Woeful performance on crucial climate change targets

19 Oct 2023
Lib Dem logo bird projected on blockwork

The climate change scorecards were released on Oct 18; a national online reference that compares council performance across seven categories: “building and heating”, “transport”, “planning and land use”, “governance and finance”, “biodiversity”, “collaboration and engagement” and finally “waste reduction and food”.

Birmingham City council achieved an average score of 39%. If this were a degree result, it would be a fail. THat said, the average across all councils is 35%, meaning that across the board we have a long way to go. Westminster was the highest scoring council with an overall of 62%.

So how are Birmingham City Council faring? We delved into the detail:

Under “buildings and heating”, the council isn’t retrofit anywhere near enough homes to make them low carbon. There’s little work on improving energy efficiency and no cheaper renewable energy for residents through collective buying.

Under “Transport”, there are no moves towards electrifying the fleet, bus use is in decline and ridership is low, there is no workplace parking levy, and there is not a public network for electric vehicle chargers. Levels of particulates in the environment are also at unacceptable levels. The council was awarded half marks for the availability of shared transport schemes. On this, Councillor Roger Harmer said “I’m surprised to see that the council scores half marks in shared transport, when there are very few car clubs in the city, and those that do exist are run locally. Half marks would suggest that half of the city has access to shared transport. This is far from true”

“Planning and Land Use” showed that whilst the council has a commitment to building future homes to a high energy efficient or net zero standard in the future, action is sorely lacking. New homes are not required to make improvement on Part L building regulations (a new standard which requires dwellings to be built in such a way that fuel and power can be better conserved.) The council has also lost marks on there being no current requirement for homes to be built to net zero standard, life cycle carbon assessments of new builds are not carried out and there is not a requirement for high level water efficiency. Commenting on this, Group Leader Roger Harmer said “There are council documents that speak positively about renewable energy, but we are yet to see the rollout of solar energy in the city, or any other renewable source for that matter. Yet again it’s all talk and no action”

Governance and finance is a particularly low scoring area, with the council achieving just 6%. The failings are numerous here. The corporate plan does not include a net zero target, the medium-term financial plan does not count net zero as a priority, there is no climate change risk register, no reporting on greenhouse gases, and no reduction on emissions since 2019. There is no process connecting decision making to net zero ambitions. From a people perspective, few staff working on climate change issues and training on climate change has not been rolled out. The council received penalty points and a negative score for having investments in carbon intensive industries. Commenting on this, Cllr Harmer said “There are so many things that aren’t even being measured, let alone improved. Once again, this council talks a good game but fails to deliver.”   

Biodiversity also requires improvement. The council is not using peat free compost, it has not banned harmful pesticides on council land, it has not committed to more green spaces for wildlife. There is not a target to increase tree cover, or a tree management plan, and light pollution is not reduced through dimmable bulbs. Recently, Councillors Izzy Knowles and Jon Hunt have asked written and public questions about the reduction of use of glyphosate; a weedkiller that is linked to the damage of wildlife – notably on vital bee populations. To date, the weedkiller is still being used by the council and partner organisations. On the plus side, parks have been given green flag status and the council plans to employ an ecologist to work on biodiversity.

On collaboration and engagement, the council scores surprisingly well. The scores suggest that it is easy for residents to find information on the council’s environmental performance, there is a plan with SMART targets, an up-to-date Climate Action Plan, work with external partners and ways for residents to influence the implementation of the council action plan.  A team have been put in place to deal with climate change issues, and so there is activity, but it seems as though this is not yet permeating through the ranks. 

Waste reduction and food is another area that the council needs to improve upon. It scores no marks for reducing plastic consumption on council land or at events, nor for supporting circular economies. There is no kerbside food recycling and the recycling rates are very poor compared to other local authorities. Birmingham still produces a lot of waste. This was covered during the summer when the decision to renew the contract for the Tyseley incinerator was called in by all parties. There were points awarded for reducing meat consumption in school meals and for having a sustainable food strategy as well as initiatives to redistribute surplus food.

Overall, the council’s performance is evidently poor, and so much more must be done. Cllr Harmer summarised “Even though the score is poor at 39%, the council seem to have been awarded marks for things that they are not doing well. Wide reaching change needs to take place if we are to get anywhere near net zero in 2030.

“It’s looking less and less likely by the day, and yet this city’s children deserve better. The council cannot afford to fail. There is a worrying lack of action to reduce carbon, improve biodiversity, protect nature, reduce waste, or increase resource efficiency.”

“With financial crises taking centre stage and expected to do so for many years whilst the authority struggles to get back on its feet, the Lib Dems will continue to raise the issue of the climate emergency and the need for route to zero action, not just action plans.”

The scorecards can be accessed here:

Council Climate Action Scorecards | Climate Emergency UK (councilclimatescorecards.uk)

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