforce.

This won’t happen on its own. It will take planning and engagement with both businesses and trade unions. A transition to a carbon neutral economy must focus on those considered most vulnerable to climate change and create opportunities for the under/unemployed in trades and professions a more sustainable economy will demand.

All of us must recognise that the Race To Zero – and delivering a green recovery – will need collaboration like never before.

I want to finish by referring to the very recent words of the US’s very first Presidential Special Envoy For Climate, the former presidential candidate John Kerry. Looking towards COP26 in his first speech in the role he said: “To end this crisis the whole world has to come together. Paris alone is not enough. At the global meeting in Glasgow one year from now all nations must raise ambitions together or we will all fail together. And failure is not an option.” But where nation states pledge it is up to us, as cities, as local authorities, to deliver. It is us who will ensure the Race To Zero is won.

Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council

Nigel Topping on why local authorities should sign up to Race To Zero

Nigel Topping on why local authorities should sign up to Race To Zero

As we gear up to launch our new, more ambitious pledge on 10 December, keynote speaker Nigel Topping, High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, urges local authorities to sign up to the Race to Zero campaign.

Those of us who have been working on climate change since well before the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 would never have expected that a global pandemic would be how we would start this decade of climate action.

The health, social and economic consequences of this global pandemic have moved us to an inflection point where how we choose to respond to this crisis will determine the pathway to our Net Zero future.

That’s why it is so encouraging to see that during the pandemic, Net Zero commitments have doubled with over 2,000 companies, cities, states, regions, investors and universities starting their race to Net Zero emissions.

Commitments from cities alone in the Race to Zero alliance — the largest ever Net Zero coalition, now cover 7.6% of global population and represent 7% of global CO2 emissions. But we need to go much further.

As we look to realise our carbon neutrality goals, local authorities are in a unique position to accelerate England’s pace in the race to zero carbon by 2050.

Estimates suggest that local governments can collectively influence nearly 70% of England’s carbon emissions through engaging the wider community and their deep local knowledge. 

Local authorities know their communities best, so are best placed to deploy solutions that will both tackle the climate crisis and bring about a fair and just transition to a Net Zero economy.

This new, zero world that we are racing towards offers huge opportunities for local communities.

It means zero deaths from air pollution, climate change or environmental destruction.

It means reducing inequalities, and creating a fair and equal society where sustainable jobs, industries and innovation support a healthy environment. 

It also means pioneering a covid recovery that puts health, resilience, and climate change front and centre as we build back from this global pandemic.

Building this zero carbon future has wide-reaching implications, and we have already seen the power of local authorities and civil society in action this year in accelerating climate ambition.

Japan and South Korea’s recent commitments to Net Zero by 2050 are a direct result of intensifying pressure from non-state actors demanding climate action. In South Korea, lawmakers, civil society and global voices have pushed institutions to announce an end for coal, compelling the world’s third biggest coal financier to take action.

2020 has shown how bottom-up pressure can really contribute to the speed and strength with which national governments act.

As part of the Race to Zero, local authorities can help advocate to the UK government for the powers and support to act on their climate commitments and accelerate climate ambition as we move towards COP26 and beyond. 

Local authorities can start this crucial journey by pledging to reach Net Zero by 2050 at the latest, planning their path to carbon neutrality with an interim target of halving emissions by 2030, proceeding immediately with the steps necessary to embark on this pathway, and committing to transparency through annually publishing their progress.

The more UK local authorities that join the Race to Zero, the stronger the signal we can send that we are all united in meeting Paris goals and creating a more inclusive and resilient economy.

I encourage you all to join us.

Nigel Topping, High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26

Race To Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

The objective is to build momentum around the shift to a decarbonized economy ahead of COP26, where governments must strengthen their contributions to the Paris Agreement. This will send governments a resounding signal that business, cities, regions and investors are united in meeting the Paris goals and creating a more inclusive and resilient economy.

