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Theresa May had hoped her legacy would be a successful Brexit deal and a chance beyond that to tackle the burning injustices that exist in modern Britain. Having fallen at the first hurdle, is it possible that her premiership may, in its dying days, may have made a telling contribution to the latter?

After all, what could be more unjust than leaving future generations with a planet imploding under a wave of climate change induced flooding, famine and war? And what can be more significant in legislative terms than making the UK the first developed country to commit to a 2050 Net Zero emissions target, as Parliament has just done?

In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, there seems little doubt that man-made climate change will have disastrous consequences for the planet if left unchecked. The only question is how much of a temperature increase the world can handle before the impact is catastrophic, and thus how quickly we need to cut our carbon emissions. So, make no mistake, the pledge to make Britain carbon neutral by 2050 is an absolutely essential step and we should be proud of taking it.

As Conservatives however, we will rightly now turn our attention to how this can be delivered in practice. At a national (and international) level, a lot is already happening and it’s clear that we are in the midst of a huge wave of technological and regulatory change. This has the potential to bring about enormous carbon reductions through many means, such as renewable power generation, electric vehicles, and the adoption of less energy-intensive agricultural and industrial techniques.

What strikes me in much of the climate change debate so far is how little is said about the smaller changes at ground level that individuals, families and communities will need to make to achieve the highly ambitious target we have set. Here, the Conservatives have a huge role to play as the largest party of local government, controlling more councils than any other party, and thus able to influence the day-to-day choices of so many people.

For my own part, I am a Councillor on Canterbury City Council, which looks after 160,000 residents. In considering what we could do at a local level, I recently attended a meeting of local Conservative councillors and Extinction Rebellion. While almost everyone in the room would have described themselves as an environmentalist, I must admit that I was sceptical about the militant tactics that Extinction Rebellion has recently adopted in London, and as such wondered what the evening would entail.

I was pleasantly surprised that the debate was very much at the constructive – rather than shouty – end of the spectrum, with Extinction Rebellion explaining that their focus is very much on pressing local authorities across the UK to take action to tackle the climate emergency. This includes getting district councils to commit to their own Net Zero targets.I was interested to hear that over 80 councils already have, including many Conservative ones. 

This interest in local authorities is valid as there are several ways through which a council can help bring down local carbon emissions. Perhaps the two most important ones relate to information and planning. On the former, councils are considered trusted sources of information, and have the reach through their various electronic and paper-based channels to spread the word to residents on the changes they can make to their lifestyles to help reduce their carbon impact (and hopefully save a few pounds whilst doing so).

Similarly, through their Local Plans and individual planning decisions, councils will have an impact on many ‘environmental’ decisions, such as how local land is used, the number of local jobs provided, what transport options local people have, the availability of electric charging points, the carbon intensity of new housing, and much more. One word of caution on the planning aspect, which we made to Extinction Rebellion, is that our ability to make decisions on grounds of carbon impact is limited by the national planning policies which councillors must follow. As such I would hope there is a chance for a Conservative government to consider providing more freedoms to councillors to make planning decisions with a larger weighting given to carbon considerations.

Clearly, we will have a much better chance of meeting – and even beating – Theresa May’s net carbon target for the UK, when local authorities show leadership to their communities in addressing this most urgent of topics. If so, perhaps our Prime Minister’s most heroic moment will ultimately be seen as her Net Zero initiative to tackle the injustice of climate change, for the betterment of future generations of Britons. 

Dan Watkins is a member of Bright Blue and a Councillor on Canterbury City Council. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.