The lawyers are writing to each local authority that is developing a new local plan, giving them eight weeks to explain how they will set the carbon goals and ensure they are central to their new planning policy.
ClientEarth warns the councils will violate their legal obligations and risk a legal challenge if they do not introduce “proper” climate change plans.
The environmental law firm said it launched the campaign in light of the “massive shortfall in compliant local planning policy” across the country and to advise local authorities of their legal duties under planning and environmental law.
The lawyers believe carbon targets need to be incorporated into local planning policy as a “core objective” against which all other policies and decisions will be tested, for them to be “meaningful”.
They add local planning authorities also need to monitor performance against local targets at least annually.
Climate Lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change. Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government.
“Clearly central government needs to do more, as the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) progress reports stress. Yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. All of these decisions will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.
“Each and every planning decision taken today must be in line with long term climate goals because what and how we build today will determine our climate impact and resilience in the crucial decades to come.”
The Local Government Association said councils are already doing a “great deal” to protect the environment and health of communities, including mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.
’Environment spokesman Cllr David Renard added: “This includes tackling harmful air pollution by devising clean air zones and protecting at-risk areas outside schools, encouraging the use of electric vehicles through promoting recharging points, and investing in cycling.
“However, councils can do so much more if they are properly and sustainably funded, allowed to set planning fees locally and if policies such as permitted development rights are scrapped as they allow developers to ignore community needs and undermine local plans.
“The forthcoming Spending Round needs to ensure councils have adequate funding to protect local services next year to help improve residents’ lives, including through proactive environmental protection work.”