Guest post: Oxford City Council welcomes Government’s Ten Point ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ plan

Guest post: Oxford City Council welcomes Government’s Ten Point ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ plan

Oxford City Council welcomes the Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution for 250,000 jobs, which was published yesterday.

The report covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies, and aims to address how the country will eradicate its contribution to climate change by 2050, particularly in the run up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

The plan – which is part of the PM’s mission to level up across the country – will mobilise £12 billion of government investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs in the UK, and spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030.

Oxford City Council response

In January 2019, the City Council declared a climate emergency, and in Autumn 2019 was the first UK city to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change which explored how the city should move towards net zero ahead of 2050. In December 2019 the council welcomed the findings of the Citizens’ Assembly and set out an interim programme of 53 responses to the recommendations.

Following its Citizens Assembly last year, the Council has agreed that it will develop carbon budgets for the city, which will be measured at five-yearly intervals, as it moves towards net zero. The target, will be proposed in the upcoming Zero Carbon Oxford Plan.

The Government’s report addresses several areas for action which the Council is already taking action on, including electric vehicles, transport, buildings, and nature.

The Council welcomes the Government’s plans for offshore wind, hydrogen production, Jet Zero, and carbon capturing.
Oxford has been taking a leading role in a number of areas, and particularly welcomes development in key areas:

Electric vehicles

The Government’s report highlights the need to back car manufacturing bases to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles.

The report also highlights how the Government will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, ten years earlier than planned.

The Oxford Charter for Cleaner Air, launched by the City Council, Greenpeace UK, and Friends of the Earth, called on the Government in 2018, called on Government to “end the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans earlier than 2040” and “revise the tax regime and provide fiscal incentives to help people and businesses adopt cleaner vehicles”.

Additionally, the Council leads the way on numerous electric vehicle projects, including £2.3m to upgrade buses to be ultra-low emission or fully electric£800,000 to install electric vehicle charging points for residents with on-street parking; a further £474,000 to introduce the world’s first pop-up electric vehicle charging points and £500,000 to install charging points for taxi owners and operators.

Other significant projects include the £41m Energy Superhub Oxford project, which will trial the world’s largest hybrid battery system which will balance the grid by enabling greater use of clean, renewable energy sources, and will predict overall demand on the private wire network to support the management of future fleet charging.

The City Council has also co-hosted two annual Electric Vehicle summits in the city. In addition, the production of the Electric MINI in the Cowley plant further highlights Oxford as a leading the way for electric transport.

Public transport, cycling, and walking

In Oxford, the City Council has been working with partners Oxfordshire County Council on proposals for Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone to restrict polluting vehicles and Connecting Oxford to reduce private car use, with investment in electric charging infrastructure, electrification of our own fleet, support for local businesses, and support for investment in electric taxis and buses across the city.

Additionally, the council has been investing in cycling, by installing more cycle racks across the city.

Homes and public buildings

The report highlights the need to make homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, whilst creating 50,000 jobs by 2030. The report also includes a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

In Oxford, 81% of the total greenhouse gas emissions comes from buildings, with residential buildings as the largest contributor to emissions at 29% of Oxford’s total emissions.

The City Council is moving towards a zero-carbon building system across eight areas – Council buildings, Council housing, new homes, community buildings, commercial buildings, private rented sector, planning standards, and building standards. Earlier this year, the Council started work on Oxford’s first zero carbon homes.

In addition, the £41m Energy Superhub Oxford project will see the installation of innovative, small ‘shoebox’ ground source heat pumps for residential properties, which will include smart controls and a time of use tariff to optimise heat production for cost and carbon savings. The heat pumps will be installed in 60 properties in Blackbird Leys, and the project aims to roll out this technology to 300 properties in and around Oxford over the next two years.

The Council’s adopted Local Plan 2036 also includes an ambitious carbon reduction policy that requires new developments in Oxford to go 40% further than the national government targets on carbon emissions. This will rise to 50% after 2026 and, in the case of new residential development, zero carbon from March 2030.


