The climate emergency won't wait for a vaccine


By Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO

While our collective focus understandably remains on protecting public health during the pandemic, we now need to rediscover the urgency and commitment to address the climate emergency, which united communities last year. We need to enact policies that can address public health threats while reducing emissions and ensuring that we build back better.

Many councils have pressed forward with bold initiatives such as banning cars from city centres and reviving green spaces. However, there’s much more that can be done to combat the effects of global warming and build environmental sustainability in local authorities, even amidst the strains of a pandemic. Progressive policies that advance social goods such as climate mitigation also build social resilience. It is time to put climate change back at the forefront of the discussion when planning for a sustainable future.

Risks and opportunities lie ahead, both within the UK local government sector and internationally. At CIPFA, we’re determined to contribute to the conversation and help translate discussion about the climate emergency into meaningful action.

Collaboration is key to combating this crisis. Both private and public sector organisations have been working together to identify risks and develop strategies to manage them. The Climate Change Challenge white paper released by Zurich Municipal earlier this summer set out some clear actions that can be taken immediately. It proposes a practical framework that will embed climate change priorities into the culture of organisations. Most importantly, the white paper lays out concrete ways to underpin recommendations with action.

Zurich prescribes three useful steps for organisations to develop a climate change strategy. First, identifying the major risks or vulnerabilities that may be faced when becoming more climate resilient, understanding the detail and devising a mitigation strategy to combat them. Procurement, sustainable investments, infrastructure and building standards all play a crucial role in meeting the challenge head on. Climate change should be part of all conversations to ensure that all policy decisions can be viewed through the lens of environmental sustainability. 

Your organisations should have already developed a strategic plan to help reduce your carbon footprint. Within this plan, a clear vision should be set out for how your organisation’s environmental goals can be achieved, including a transition plan and an overview of the availability of future funding and resources.

In another step forward, the Environment Bill 2020 continues its journey through parliament. CIPFA will soon be making further recommendations to the sector on how environmental sustainability can be prioritised in decision making while maintaining high standard of financial management and public value for money.

Small actions taken locally can have an enormous impact on the entire globe. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the sector has been able to move forward at a spectacular rate to find solutions to the challenges at hand. If the same urgency were applied to the climate crisis – and we believe it should be – there is no telling what could be achieved in a short period of time. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

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