This briefing note aims to explain the role and purpose of locally determined contributions (LDCs) in helping to deliver upon national climate change targets by taking action at a local level. The briefing is aimed at a range of stakeholders who may be involved in developing and delivering LDCs including local and regional authorities, local policymakers, academic and independent experts.
International climate governance and the importance of local action
International climate governance constitutes the voluntary mechanisms and measures aimed at directing social systems towards preventing, mitigating or adapting to the risks of climate change . As part of this system, the 2015 Paris Agreement sets a goal to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert the worst impacts of climate change . The agreement introduced a pledge and review system, where countries submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that: set near and mid-term targets for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions; outline plans on how the targets will be reached; and elaborate systems to monitor and verify progress ,. The agreement requires that NDCs are revised every five years with a so-called ‘ratchet’ mechanism (at COP26 the Parties agreed to revise the plans just one year later ), in an attempt to bring political ambition in line with scientific reality.
NDCs are critical, as many of the decisions and investments needed to tackle climate change are the remit of national government. However, as climate change has multilevel causes and impacts, it is widely accepted that climate governance must be multilevel, with the participation of all social actors, including at the local level . In the UK, local authorities (the key political decision-making bodies locally), have therefore started to consider the role of Locally Determined Contributions (LDCs) and how these can accelerate efforts to tackle the climate emergency .
What are Locally Determined Contributions (LDCs)?
The UK’s NDC outlines how a 68% economy-wide net reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels will be met . This aligns with the UK’s longer-term target to reach net zero by 2050  and the associated Sixth Carbon Budget .
At the same time, although there is no UK-wide government guidance which states local authorities must set a climate target or report on progress , a number of local authorities in the UK are taking the lead on climate change – over 300 have declared Climate Emergencies and have developed or are developing strategies and action plans to deliver ambitious targets .
According to the UK’s Climate Change Committee , these “local authority action plans represent the ‘locally determined contributions’ to the national Net Zero target” .
The development of such local plans helps to understand where local versus national action on Net Zero is most appropriate. But, in reality, to usefully assess how these plans are contributing to the NDC and longer-term Net Zero target, there arguably needs to be some standardisation of approach to developing LDCs and reporting on progress. This would also save local authorities, who currently use a range of complex approaches to plan action and track progress, both time and resources.
How could LDCs add value to the UK’s Net Zero goals and ambitions?
The latest Climate Change Committee (CCC) annual progress report (June 2022) warns that tangible action in the UK is lagging behind policy ambition – emissions rose 4% in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery began .
Recent research shows that UK Local Authorities alone control between 4 and 9% of overall UK emissions (including direct and indirect control via purchased goods and services) . In addition, around one-third of all UK emissions are dependent on sectors influenced by local government policies or partnerships .
Furthermore, local authorities understand local context and can tailor solutions to their area and the needs of local communities. It has been shown that place-specific approaches to the delivery of net zero result in improved economic and social value . This should equate to a more favourable environment for net-zero investment (which would be further supported by a transparent and consistent framework for reporting on GHG emissions reductions at the local level). Action driven by local authorities also offers the opportunity to link net zero interventions with other levelling-up priorities such as health inequality and fuel-poverty.
In short, enabling local authorities to take action to influence and unlock emissions reductions within their territorial jurisdiction, is critical both to achieving UK Net Zero in the most efficient way possible, and enabling the UK-government to ratchet up national-level ambition. Setting an expectation for LAs to submit LDCs would help to formalise the vital role of local authorities.
Key elements of an LDC
A standardised approach to LDCs that can be replicated across authorities and that is aligned to the UK’s NDC, would be both cost-efficient for local authorities and provide vital context on how our national targets can be achieved. However, developing a standardised system will take time, and given the urgency of the climate problem, it is not appropriate to delay action. The key is to understand what local authorities can do now with the carbon accounting and impact assessment tools that already exist, and to develop LDCs that are as aligned as possible to each other and the national framework. Such an approach can be refined and further standardised going forward.