The report highlights the need to protect and restore our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, whilst creating and retaining thousands of jobs.

Current work in this area by the Council includes its biodiversity strategy, the waterways project, and its green spaces strategy.

Other work includes supporting the potential formation of a countywide Local Nature Partnership, applying a Natural Resource Management approach to decision making, engaging with local voluntary action groups involved with nature conservation and biodiversity programmes, and linking work around biodiversity to locally based offsetting schemes.

Councillor Tom Hayes,  Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford said: “It is promising to see the Government taking action toward the legal 2050 target, however we need to see a bigger investment if we want to see significant, further change. The Government needs to work with local councils who have the knowledge and resources to help make a difference within their community. We need to include the views of residents, local councils, businesses, and scientific experts in order to make a real difference.

“Here in Oxford we are helping to develop green jobs for the future thanks to our Energy Superhub Oxford project, the work at our Cowley MINI plant to roll out the MINI Electric, as well as the numerous scientific experts and research at our two universities. As the Government goes ahead with its Green Industrial Revolution plan, we hope Oxford will become home to even more green jobs.”

The PM’s Ten Point Plan: why additional long-term funding, policies and powers are vital

The PM’s Ten Point Plan: why additional long-term funding, policies and powers are vital

As Boris Johnson lays out his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, our Policy Director Jason Torrance explains that, despite the welcome announcement, additional funding, policies and powers are vital to delivering the goal of ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.

Today The Prime Minister outlines his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution for 250,000 jobs. While the plan answers the calls for ambition and action from local leaders across the UK – the litmus test will be in whether additional long-term funding, policies and powers needed to support delivery on-the-ground locally will come in the anticipated UK Government Spending Review.

The centrepiece of The Plan is confirmation that the UK will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, ten years earlier than planned. An announcement that will be welcomed by local leaders across the UK, who called for this at a UK100 convened Clean Air Summit in 2018, as well as by the Climate Change Committee, many businesses and a wide range of UK environmental groups.

The plan also offers new funding for a raft of other measures including: making new and existing homes and public buildings more efficient by extending the Green Homes Grant scheme, more funding to accelerate the rollout of charge points for electric vehicles, and investment for trialling hydrogen for heating and cooking.

However, much (around 2/3) of the £12bn funding announced is already available, leaving the plan lagging behind the scale of long-term investment that is needed and behind investments made in other countries such as France and Germany. As comparison new funding announced is well short of the planned UK Government investments of £27bn for national road investment and also for HS2 of £88bn.

Earlier in the year the cross-party Resilient Recovery Taskforce of 24 Mayors and local leaders, convened by UK100, submitted a proposal to the Chancellor, to invest £5bn via a Net Zero Development Bank that could unlock £100bn of private sector investment toward meeting Net Zero goals by 2050, as well as creating 455,076 jobs in construction and property sectors across Great Britain.

Government is right to focus on transport for decarbonisation. Transport emissions are rising and threatening to derail UK Government carbon budgets. Analysis by Green Alliance shows a 2030 phase-out date could get the UK back on track and deliver a third of the additional emissions cuts needed between 2028 and 2032. With the Department for Transport promising to publish its Decarbonisation of Transport Plan at the end of this year, there is an urgent need to finalise an ambitious long-term plan with a package of legislation and incentives to deliver the phase-out goal.

There will inevitably be some resistance to the plans. While some car makers claim there is no demand for battery electric cars, in practice, many have long waiting lists for electric cars and vans. The car rental and leasing industry recently raised the number of electric cars and vans it expected to buy by 2025 to 400,000, while the EV100 coalition of businesses has committed to buying nearly five million battery electric cars (globally).

The race is now on to cut emissions and secure vitally important green jobs for the future. In 2018, the UK built a quarter of the battery electric cars in Europe but, by 2025, this is expected to have slumped to around six per cent. This plan and the upcoming UK Government Spending Review must be a turning point, putting local communities in the driving seat, securing vitally important green jobs and skills and providing the resources to get the UK to Net Zero by 2050.

