Following the report by the International Panel on Climate Change’s report in the autumn, Green councillors across the countries have been pushig their councils to recognise the climate emergency we all face and to commit to meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions in their local authority. As of today (25th February), 37 local aothorities, ranging from Frome Town Council to the London Assembly, have pledged to reduce emissions, most aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030.
But that’s only the beginning. Then the hard work starts – working out what radical actions will be needed to acheive this, and how to keep the community and other, possibly more sceptical councillors on board.
Simon Pickering, chair of the Environment Committee on Stroud District Councils, says:
“The changes required over the next 12 years to become carbon neutral are already well understood. They are, by and large, the changes required nationally and across every other part of the UK to move to a low carbon economy, as documented in official Government national strategies and plans as well as in various reports by NGOs.”
In Stroud’s draft Action Plan, these changes are set out into several broad categories:
i. a complete shift to very low or zero carbon electricity generation, mostly renewable and much of it decentralised;
ii. smarter and more flexible management of electricity demand, including storage, to enable higher penetration of variable renewable generation and to optimise electricity system operation;
iii. huge reductions in energy demand by improving significantly the energy performance of our buildings (across all sectors and all tenures) and the equipment and processes within them;
iv. decarbonisation of heat (i.e. stop relying on fossil fuel gas and oil) for buildings, hot water and industrial processes;
v. dramatic steps to cut the carbon emissions of road transport by switching to walking, cycling, efficient mass transport (not powered by fossil fuels) and a huge rise in the use of electric vehicles;
vi. ensuring new build developments achieve their full low carbon potential and contribute effectively to a smarter energy system;
vii. a dramatic reduction in emissions from agricultural food production and land use
viii. a huge reduction in the generation of waste and a dramatic increase in low carbon means of dealing with waste;
ix. A dramatic increase in the capture of carbon particularly, but not necessarily exclusively, through tree planting and land management.
Cllr Pickering added
“It is clear that not all these ambitious targets can be realised by local government acting alone; it will require concerted effort from national government, national network operators, national and local business and finance working together. However, there are several roles that Local Councils can play working in partnership with the citizens of the District, key statutory and non-statuary partners and, most importantly, with businesses across the District. These include: leadership & delivery, coordination, engagement, policy and planning.
It needs to be recognised that delivery will require dramatic changes which are likely to lead to resistance from various quarters and it will be important to remain focussed and purposeful whilst avoiding being distracted by potential conflict.”
And, of course, such action requires resources and therefore changes to council’s limited budgets. The Green group on Oxford City Council have shown what a climate-friendly council budget could look like, with proposals that they say represent a step change in the Council’s response to climate change.
Arguing that the expansions of the City’s Park and Ride car parks can no longer be a priority, the Green budget diverts the £5.4m ear-marked for this into climate mitigation measures.
Speaking to the Green Budget, Green Group Leader Cllr Craig Simmons says: “These measures make sense both environmentally and economically. Taxpayers money needs to be used to build secure, sustainable transport and energy systems that will help future-proof Oxford’s economy. We can also generate revenue from these investments that will provide on-going income to the Council.”
Other measures proposed by the greens include:
· £2m to fund new solar schemes e.g. this is sufficient to fund solar canopies over about 1,000 Park and Ride parking spaces (enough to power 500 average homes and saving more than £250,000 in energy bills each year).
· £0.9m to massively expand the electric vehicle charging network in Oxford adding up to 360 additional charge points including free-to-use lockable charging points at taxi ranks to support the switch to zero emission vehicles.
· £0.3m investment in the City’s car sharing schemes – adding 10 long distance electric vehicles
· £0.5m to create a new freight consolidation centre at one of the Park & Ride sites to improve delivery times and reduce the number of large, polluting lorries entering the City.
· £1.2m Climate Emergency Fund – to make funds available to further support the ideas above and/or address other priorities as they arise.
· £50,000 to support a new ‘city of the future’ exhibit at the refurbished City Museum focused on climate change
· £0.7m to extend the Council’s current loan to the Oxford Low Carbon Hub to enable them to invest in renewable energy systems before the Government’s high value Feed In Tariff ends. The funds have been accounted in such as way as to enable this money to be converted into a long-term investment (subject to further due diligence).
· £0.6m to improve the energy efficiency of Council-owned houses – doubling the current budget
· A new part-time ‘carbon accountant’ officer post
· A new full time ‘Climate Emergency’ officer post
· Funds for a Citizen’s Assembly on the Climate Emergency
· Funding for a four-year public education programme on climate change – based on the findings from the Citizen’s Assembly.