The key areas for consideration in developing an LDC are as follows :
Targets and Tracking
NDCs are expected to contain short- and mid-term climate targets (and the policies and plans to meet them) , and LDCs should follow suit. The UK’s NDC target of a 68% economy-wide net reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels  aligns with the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget and the broader commitment to reach net zero by 2050.
Local Authorities can use the Tyndall Carbon Budget Reports tool  to project a carbon budget to 2050 (including a target date) against which their carbon footprint can be tracked. Both the Tyndall Centre budget tool and the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget align with the published pathways from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for a 1.5°C goal . The tool has taken the ‘fair’ allocation of reductions into account in its methodology. It provides the basis for a net zero target and pathway that is in line with the accepted science.
Local authorities can calculate their carbon footprint back to 2005 using the BEIS Local and Regional GHG Reporting Estimates  (referred to hereafter as ‘the BEIS data’). These data were recently updated to include all GHGs (apart from f-gases). This BEIS data is produced under the umbrella of the UK National GHG Inventory, and “a consistent method and common base of activity data is used across the NAEI [UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory] programme”. As such, it is largely aligned to the national dataset informing the NDC and, where it is not, there is a good understanding of why. LAs can use this data to track their carbon footprint against the allocated carbon budget, and also identify a sectoral break-down of current emissions to assist with planning of reduction activities. As a basic starting point, local authorities with very limited capacity and resources can use the BEIS data to track a linear pathway to net zero.
These approaches will not result in perfect alignment to the NDC (the Tyndall data, for example, is CO2 only at the moment), but they would be informative in a consistent and practical way.
Key issues related to scope and coverage should be addressed in an LDC.
Geographic area should ideally be reported in a consistent way to avoid double counting. Local government structures in the UK are complex , but ‘filtering up’ to Unitary, Council and Combined Authority level, would ensure that all potential actors were considered in the planning stages of LDC development.
With the exception of emissions from the production and processing of fuels (for example, to produce electricity) – which are attributed to the end-user in the BEIS data, if an LDC covers emissions within a specified geographic area, then the need to include Scope-3 emissions is negated (as these are covered in another region’s reporting). This doesn’t mean that a local authority cannot promote responsible sourcing and procurement.
In terms of gases and sectors, the BEIS data covers all gases apart from f-gases, which are unlikely to be material for most authorities and certainly should not be a barrier to action.
As a whole, the sectors given in the BEIS data combine to form the same overall scope as that at the national level, with some excluded sources at the local level, which are deemed not to belong to any particular local authority . The exclusions are not deemed relevant locally and are captured in the NDC, so will in theory be addressed nationally. Reporting according to the sectors outlined in the BEIS data, should provide good alignment with the national picture.
Policies and Plans
An LDC is more than an accounting framework to monitor progress against a target. It is a set of policies and plans outlining how such a target will be met. The UK NDC was recently judged lacking (and has subsequently been updated) because it did not include sufficient information on the contribution to delivering the target which will be made by key policies as to allow scrutiny and accountability .
At a local level, whilst the context for developing an LDC is different and there is no legal framework in place, useful guidance can be taken from the national policy experience. Development of local policies and plans should involve consultation with stakeholders at all levels, including communities and delivery agencies, and across the many layers of local government. This represents both a political challenge and an opportunity to put net zero at the heart of place-making, with links to other agendas such as air quality and levelling up.
Additional tools and data are needed to help local authorities quantify potential GHG reductions which could be delivered by specific interventions, and to monitor progress at a project and portfolio level. These would support decision making in the planning of an LDC. Of the existing tools available, no one method has consistent uptake and the BEIS data set is of limited use in this regard.
There are a number of practical and intellectual challenges associated with moving towards a consistent framework for LDCs, but this does not mean that progress cannot be made.