Jason Torrance, UK100 Policy Director

Parliamentary update – October 2020 | Sophie Lethier

Parliamentary update – October 2020 | Sophie Lethier

For her October parliamentary update, Sophie Lethier gives the low-down on the Pensions Scheme Bill currently making its way through Parliament, and why it has a crucial role to play in the path to Net Zero.


The Pensions Schemes Bill currently passing through Parliament presents an opportunity to act on the vital role pensions have to play in securing a Net Zero future. The Bill started in the House of Lords earlier this year, was introduced into the House of Commons in July and was debated for the first time by MPs at Second Reading on 7 October. It begins Committee Stage next week.

Close to £3 trillion is invested in pension schemes in the UK. Yet the vast majority of those schemes do not take climate risk into account and savers are often unaware that a considerable amount of this money funds fossil fuels and other carbon intensive businesses. Stranded assets not only undermine our efforts to decarbonise our economy, but also put our savings and retirements at risk.

When first published, the Bill’s objectives sought to establish a new form of pension scheme, improve protections for pension savings and help people plan for their retirement. Thanks to the efforts of environmentally-minded Peers – Baroness Hayman, Baroness Bennett, Baroness Sherlock, Baroness Drake and Lord MacKenzie in particular – the Bill now contains unprecedented measures to tackle climate change. Section 124 of the Bill requires occupational pension schemes to manage the effects of climate change as a financial risk to their investments and to report publicly on how they have done so.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sustainable Finance’s quarterly MP briefings held earlier this month and led by Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive of APPG Secretariat partner ShareAction, focused on this issue. We were pleased to meet with MPs from all major parties to understand their thoughts on the Bill and their views of how it could be strengthened. 

A number of MPs, including APPG member Ben Lake, made the case that all default funds should be required to reach Net Zero by 2050. This has been echoed by APPG supporter Aviva, which has launched a campaign calling on the government to amend the Bill to make it mandatory for all auto-enrolment default funds to achieve Net Zero by 2050.

  • As it stands, the Bill states pension funds should disclose and report on their exposure to climate changes, but it does not require them to reach a Net Zero status.
  • Nevertheless measures in Section 124 of the Pensions Scheme Bill remain the first of their kind on the international stage.
  • When the Bill comes into law, the UK will be the first country in the world to align the actions of pension schemes with the Paris Agreement.

ShareAction has stressed that while progress has been made on climate, more needs to be done to ensure schemes are aligned with the interests of savers. We were pleased to work with APPG member and Chair of the Work & Pensions Select Committee Stephen Timms MP to table amendments for Committee Stage, which encourage diversity in pension schemes and call for the creation of a central repository for schemes’ responsible investment policy.

We’ll be watching the Committee Stages of the Pensions Scheme Bill as it begins on Monday, so keep an eye out for the APPG’s next weekly monitor, published every Thursday, which will include an update on the debate.

Sophie Lethier, Parliamentary Officer & APPG Co-ordinator

Brum Breathes: What Councillor Waseem Zaffar wants for Birmingham

Brum Breathes: What Councillor Waseem Zaffar wants for Birmingham

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone goes live in June 2021. We spoke to the councillor overseeing the progressive new measure, Cllr Waseem Zaffar. He spoke about his wish for the city once at the heart of the Industrial Revolution to be sought after for its clean air. 


This is just the start

When Birmingham experienced a 70% drop in traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, with people out and about on foot or bike enjoying its green and blue spaces, Cllr Waseem Zaffar recalls someone telling him they could ‘taste clean air’.

That sentiment taps right into the vision the Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment has for the city. So when it got the go ahead from government to launch its Clean Air Zone on 1 June 2021, amongst all the Covid-19 uncertainty, it was a hugely encouraging step forward for the city. 

For Cllr Zaffar, wanting clean air for Birmingham is personal. His late father was just 54 when he died in 2009 of heart failure. Like him and his mum, his dad was Type 2 diabetic but otherwise fit and active. But he was a taxi driver – a job that consistently exposed him to the brunt of Birmingham’s dirty air.

