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Joanna Wright: Planning for Net Zero Carbon

Joanna Wright is the Director of Environmental Planning at LUC. Joanna runs the RTPI's online CPD Masterclass Carbon Net Zero Locally.

In April 2021, the UK government set into law the target to reduce carbon emissions by 100% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. By November of 2021, 75% of Local and Combined Authorities had declared a climate emergency (1).

The UK has reduced territorial greenhouse gas emissions (2) by approximately half since 1990, largely due to the shift away from coal-fired power generation and cleaner industry. However, further emissions cuts are likely to be more challenging, especially given that the Government has recently relaxed important policies to decarbonise buildings and transport. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) states that these policy shifts increase the risk of missing future carbon targets, including the UK’s 2030 goal.

This in the context of reports from the IPCC and CCC indicating that countries need to decarbonise at a greater rate if we are to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial level, as per the Paris Agreement.

Many local authorities are already grappling with the challenge of responding to the climate emergency, often with limited resources and within a context of ongoing planning reform.

The urgency of ensuring that the planning system plays the fullest possible role both in reducing carbon emissions and in addressing climate risks is widely recognised. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) have produced guidance (3) to Local Authorities to better plan for climate change in the face of a Climate Crisis.

To align with UK legislation, Local Development Plans/Local Plans must contain policies which, taken as whole, we must secure radical reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in line with the Sixth Carbon Budget. Plans should achieve this by identifying a range of policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and encourage renewable energy generation.

Chris Skidmore, the former energy minister, published his independent Net Zero Review (4) in January 2023. This included a recommendation for streamlining planning processes, and where locally supported, “unleashing solar and developing onshore wind”. New tools to help local authorities have emerged. For example, in April, IEMA published a toolkit (5) setting out ‘practical steps’ to decarbonise local development plans. It sets out a clear process for local authorities to understand baseline emissions, calculate emissions linked to alternative policy options and monitor progress.

However, key barriers to better planning for climate change remain. The Spatial planning for climate resilience and Net Zero (6) report notes that the planning system is not delivering on Net Zero and climate resilience due to a range of barriers. These include a lack of clarity in national policy as to the priority to be placed on climate change in decision making and the absence of detailed policy approaches and methodologies for climate mitigation. This can make it difficult for planning inspectors to support the ambitious climate change policies which are required in local plans, given the urgent need to decarbonise development.

RTPI runs the Online CPD Masterclass – Carbon Net Zero Locally lead by Joanna Wright. Please search for the next upcoming masterclass date on this topic in the Online CPD Masterclass Calendar.


Blog quoted resources

  1. Climate Emergency UK (2021)
  2. Analysis: UK is now halfway to meeting its ‘net-zero emissions’ target (2021)
  3. The Climate Crisis – A guide for Local Authorities on Planning for Climate Change (TCPD- RTPI, 2023)
  4. Review of Net Zero (GOV. 2022)
  5. Practical steps for decarbonising local development plans (IEMA, 2023)
  6. Spatial planning for climate resilience and & Net Zero (Climate Change Committee, 2023)
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