Cities have the best chance leading the UK to net zero target

Cities have the best chance leading the UK to net zero target

The Government needs to press ahead with planning reform to meet its net zero target according to Centre for Cities’ research in partnership with HSBC UK.

Its campaign should begin in cities which, despite being big carbon emitters, have the best chance of leading the UK to net zero. The report finds that the right policies targeted in cities will being the UK a quarter of the way closer achieving a carbon neutral future.

Doing this this will require the Government to progress its planned reforms as the current system is a barrier to reaching net zero. They encourage housing development in isolated areas over better-connected inner-city and suburban brownfield sites.

Houses emit more carbon than flats, but they accounted for nearly eight in ten homes built in 2019 – an increase of 12 percentage points since 2013. Therefore, providing a more balanced mix of low-rise flats and terraced houses close to city centres would therefore help the UK reach net zero.

Building new homes centrally would also reduce car dependency. If the share of journeys made by public transport rose from one third to two thirds then urban carbon emissions would halve. Therefore, providing good public transport in all cities is essential to reaching net zero.

The number of people using public transport fell sharply during the pandemic and has not yet reached pre-Covid levels. Reaching net zero will be impossible while so many people continue to shun public transport in favour of cars. Policy makers therefore must encourage the public back onto public transport.

They should also introduce charges to disincentivise non-electric car usage and improve the public transport system in all cities. Doing these together could reduce total urban transport emissions by 87% by 2035.

The report argues that, to help cities reach net zero, the Government should:

  • Make it easier to build new energy efficient homes in city centres and suburbs.
  • Reintroduce the £2 billion Green Homes Scheme to retrofit existing homes. This would reduce carbon emissions by around 30% across England and Wales’ largest cities and towns.

And local government leaders should:

  • Improve public transport by bringing buses under public management
  • Introduce Clean Air Zones that charge drivers of the most polluting vehicles.
  • Encourage walking, cycling and public transport usage.

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:

“The majority of people in the UK are based in our cities and largest towns. This means that changing the way that we live, work and move around them will be essential if we’re to reach net zero by 2050.

“Because 64% of the UK’s total carbon emissions come from homes and transport, it will be impossible to reach net zero without changes to our planning and transport systems. If the Government does these together it will help it reach its goals of becoming carbon neutral and levelling up.”

Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC UK said:

“This report shows the key role Britain’s town and cities, and decision-makers leading them, are going to play in helping the UK reach its net-zero ambitions. Consumers, businesses and local communities will need support from both central and local government if we’re going to make the big lifestyle changes needed over the coming years in the way we travel and in the way we build and heat our homes. There is a real opportunity to build a partnership between the public and private sectors to create the new solutions to meet the climate challenge and to open up new green opportunities for growth for small and medium sized businesses right across the country.  HSBC UK stand ready to play our part in this partnership.”

To find out more about how the UK plans to meet its  pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 visit the Centre for cities website 

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