From Lozells, one of the city’s most socially deprived neighbourhoods, Cllr Zaffar believes that the Clean Air Zone is as much a health policy as a transport policy. But he says it’s just a start – he wants Birmingham to eventually go beyond the strict standards on air quality defined by the WHO.

When air pollution causes 1,000 people a year to die in the UK’s second city, it’s not hard to see why. Cllr Zaffar wants it to become a place where people want to live for its clean air. And he urges Brummies to reimagine their city with far fewer cars – where kids play in the street and business still thrive.

“This is very personal to me,” Cllr Zaffar said. “The role that poor air quality has on me, my family, my community, my neighbourhood, my neighbours. It’s kind of a deadly problem that you can’t see and because you can’t see it, you think it doesn’t exist.

“During lockdown somebody said to me, ‘I could taste clean air’. That is the reputation I want for this city – where people say we need to move our families to Birmingham because it has fantastic air. 

“The Clean Air Zone for me will be a start. I want to see clean air in every single neighbourhood in Birmingham, particularly when it comes to schools. I want schools to be safe havens. I want it to go way past legal compliance. WHO guidelines are just a start. Getting there is an absolute must.

“There was an air pollution public health crisis  pre-Covid and it’ll be there post-Covid. More than 1,000 people a year are dying prematurely and kids are losing six months of their life in our city. 

“You compare that to 30 deaths because of collisions on our roads each year. That’s 30 too many but if you put it into contrast it shows why this is such an important area of work.”

How the city will support people through the transition

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone will cover an area of the city inside the inner ring road (A4540 Middleway, but not the Middleway itself). Once live, owners of the most polluting vehicles, which account for around 25% of Birmingham’s traffic, will need to pay a daily charge to drive into or through the Clean Air Zone.

It’ll be a big change for the city and Cllr Zaffar is not underestimating the challenge it’ll pose to many businesses, especially for its taxi community. In response, the city council is providing exemptions and financial incentives of around £35m to help residents, city centre workers and businesses prepare.

And Cllr Zaffar feels what Birmingham has negotiated with government could give other local councils a head start.

“I’m not underestimating the challenge that the Clean Air Zone will have on many in Birmingham at the same time as the Covid pandemic,” the Lozells councillor said. “This is real tough stuff, I absolutely get that. 

“Part of the reason for announcing the launch in October and going for the grants is we want to give people as much time as possible to prepare for this. That’s why we’re encouraging them strongly to apply for the financial incentives and the exemptions as soon as possible. 

“I’ve got to know a lot of colleagues predominantly through UK100. Where we’ve negotiated with the government on the mitigations and exemptions package, and the financial incentives in particular, that’s where other councils can start their negotiations. 

“As in, ‘you’ve given Birmingham this, you need to give us this plus this, this and this’. I’ve had conversations with colleagues in Bristol so there’s a lot of comparing notes.”


Getting the message right

Cllr Zaffar believes the messaging around the Clean Air Zone is an important part of gaining support among residents. He believes it’s about framing it beyond a transport issue – this is a discussion just like, if not even more important, than the debate around smoking in public places 20 years ago.

“I think there’s still a lot more work to be done with our communities and we’re absolutely committed to that,” he said. “We’re listening. we’re engaging, and we’re going on this journey with them.

“I think messaging is really important. This is a transport policy but for me it’s more of a health-related policy. This is about reversing health inequalities. 

“Taxi drivers and bus drivers are three times more likely to be impacted by poor air quality than a normal person because of the hours they spend behind the wheel.

“This is about making people fitter and healthier, allowing your children to grow up fit and strong, and our elderly to live longer. Find me a doctor who doesn’t tell me that clean air is important.

“I just want our communities to reimagine Birmingham with less cars. I used to play football and cricket in the alleyway by my house, in the middle of the road because there were fewer cars.”


