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RTPI's response to the Paris COP21 agreement

17 December 2015

Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The COP21 conference in Paris saw 195 countries agreeing to hold global average temperatures “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels, and to “pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C”. This is to be achieved by a peaking of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible”, along with mechanisms to increase the national climate pledges over time.

While the national pledges are not sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change, the agreement nonetheless represents a significant and positive step for international negotiations. The challenge now is to translate global ambition into practical action, and planning has a critical role to play.

The 2008 Climate Change Act commits the UK to making at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (against 1990 levels) by 2050. England has set an interim reduction target of 50% by 2025, while the Devolved Administrations of Wales and Scotland have set interim reduction targets of at least 40% and 42% by 2020 respectively. The Northern Ireland Executive has pledged to work towards a reduction in emissions by at least 35% by 2025.

Planning policy across the UK contains strong provisions to support these targets. In England, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that planning “…plays a key role in helping shape places to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. Local Planning Authorities are required to adopt proactive mitigation and adaptation strategies in line with the objectives of the Climate Change Act.

The NPPF states that planners should seek to reduce emissions through the promotion of renewable and low-carbon energy, by supporting improvements to energy efficiency in buildings, and through planning for new developments in sustainable locations (clear to jobs, and accessible by public transport, walking and cycling). It also requires planners to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, through measures such as flood risk assessment and planning for green infrastructure.

In Scotland, Section 44 of the 2009 Climate Change (Scotland) Act places a duty on every public body to act in the way best calculated to contribute to the delivery of emissions targets and, to help deliver the Scottish Government's climate change adaptation programme. The Scottish Government also set targets that should be supported by the planning system, including deriving 30% of overall energy demand from renewable sources by 2020; 11% of heat demand from renewable sources by 2020; and the equivalent of 100% of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020.

Scottish Planning Policy sets out how these should be delivered on the ground. It says that “by seizing opportunities to encourage mitigation and adaptation measures, planning can support the transformational change required to meet emission reduction targets and influence climate change.”  It also sets out how planning can help to reduce the environmental impacts of consumption and production.

The Northern Ireland Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) sets out ways in which climate change mitigation and adaptation can be addressed through planning policy, while climate change is similarly embedded throughout Planning Policy which sets out the Welsh position.

In 2012 the RTPI worked alongside 44 other organisations to produce guidance for local authorities on planning for climate change. We followed this in 2014 with our Planning Horizons paper: Future Proofing Society, which argued that urban and rural planning is critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

In 2012 the RTPI worked alongside 44 other organisations to produce guidance for local authorities on planning for climate change. We followed this in 2014 with our Planning Horizons paper: Future Proofing Society, which argued that urban and rural planning is critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

These documents contain examples of Local Planning Authorities, developers and community groups which are working within the planning system to reduce emissions and build resilience (creating jobs and improving quality of life along the way). We are now conducting a major piece of research into the sustainability of changing settlements patterns in different areas of the UK.

However the Paris Agreement leaves no room for complacency. While the UK has made some good progress in reducing emissions, the latest carbon budget report from the Committee on Climate Change shows how far we still have to go in meeting our 2050 target. For example in Scotland, the Government has not met the aforementioned energy targets for the last four years. If planning is to deliver low-carbon and resilient places, then the UK government and Devolved Administrations must ensure that all areas of policy support and align with this long-term objective.

This will include measures to ensure that the national drive to increase housing supply is coupled with strong policies to reduce energy demand in both new and existing buildings, and greater clarity over the contribution that renewable energy will need to make by 2050. We also need proper resourcing for planning departments, which recognises their essential role in shaping the sustainable development of our villages, towns and cities, and protecting them from the inevitable impacts of climate change.

...the Paris Agreement leaves no room for complacency. If planning is to deliver low-carbon and resilient places, then the UK government and Devolved Administrations must ensure that all areas of policy support and align with this long-term objective.

The government should be commended for driving an ambitious deal in Paris. They should now set out a long-term policy agenda that sets a clear pathway to a low-risk, low-carbon future. Planners are in a unique position to deliver the radical emissions reductions called for in the Climate Change Act, but will need the full support of national policy behind them.

Read our latest RTPI blog post on the crucial role of planning in preventing climate change