Net zero: decarbonising the city

The UK has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This report sets out what needs to change if cities and large towns are to lead the way in helping the Government achieve this goal.

Report published on 6 July 2021 by Valentine Quinio and Guilherme Rodrigues

In June 2019, the UK Government pledged to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as part of wider interventions to avoid irreversible damage to the planet. Significant progress to reduce carbon emissions has been made over the last 30 years, but there is more direct action to be taken, particularly in the areas of transport and domestic emissions.

This report finds that the relatively dense nature of urban areas within the UK tends to encourage lifestyles that are less carbon intensive, resulting in lower domestic and transport emissions when compared to more rural areas. For this reason, cities and large towns – and their density – have greater potential to drive transition in the next period and are therefore central to the UK meeting its net zero objective.

This report looks at the role that different places will have to play to help the UK achieve its target; how far cities and large towns are from net zero; how it varies between places; and the scale and effort required to get there.

Focusing on transport and housing, the research sets out what needs to change if urban areas are to lead the way in decarbonising the UK’s economy, without leaving people and places behind.

It outlines three steps for cities and large towns to support the UK to reach net zero:

  1. Cultivate an approach to development that works with net-zero goals and not against them.
  2. For transport, move away from car dependency and encourage low-carbon alternatives.
  3. For housing, retrofit existing houses and prioritise the development of compact, more energy efficient housing stock.

The report calls for national government to:

  • Devolve more powers at the local level to ensure transport and housing planning are integrated as part of a coordinated strategy, and ensure metro mayors have the same statutory spatial planning powers as the Mayor of London.
  • Introduce a flexible zoning system to facilitate and accelerate the densification of existing built-up areas at scale.
  • Phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2030, setting an intermediate milestone for 2025.
  • Reintroduce, extend and better fund the Green Homes Grant.

The report calls for local government to:

  • Disincentivise car usage, through adopting schemes like Clean Air Zones, Workplace Parking Levies or Park and Ride.
  • Invest in public transport and active travel infrastructure, such as maintaining the pedestrianisation of central areas or pop-up cycle lanes.
  • Impose higher standards on energy efficiency and carbon emissions and make use of the £500 million Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery scheme.

This report was produced in partnership with HSBC UK.

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