Reimagining how Birmingham does business 

But it’s also about embracing concepts like the ‘15-minute city’, where people can meet most, if not all, their needs within a short walk or cycle from their home. Waltham Forest Council has seen success with this kind of urban planning, breathing new life into small shopping parades that used to be rat runs.

“We’re exploring this very seriously,” he said. “I had a briefing yesterday on the big development plan for Birmingham and it’s right at the heart of that.

“It’s part of the green revolution in Birmingham – the way people and goods move across the city, the way we operate post-Covid, and having access to services 800m to a kilometre from where you live are absolutely vital. I think that’s the future.

“Paris has been very bold and brave with the work they’ve done, and if they can do it, many others can follow suit. It’s an exciting time for us. The moment we get through this pandemic, there’ll be so much there on the other side for us to really use as our economic recovery across the country.” 

Find out more about Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone. Applications and expressions of interest for all of its support schemes are now open with more information available at

Jonny Wilkinson, Senior Communications Officer

Road to COP26 | October update: Why local leaders are essential to a successful summit

Road to COP26 | October update: Why local leaders are essential to a successful summit

UK100’s Campaigns Officer and COP26 Lead Talia Berriman gives a recap of why COP26 is so important and why the government won’t reach its climate commitments without the involvement of local leaders. 


What’s all the hype about COP26?

After decades of disagreements over responsibility for climate change, representatives from all 195 countries came together in Paris in 2015 for the 21st annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). They agreed to limit global warming to 2°C degrees or as close to 1.5°C as possible, in a bid to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and this became known as the Paris Agreement.

Next year, the UK will host the conference (known as COP26) in Glasgow, which is expected to be a similarly significant moment in history. The annual conferences (COPs) after Paris were mostly spent negotiating the terms of the Agreement, the deadline for which is in Glasgow. By COP26, which is taking place in November 2021, countries must submit their action plans on how they will cut carbon emissions to align with the Paris Agreement and how they will accelerate climate action over the next decade. Scientists agree that what we do over the next 10 years is crucial as to whether or not we will be able to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.


A great vision but no real plan 

In November 2021, all eyes will be on the UK. World leaders will descend on Glasgow, expecting the UK to show leadership on climate action. The UK parliament has already demonstrated that it is serious about tackling the climate emergency, being the first major world economy to pass legislation to bring emissions from all greenhouse gases to Net Zero by 2050. This will mean cutting our production and use of dirty and polluting fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas so that no more harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere.

However, despite this ambitious target, we are not on track yet to even meet the previous target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, which was set by the 2008 Climate Change Act. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has stated that although Net Zero by 2050 is technically possible, it will be highly challenging

The goal of Net Zero by 2050 shows ambition far beyond what many other countries have legislated. However, we must remember that, as of yet, it is still only a goal. We don’t have a plan of how we’re going to get there, and we need to act fast if we’re to do it in a way that benefits our communities and that brings people along with us.


National government can’t meet Net Zero without local leaders

Local authorities influence up to 70% of the UK’s emissions, so they are essential to the UK government’s intention to reach Net Zero by 2050. They know their communities best and so are best placed to deploy the solutions that will both tackle the climate crisis and bring about a fair and just transition to a Net Zero economy. 

National government will, no doubt, be making some major announcements in the year to COP26 as world media and the international climate community focus their attention on the UK. We want to see local government placed at the heart of any national climate action plans, if those plans are to be more effective and to accelerate emissions reductions in the UK.


What UK100 is doing to help make COP26 a success

UK100 is leveraging the opportunity of COP26 to secure more ambitious climate commitments from our members, and together we will advocate to national government for the powers and support to act on these commitments. 

Our first step is updating our membership pledge to reflect the huge progress that has been made by our members, many of whom have plans to reach Net Zero well before the UK’s legislated target of 2050. This will demonstrate to national government, as well as those across the world, the commitment of local leaders in the UK to limit the worst impacts of climate change by acting now.