Resources, capacity, and training
Local authorities currently face a potential funding gap of £6.4 billion in day-to-day council budgets in 2024/25 in comparison to 2019/20 budgets . The skills and capacity required for understanding, using and communicating the relevant data, and identifying and evaluating initiatives represents a significant practical challenge. As a start, a useful way to target existing resources would be to train key personnel around understanding and applying the BEIS data. In terms of project delivery, an officially mandated LDC (and the development of tools for assessing the impact of different projects and programmes) would provide clarity around GHG emissions reductions and should help build the investment case for Net Zero interventions by local authorities.
In developing a comprehensive LDC for an area, some mapping of where powers lie in relation to transformational sectors, is an essential part of the process of determining how ambition will be met . In relation to planning, local planning authorities can assess climate-related aspects of a large number of development proposals, and are therefore able to influence the extent to which the planning system helps to deliver local climate objectives. In Cambridgeshire, for example, Cambridge County Council decided 11 planning applications between March 2021-March 2022 , compared to 6483 decided by the five district councils . It is also critical to understand whether existing powers are being fully utilised, and where key powers are lacking. This can inform the level of ambition in an LDC and highlight where increased powers for local authorities would enable Net Zero to be achieved more quickly and/or with greater overall benefit.
Spheres of Influence
Often, local authorities are in a position to influence net zero projects and interventions, without having direct control over them. For example, local authorities do not have direct control over heat provision in privately owned and rented housing, but do have influence via Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) enforcement, building control and planning regulation for new builds. In addition to lobbying for increased powers where appropriate, local authorities can support change by identifying ways to work with partners at other levels of local government and beyond.
Just as it does at the international level, considering the UK’s NDC in terms of local contributions raises issues of equity. Addressing questions around what a ‘fair share’ of emissions reductions looks like for local actors is vital to ensuring progress across the board. In the UK, tools like the Tyndall Carbon Budget Report have taken this into account in their methodologies .
There are also questions around fairness in relation to how authorities choose to deliver their LDCs (focusing solutions on more deprived areas, for example), which need to be decided through a collaborative process of stakeholder engagement.
Finally, local authorities cannot fairly be expected to account in their carbon budgets for interventions in their areas over which they have no or very limited control (national infrastructure projects, for example). BEIS does provide a dataset that excludes projects of this nature, but Local Authorities will need to work together on what they propose to be a fair way of accounting for these in LDCs.
LDCs offer an opportunity to drive delivery of net zero with increased economic and social value, deepen our understanding of how the UK’s national commitments can be achieved and ‘ratcheted-up’, and link Net Zero to a locally relevant place-based agenda. Using consistent approaches to developing and implementing LDCs that are aligned with the national framework would save time and money for Local Authorities and make tracking progress more robust at both a local and national level. However, the imperative is to act as soon as possible, so the focus must be on what can be achieved now with the tools available, using dialogue and sharing of best practise to iterate and improve on the LDC process going forward.
By Sophie Bristow, Climate Policy Researcher, and Fiona Dowson, Sustainability Consultant
 This briefing note focuses on mitigation, but adaptation is also expected to be covered in both NDCs and LDCs.
 Scotland and Wales, as devolved administrations have both mandated LA climate change reporting focused on LA operational emissions only, not community wide emissions.
 “An independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.”
 https://tyndall.ac.uk/news/tyndall-carbon-targeter-helps-local-authorities-respond-their-climate-emergency/, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/The-Sixth-Carbon-Budget-The-UKs-path-to-Net-Zero.pdf
 “The carbon budgets in this report are based on translating the “well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C” global temperature target and equity principles in the United Nations Paris Agreement to a national UK carbon budget . The UK budget is then split between sub-national areas using different allocation regimes . Aviation and shipping emissions remain within the national UK carbon budget and are not scaled down to sub-national budgets. Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) and non-CO2 emissions are considered separately to the energy CO2 budget in this report.” https://carbonbudget.manchester.ac.uk/reports/E09000004/