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Last edited 10 Sep 2021
England metro mayors work to deliver ambitious climate action
 Local action
With the UK government having set an ambitious, legally binding target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, attention is now focused on the actions needed to achieve it. Many of these actions will need to happen at local level, giving subnational leaders a crucial role in delivering net-zero.
ICE’s insights paper explores international best practice and suggests principles for subnational climate action that is ambitious, place-based and fair – delivering the cuts needed to reach net-zero, as well as a just transition that brings wider socio-economic benefits for local communities.
 Unlocking subnational climate action
Subnational governance in England has been transformed since 2011 with the creation of 10 combined authorities, nine of which (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England, and West Yorkshire) are led by directly elected metro mayors.
Metro mayors’ local knowledge, influence and proximity to their constituents and communities make them ideally placed to lead the development and delivery of high-impact subnational climate action. However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has argued that while over half the emissions cuts needed rely on decisions made at local level and businesses, local authorities themselves currently have influence over only around a third of emissions in their areas.
In infrastructure terms, metro mayors have limited powers over several sectors that require urgent change, including high-emitting, difficult-to-decarbonise sectors such as transportation and buildings.
The CCC has argued that net zero cannot be achieved by 2050 without enabling more action at subnational level. The Sixth Carbon Budget calls for a collaborative approach between all levels of government with additional direction, resources and powers for subnational leaders.
The National Infrastructure Commission has also recommended more powers be devolved to metro mayors to deliver key national objectives. However, the Government did not fully endorse this in its response to the last National Infrastructure Assessment and devolution is absent from the National Infrastructure Strategy.
 A global challenge
Globally, countries are working to align national and subnational climate action, while the United Nations has urged governments to mainstream their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) into subnational policies and budgets.
A growing number of principles and frameworks are providing guidance for subnational leaders. These include the UN Habitat Guiding Principles for City Climate Action as well as broader frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Subnational leaders are also exploring innovative concepts such as ‘15-minute cities’ and circular economics to plan and deliver emissions cuts, rethink urban infrastructure and spaces, and make local communities more liveable.
ICE’s insights paper highlights examples including Oslo’s annual climate budgets and electric vehicle infrastructure; New York City’s Buildings Mandate to cut emissions from the city’s largest buildings; and Paris’s ambition to boost active travel through its expanding cycle network.
 Looking ahead
The Government is set to publish its overarching net-zero strategy in autumn 2021, prior to the UK hosting the COP26 Conference in November. The Treasury is also expected to publish its Net-Zero Spending Review later in 2021. These will need to provide a framework for enabling and funding subnational climate action as part of the broader national plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
From September 2021 until September 2022, ICE will undertake a series of roundtable discussions with key stakeholders across England’s regions to examine the issues in the paper and discuss how combined authorities can drive climate action through infrastructure and what additional resources they need.
This article originally appeared on The Infrastructure Blog portion of the ICE website under the headline, 'How can England's metro mayors deliver ambitious climate action?' It was written by David McNaught, ICE Policy Manager and published on 2 September 2021.
 Related articles
- 15 minute city.
- Circular economy.
- Climate target revisions for Carbon Budget 6.
- COP21 Paris 2015.
- ICE articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Net zero carbon 2050.
- Sixth Carbon Budget.
- State of the Nation 2020.
- UN Sustainable Development Goals.
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