The Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) is a not-for-profit that works with over 300 councils across the UK. APSE hosts a network for public service providers, sharing information and expertise.

The network shares ideas in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing, and building maintenance.

Over the past 15 years, APSE has done a significant amount of work on climate change and the environment, including the development of the APSE Energy project. This was formed to examine the changing dynamics of the energy market in the UK.

Paul O’Brien is Chief Executive at APSE, they discussed the benefits and challenges local authorities face when declaring a climate emergency [1].

The Impact of Climate Change

APSE has created an infographic that illustrates some of the impacts of climate change that can already be seen across the globe.

Paul highlighted events in recent years which have forced the Government to recognise climate change as a major policy issue. Now, the UK Parliament, Scottish and Welsh Governments and many local authorities have declared climate emergencies. Some of the events that catalysed these declarations include:

  • UK weather extremes such as the UK’s warmest winter day ever on the 26th of February 2019
  • The Whaley Dam incident of 2019
  • Public protests led by young people, inspired by Greta Thunberg

Covid-19 Recovery


The pandemic has had a massive impact on the services provided by local authorities. The education sector has been impacted by schools having to reimagine how they provide their services through a switch to remote teaching. The pandemic revealed cracks in the adult social care sector by highlighting the need to strengthen the workforce and provide the sector with better tools to care for vulnerable adults during a crisis. Recovery should be intertwined with climate recovery to meet national green targets.

Employment & Skills

Employment has been affected by Covid-19 with people out of work and several traditional jobs being phased out. However, a focus on green recovery will create many new jobs and help to reshape the jobs market.

APSE conducted research in early 2021 with the Town and Country Planning Association into the planning and housing crisis. It revealed that some of the biggest skill deficits were in green skills, in both professional jobs and construction jobs. Local authorities should tackle this through solid investment into future jobs in the green sector.

Declaring a Climate Emergency

The public is very much aware of the need to act on climate change and are demanding action. Over 300 councils in the UK have now declared a climate emergency. There are over 100 with action plans.

APSE have analysed some of these declarations and have recognised that for real change to happen, there must be an organisation-wide response within local authorities. The response should not just be politically led but it should have the support of corporate management.

“A good climate action plan should be honest, serious, it needs to recognise the boundaries of responsibilities, it needs to have detail and dates, it has to ask for resources, it must have corporate and organisational support and it has to allow for progress monitoring “– Paul O’Brien

Climate change strategy needs to be integrated within not just cooperate plans and financial strategy, but also individual service plans. Decision making on climate action is as much about making an economic case as an environmental one.

The public is very much in favour of climate action plans that are led by their local authorities. APSE run an annual opinion poll to look at the public’s views of frontline public services, as well as major public policy issues. They found that over the last couple of years there has been a huge rise in the public consciousness of climate as an issue.

They also found that the public believes local government has a key role to play in responding to the climate emergency alongside national Government.

A Route Map for Carbon Eradication

Councils quickly need to get to a point where they can outline a climate recovery route map for their area. They should consider dividing a plan into short, mid, and long-term actions. APSE has suggested that short term goals should aim to be met by 2030, mid-term goals by 2038 and long-term goals by 2040.

Suggested target projects could include:

Short-term projects:

  • Improved property energy efficiency
  • More solar energy used
  • Electric fleet infrastructure

Mid-term projects:

  • Waste and recycling
  • Retrofit programmes
  • Air Quality
  • Wind energy

Long-term projects:

  • Reinventing the high street
  • Housing plan
  • District heating networks

Starting points will vary for different councils depending on ranges of assets, natural resources and access to revenue and capital funding.

Taking Action

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. They published a report in December 2020 stating by 2035 greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 78%, based on 1990 levels. If Net Zero is to be achieved by 2050 then 60% of the cuts must be in the next 15 years [2].

The report called for action in 4 key areas:

  • Reducing consumption and reducing wastefulness
  • Take up of low carbon solutions
  • Expansion of low carbon energy
  • Offsetting emissions

To reach Net Zero there needs to be a shift in how society and individuals think about the climate. The CCC found that 16% of this change should be societal or behavioural changes, 43% shifting to low carbon technology and 41% being a switch to low carbon fuels.

Local authorities must consider ways of kickstarting these changes. Some problems identified  in local climate action plans by the Climate Change Committee report were:

  • A disconnect between different tiers of government when planning for climate recovery action.  A lack of communication between central, regional and local government, and parishes has resulted in fragmented planning and leadership.
  • Some planning being inadequate for the standard expected and for the location of the local authority.
  • Local councils are key to determining their own footprint but also in influencing the footprint of the larger societal supply chain, the wider public sector, third sector and business.

5 Key Areas of Focus for Local Authorities

The Climate Change Committee identified 5 key areas for Local Authorities to gear their strategies towards. These are buildings, transport, waste, electricity generation and land use.


In terms of buildings, we are seeing the phasing out of natural gas and oil use. It is now recommended that there be reduced and more flexible usage of buildings with inbuilt energy efficiency measures as well as an increase in the use of renewable energy resources.

In October 2021, the Government announced that public buildings will have no new gas boilers by 2030 and no new oil boilers by 2025/26. This came under plans to incentivize people to install low-carbon heating systems.


There is going to be a rapid shift to Electric Vehicles (EV) during the next decade and beyond. By 2032 all new cars and vans must be electric. Huge investment in charging infrastructure and battery technology is needed to support this. Local government has a responsibility to provide this EV infrastructure to their community.

The CCC predict that as a society we will be using our cars less and walking, cycling, and using public transport more, up to a third by 2050. This means further investment from local authorities into cycle paths and walkways.


The goal set out by the CCC is to reduce waste and increase recycling to 70% by 2030. By 2030 food waste should see a 50 to 60% reduction.

Landfill should be phased out by 2025 and all waste banned by 2040. These goals should encourage local authorities to think about deploying sustainable construction methods in housing, property, and highways.

Electricity Generation:

Goals within electricity generation include a dramatic increase in offshore wind energy production. Renewables should contribute 90% of generation by 2050, including onshore, solar and nuclear.

Local authorities will need to consider places to locate solar panels, wind turbines and battery storage facilities. There will be new local commercial opportunities around investing in renewable energy as well as jobs opportunities in the construction and maintenance of new infrastructure.

Land Use:

The Government has set a goal of planting 30,000 hectares of trees per annum by 2030 and 50,000 by 2035. Tree planting on a massive scale is to be encouraged, but there must also be budgets available to nurture and maintain them.

ASPSE predict that there will be a significant shift away from indoor leisure activities over the coming decade, we have already seen a huge expansion in outdoor activity during the covid crisis.

There needs to be a focus on how to solve problems caused by climate emergencies such as flooding. There should be conversations around how to better use the land to mitigate flooding and to create more space for walking and cycling.


Paul stated that we are on the cusp of a major transformation of society that Covid-19 has only served to speed up. Local government has a huge role to play in facilitating green changes in their areas. This can only be done effectively through careful and strategic planning.

The way that services are delivered will change but this also means that there will be an increase in opportunities, for example, the creation of new jobs in the green recovery sector.

Now is a time for effective leadership, not just in what is done by a local authority but in how the local community, the wider public, third and business sectors will adopt new strategies and ways of living.

[1] O’Brien, Paul. 2021. APSE, Association for Public Service Excellence.

[2] 6th Carbon Budget Report. 2020. Climate Change Committee

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Local Authorities are responsible for generating climate action plans to promote sustainability and carbon neutrality in their areas. Paul O'Brien Chief Executive at APSE discussed how to declare a climate emergency, and suggested a route for local authorities to follow when planning for green regeneration.

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