Climate Action Plans for mayors

Combined authority mayors and the Mayor of London are directly elected leaders and can have significant powers within an area. Find out how these mayors came about, why they're becoming even more important, and what they can do to act on climate and nature and protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

07 May 2024

What's a combined authority mayor?

These mayors are the directly elected leaders of combined authorities. Combined authorities are made up of neighbouring local authorities. Some, like Liverpool, are known as city regions and these leaders are often referred to as metro mayors, but some combined authority mayors will also cover rural areas like York and North Yorkshire. The Mayor of London is also a directly elected leader but of the Greater London Authority (GLA) rather than a combined authority. The local councils that make up the combined authority or GLA will co-operate on key areas, such as transport, planning and economic development, but these vary from area to area.

These mayors have important powers they can use to ensure their areas are tackling the climate and nature emergency. By taking action at this level, they can show national government where their communities’ priorities lie and what can be done to meet these priorities. They can also use their influence to secure more local powers and resources from national government. 

Around a third of England’s territorial greenhouse gas emissions are produced in areas governed by combined authorities and the GLA. Mayors can’t single-handedly solve the nature and climate crisis, but they must use the powers they have to make as big a difference as possible.

There are 11 existing combined authority mayors in England: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the East Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the North East, South Yorkshire, Tees Valley, the West Midlands, West of England, West Yorkshire, and York and North Yorkshire, plus the London Mayor.

More devolution deals are in the pipeline, including for Hull and East Yorkshire, as well as a new form of county combined authority and deals for individual county councils, although some of the county deals won’t include a directly elected mayor.

The origin and development of combined authority mayors

Many of the powers and responsibilities that these mayors and the Mayor of London now have were established through the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 and have been developing since then.

The government's devolution agenda aims to address England's imbalanced economy. Plans were accelerated as part of its 2022 Levelling Up strategy, with a promise that by 2030 “every part of England that wants one” will have a devolution deal. The Labour Party has also committed to further devolution in England if it forms the next government.

In addition to the new deals referred to above, which include county deals and more rural areas, the government is committed to deepening devolution in existing mayoral areas. So far, both Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are being granted additional powers and resources under new “Trailblazer” deals.

To establish a directly elected mayor in their area, local leaders must work together to negotiate a devolution deal with national government.

Why are mayors important for climate and nature?

The devolution deals agreed between local leaders and national government vary from area to area, but generally they cover key sectors (see below) that are crucial for tackling the climate and nature crisis. In some of both the newer deals and the deeper Trailblazer deals, specific objectives are agreed on net zero and nature, and some deals even include specific net zero or “green growth” funding. Mayors therefore have unique powers to act on climate and nature.


Mayors are responsible for directing investment in transport infrastructure. On the positive side, mayors can significantly improve public transport as well as walking and cycling infrastructure. Crucially, mayoral combined authorities have bus franchising powers, which means that mayors can decide which routes bus operators in their area are required to run, make fares more affordable and require the use of electric buses.

On the negative side, mayors can also enable road building schemes through a consolidated transport budget and control over the local road network.

Economic development

Mayors have a lot of influence over the economic development of their areas as well as the power to direct investment funds. This provides an opportunity to encourage investment in climate solutions, including renewable energy infrastructure. 

There are also potential opportunities to stimulate the growth of green jobs. Mayors have control over the adult education budget, a valuable tool in the potential reskilling of workforces to take up these new jobs.

Mayors should also take a stance against high-carbon infrastructure like airport expansions, as well as the use of any hydrogen other than “green hydrogen,” and only then for specific industrial purposes where there are no suitable alternatives.

Planning and housing

Some mayors also have powers under their devolution deals to produce spatial development strategies, working with constituent local authorities. These need to be in line with national policy, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), but they can set out climate ambitions that Local Plans would then need to follow, for example by leading the way on high energy efficiency standards for new buildings.

Mayors can also use their influence to co-ordinate the retrofitting of existing homes. Their control over adult education budgets means they have a role in addressing skills gaps for insulation and heat pump installation in their areas. A key commitment in the new Trailblazer devolution deals is that from 2025 the government will pilot the devolution of net zero funding, including for buildings retrofit, through allocation rather than competition.


Most mayors will be responsible for drawing up Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) for their areas. They can work with stakeholders to develop and implement ambitious plans to protect and restore nature, significantly increase tree cover, and make sure everyone has access to nature-rich green space.

How mayors can help protect the most vulnerable

Tackling the climate, nature and cost-of-living crises must be done in a way that benefits everyone, no matter their income, race, age or background. It’s essential to address the sheer scale of inequalities that exist. People who are most marginalised, both here in the UK and across the world, have done the least to cause climate breakdown and are the least able to recover from its impacts.

People on lower incomes, and particularly people of colour, suffer most from the lack of nature and green space in our towns and cities. This is also true of air pollution, despite a smaller proportion of people from these communities owning cars. Young people’s futures are most at risk from climate breakdown and the decline of nature, and they’re also disproportionately impacted by the economic impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Yet too often their voices aren’t heard in decision making.

Mayors can work to tackle inequalities and protect vulnerable communities. This includes ensuring the voices of those most impacted are heard and given centre-stage, prioritising climate and nature action where it's most needed, and making use of deliberative democracy approaches such as citizens’ assemblies. 

Climate Action Plan for your area's mayor

We need mayors to take ambitious and urgent action on climate and nature, at the same time as responding to the cost-of-living crisis. To ensure a fair society for all, we need a just transition to a low-carbon, nature-rich, circular economy, and to unlock the green job opportunities this will bring. 

We’ve created tailored Climate Action Plans for mayors, which use local data to highlight the urgent change needed, present a low-carbon vision for each area, and, crucially, explain the practical actions needed to get there.

Climate Action Plans are available for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the East Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the North East, Tees Valley, the West Midlands, West of England, West Yorkshire, and York and North Yorkshire. We also have a Climate Action Plan for the London Mayor.

Please note that, as elections for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England are taking place in 2025, the Climate Action Plans available for these areas are from 2021. All other Climate Action Plans were created or last updated in 2024.












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