Lack of action from local government will put achievement of national carbon budgets at risk, according to research by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
The report, commissioned by the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), says local authorities have a crucial role to play in helping the UK meet its carbon budgets targets.
Currently, councils are not required to set targets and implement measures to reduce emissions within their area, and the drive to do so is generally low due to limited funding and lack of wider obligation.
But the committee report says local authorities have significant influence over sectors, such as residential and commercial buildings, surface transport and waste, which are responsible for carbon emissions.
Targeting buildings as a key area where carbon emissions could be cut, the committee highlighted the need to improve energy efficiency measures for existing buildings, ensure newbuilds are highly energy efficient and promote reduced energy consumption among residents and businesses.
To provide incentives for local authorities to get involved, the committee recommends the introduction of a statutory duty for local authorities to develop and implement carbon plans, similar to the one already in use throughout Scotland.
It also appreciates the need for increased national funding to support such programmes.
Stronger incentives will reduce the risk that carbon budgets will be missed by encouraging local authorities to lead by example and reduce emissions in their own estates and operations, and integrate climate change risk into their key functions and services.
The report also identifies how local authorities can support emissions reductions by using energy efficiency programmes, promoting sustainable travel options, giving planning approval to renewable energy projects and developing recycling.
This could in turn bring a range of benefits to local communities such as reduced energy bills, economic regeneration and jobs, and improved health.
“There is a wealth of good work being done already at local and regional levels but many opportunities remain untapped,” said committee member Professor Julia King.
“Local authorities need to show leadership and recognise their wider role in supporting local emissions reductions.