Nearly all the county, district and borough councils in the South East have now recognised the climate emergency. Some have been quick off the mark in producing Climate Action Plans and are leading the way for others to follow. In this article we summarise the headlines from some of these pioneering early plans. And we provide a link to a new online resource with latest news on which councils are doing what.
Common threads & challenges
Councils have to choose whether to restrict their focus to the council’s own activities and estate (a relatively straightforward project) or to look at carbon emissions across the whole area for which they are responsible – a much more ambitious undertaking. There is a strong case for taking the more ambitious route as it provides councils with opportunity to play a leadership role and influence broader change. But it involves grappling with a much wider range of variables and unknowns, and engaging with many more stakeholders and partners.
All the plans recognise that carbon offsetting will be required to reach targets, either through investment in renewables (on or offsite) or carbon sequestration through land management (e.g. tree planting and woodland creation).
Another common thread is the recognition that all council decisions (not just those in the climate strategy) need to take into account their potential impact on the climate and the environment in order to achieve their targets.
Here are some examples of four early Climate Action Plans from across the South East.
Winchester District Council
Winchester District Council approved its Climate Action Plan in December 2019. It had the advantage of a Low Carbon Board already in place involving the council, Winchester University and WinACC (Winchester Action on Climate Change) which we understand had already done considerable work on this. The plan has a target of 2024 for carbon neutrality in council activities and 2030 for the district as a whole (for both production and consumption emissions). It recognises that the top priorities for the district as a whole are transport emissions (46%) and housing and domestic energy (31%).
To reduce transport emissions, among other examples, they plan to expand EV charging points (public and private); to develop walking and cycling, freight and parking and access strategies; to require buses and taxis to be low emission/alternative fuel by 2030 and to ‘collaborate with Hampshire County Council and private operators to expand and enhance public transport services (bus and rail), including access, frequency and affordability’.
There’s a summary table at the end of the document which sets out the planned actions across different sectors, and shows which council department will take the lead on them.
In terms of partnership working there is no plan to formalise this. This is because a formalised board could ‘have the potential to be resource intensive and become seen as the responsible body for taking action. It will be more effective to link to existing groups and networks to influence and support them to mainstream carbon reduction and sustainability into their work programmes. This will ensure an ownership and recognition that action is need from all. This flexible arrangement will require strong communications support so that information flows between the groups and organisations and the council can play a central role in this.’
The Eastleigh Climate and Environment Emergency Strategy considers both council and borough-wide activities and aims for a carbon neutral council by 2025 and district by 2030. The strategy is broad sweep but, interestingly, it has a detailed interim action plan for 2020 (see below) to help them hit the ground running.
The overall strategy is written in clear language and makes some strong points, which deserve wide take up:
- They recognise that wherever possible changes should be ‘front loaded’ with rapid action. An example could be for the Council to offset its operational emissions from year one, whilst activities are carried out to reduce emissions over time.
- They also recommend a ‘Natural solutions first’ approach to respond to the accompanying Environmental Emergency, in particular species decline and local pollution. Nature must be a key part of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.
- They stress the need for stronger communications by ‘clearly setting out the severity of the climate and environmental emergency’.
The strategy is backed up by a clear and relatively simple ‘Interim Action Plan’ with a lot of immediate actions to be achieved by the end of 2020. These relate to both Council and the Borough as a whole. To an outside observer this interim plan looks as though it could be pretty approachable for council officers.
Wealden’s Climate Emergency Plan has a target of 2050 for both Council activities and District as a whole. It has an extensive table of actions at the end which looks thorough, but obviously daunting.
Transport emissions account for 47% of carbon emissions in Wealden district and domestic buildings for 35% . It points to the largest reductions being achieved by going for electric heating systems in buildings and electric vehicles, together with carbon offsetting by Investing in off-site renewable electricity generation such as solar PV farms, together with carbon sequestration through land management, woodland creation, and tree planting.
Adur and Worthing Borough Councils
The Adur and Worthing Carbon Neutral Plan was produced by the same consultants as Wealden (AECOM) – which explains the similar cover designs! It focuses just on council activities and has a carbon neutral target of 2030. Again, their analysis shows that ‘the most significant reductions will result from switching towards the use of electric heating systems and electric vehicles – provided that the national electricity grid undergoes significant decarbonisation.’
It does point out that as well as mitigating their own emissions, the Councils should also take a leadership role and exert influence within the local area. This could be through:
- Funding: eg offer subsidies to SMEs for building energy audits.
- Policy: Support the delivery of heat networks and renewable energy projects by taking a positive approach to renewable energy generation in planning policies and decision-making.
- Transport: adopt a planning approach that reduces reliance on private vehicles, and supports public transport, ride-sharing, walking and cycling.
- Standards of sustainable design and construction: through awareness and training; by establishing best practice networks or offering training to facilities managers.
- Lobbying the Government: to bring forward more ambitious policies (e.g. transport strategies, research and development, updates to Building Regulations).
Worthing and Adur councils have already taken substantial steps to engage with their local community by setting up their ‘Sustainable Adur and Worthing’ programme of action. This is an ambitious shared plan between communities and the councils. The updated version was published in December 2019 . It includes an innovative SmartHubs project to use marine source heat pumps to help power a local smart grid in Shoreham.
SECA Climate Action Survey
Sally and Alison have been speaking to SECA member groups and trawling the internet to learn where local councils across the South East have got to in terms of coming up with climate action plans. They have begun work to collate this information and have created a spreadsheet summarising it all. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/SECAclimateactionsurvey There’s an introductory tab explaining how it works, and separate tabs for each county showing the progress we’ve heard about so far.
It’s work in progress. The plan is to keep this updated as further news comes in. The thinking is that SECA groups can use this information to chart progress, spot trends, and nudge their local council by showing what’s being done elsewhere. If you hear of developments not yet featured, or spot any corrections needed, do let us know by emailing: email@example.com