Local Authority Development Plans Could Make A Major Contribution to Action On Climate Change – Report

Analysis of the climate credentials of local authority development plans shows more progress is needed to help reduce carbon emissions at local level

Local authorities have a unique opportunity to make a major contribution to reducing Ireland’s carbon emissions by including ambitious climate mitigation measures in their development plans, a new report published today finds.

The report –Climate Action and the Local Authority Development Plan’ by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) and MaREI, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine coordinated by the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at University College Cork outlines how local authority development plans have the potential to play a significant role, at local level, in supporting wider efforts to ensure Ireland meets its ambitious climate targets.

The report analysed the local authority development plans of the country’s 31 city and county councils to consider how the plans have integrated measures to tackle climate change in their respective areas.

The report highlights examples of existing good practice that all local authorities can learn from and use to implement evidence-based and realistic climate mitigation measures into their development plans.

By implementing the report’s recommendations and adopting the good practices identified, local authority development plans can set out roadmaps that cumulatively help to achieve national climate change targets.

Some of the key building blocks identified in the report for more climate action focused local development plans include:

  • Build More Robust Evidence Bases: Every local authority development plan should start with an understanding of existing greenhouse gas emissions in that local authority area linking back to the national targets.
  • Set Measurable Targets: Ireland’s overall target to decarbonize, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050, needs to be quickly broken down across the local authority areas for clarity in the planning process in the roles local communities must play. For example, a target could be set to ensure that a certain proportion of new housing is located within a certain distance of a public transport node.
  • Identify Co-Benefits: Local authorities need to recognize and promote the co-benefits of climate action measures. These include the benefits associated with revitalizing and regenerating towns and villages, social and economic development (just transition and local jobs), biodiversity (rewilding and carbon sinks) and improved quality of life, health and wellbeing (greenways and blueways).
  • Deliver More Consistency in Policy Formulation: Significant inconsistencies have arisen both within some local authority development plans and between plans of neighbouring local authorities that work against co-ordinated climate action.
  • Adopt Clearer Policy Objectives: Evidence based and co-ordinated planning approaches across local authorities is vital to inform clear policy objectives that enable proper measurement of progress in implementation. What can’t be measured, cannot be effectively monitored.
  • Promote More Collaboration and Partnership: Development plan preparation in some areas has tended to lead to local controversies in the past around topics like the location of windfarms.

However, through a more evidence and analysis based approach to local planning which links national to local targets, local communities will be able to better understand how their areas can play their part in reducing transport based emissions, moving away from fossil fuels, embracing green energy and tapping into wider benefits as a result of better local public and active travel based transport.

For example, mapping of areas with strong potential for renewable energy development is a particularly important role that the planning authorities can play.

Planning Regulator and Chief Executive at the Office of the Planning Regulator, Niall Cussen stated:

Government policy on climate is very clear. However, our independent analysis of the climate credentials of every development plan, across the land, clearly shows that a lot more progress must be made quickly in turning the aspiration of tackling the causes and effects of climate change in the planning process into tangible actions through which each local authority plan can secure the reductions in tonnages of current carbon emissions needed to make our targets by 2030 and 2050”

Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir, Director of MaREI said:

Ireland has significantly increased our climate ambition in the past two years, but we now urgently need action to reduce emissions. Local authorities can, but do not currently, play a critical role in translating national climate ambition into local climate action. This report provides guidance for local authorities on this role, but they cannot achieve the transformative role alone. Local authorities need support, resources and cooperation. We also need to move beyond a parent-child relationship between national and local government towards a partnership approach.

Lead author of the report, MaREI’s Dr. Alexandra Revez stated:

by grasping the opportunities and challenges local authorities face, we will move from currently mainly aspirational to the type of action-focused policy needed to achieve our ambitious climate mitigation targets”. Furthermore, lead researcher, MaREI’s Dr. Connor McGookin highlights that these insights “are not just important in terms of ensuring national climate targets are achieved but in terms of supporting the local democratic process to ensure a just transition is achieved at local level”.

The report was compiled by reviewing emerging and existing examples of how local authorities have incorporated climate mitigation measures into their development plans and by engaging with staff of local authorities in order to gather reflections on their learnings.

This is the fifth in a series of OPR Case Study Papers. They are issued to promote shared learning and highlight best practice in accordance with the OPR’s statutory remit to engage in education, training and research activities.