In the coming months, we will also be launching our new online knowledge hub with exemplar projects developed by our members that deliver real emissions reductions. This will enable local leaders to learn from each other, grow confident in the solutions that work and design and adapt them to their own communities’ needs.

For UK100 members, the year to COP26 is going to be a year of demonstrating the action and ambition of UK local leaders, a year of dialogue that connects them with each other and global leaders to build climate ambition and action, and a year of advocating for the powers needed to accelerate the path to a Net Zero society. We hope you join us on this journey.

Talia Berriman, Campaigns Officer and COP26 Lead

How a Local Energy Hub is supporting local authorities

How a Local Energy Hub is supporting local authorities

We spoke with Maxine Narburgh, Regional Manager of the Greater South East Energy Hub about how it supports local authorities implementing clean energy projects. Here she talks about how a ‘Net Zero energy family’ is taking shape.


A ‘Net Zero energy family’ taking shape across the South East

Across England are five Local Energy Hubs that provide local authorities with practical support in developing energy projects. When UK100 presented a report in 2017 that proposed local clean energy partnerships, the Hubs were an oven-ready idea within BEIS.

In response to our report, the then BEIS minister Claire Perry signed off the Hubs proposal. And two years down the line, the Greater South East Energy Hub (the Hub) is going from strength to strength.

Speaking to the Regional Manager Maxine Narburgh, you can sense her pride in the progress made so far. They’ve now delivered projects that have attracted £15.5m of investment.

The 55 projects across 35 local authorities and public sector partnerships to which they give 1-2-1 development support are valued at £407m and save about 82,000 tCO2/yr.

Solar farms, public sector building and domestic energy efficiency, fleet decarbonisation, heat networks and smart grids are just a few of the projects the Hub works on.

The Hub has built a network of stakeholders in the innovation landscape, supply chains, the public sector, and community energy groups – the sorts of partners they need to spur on the energy transition.

“It’s challenging but it makes you very proud,” Maxine said. “The team has been absolutely brilliant in what they’ve achieved. From a baseline of nothing to supporting local authorities and bringing new ones into the world of local energy. 

“It is certainly a Net Zero energy family that’s taking shape. Much more than individual projects, it’s really about how this all starts to join up, and in particular how it starts to scale up.”

“Our local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships are very positive about the impact the Hub is having in progressing local energy. 

“A lot of the more complex interactions across the energy vectors haven’t yet happened at scale, so it really is a path that you forge in partnership.”


How the Local Energy Hub supports local authorities

When there’s only so much a local authority can do within its own power to reach ambitious targets, the service the Hub provides has become an incredibly valuable resource.

Each Local Energy Hub, funded by BEIS, has a team of energy experts that support local energy projects throughout their development stages, from options appraisal and feasibility, business-case preparation, design and planning, through to financing.

Beyond Net Zero, local authorities are asking the Hub whether projects can go a step further and generate revenue to support frontline services. To this end, the Hub’s support can tick several boxes for local authorities’ ambitions and requirements.


Broader benefits 

Maxine said where the Hub has been able to provide capacity to local authorities, they’re seeing them able to develop more projects, take more ownership of them, and increase ambition thanks to learning from the Hub, and each other through its networks.

“We definitely see local authorities as key,” said Maxine. “If you’re looking at energy efficiency retrofit, the residents tend to have trust in their local authority. So to be able to support local authorities to deliver programmes they have confidence in is important to us.” 


Engaging unconvinced colleagues

Maxine would like the Hub to develop support for local authorities on how to engage chief finance officers and senior management teams. These decision-makers are often unsure of the benefits or what’s possible with energy projects.

Maxine said: “We’re now developing different case studies and financial models and other resources that can start to tell that story. If there’s not something to show and to share then people might not want to be the first.

“It’s developing that portfolio of materials that might engage people just to support those officers that have got great ideas but find the resistance within their own internal systems.” 

Read more about the Greater South East Energy Hub and how you can get support as a local authority.

Jonny Wilkinson, Senior Communications Officer