Local government’s carbon cutters

There was a time when carbon reduction targets were at the top of every politician’s agenda.

Climate change might not have the same profile these days, but many local authorities are still working hard to reduce their carbon footprint, save money and protect the environment.

A report recently published by Reading Borough Council shows the local authority is ahead of its target of halving its carbon footprint by 2020. According to the report, the local authority has reduced carbon emissions on its corporate estate by 37% since 2008, which has saved the council £5.5m in energy costs.

‘The council’s ongoing investment on low carbon technologies is making a real difference and this is the first year that we are beginning to see the positive impact of the council moving out of the old civic centre and into a refurbished energy efficient building, resulting in an astonishing 57% fall in energy costs,’ says Reading’s lead councilor for strategic environment, Tony Page.

There has also been a 32% drop in carbon emissions across the borough as a whole between 2005 and 2014.

The head of public sector at the Carbon Trust, Tim Pryce, says his organisation has worked with more than 400 local authorities over the last 15 years, helping them to develop plans to cut emissions – with an average target of around 25% over five years.

‘There are lots of examples of really good progress going on,’ he says. ‘There are cities we are working with – such as Bristol, Oxford and Leeds – who are doing lots of good work, not just on their own estate and their own operations, but also on area-wide energy and carbon projects.

‘Colchester and Oxford have both achieved 25% over five years and are now working towards 40% by 2020. In Leeds, for instance, we are working on several potential district and community energy schemes with them, which have quite large potential carbon savings. But other local authorities are doing quite less, so it’s quite a diverse situation.’

Cutting carbon, saving money

Figures published last month by Hampshire County Council show the local authority has cut its emissions by 35.8% since 2010.

‘In just six years we have cut our emissions from 54,200 tonnes in 2010 to 34,813 tonnes this year,’ says executive member for economic development, Mel Kendal. ‘We’re now accelerating towards our 2025 target of cutting our emissions to 32,500 tonnes, which seemed very ambitious a few years ago.’

The reduction in carbon emissions has saved the county council around £2.9m in energy costs with a further £200,000 carbon tax savings a year.

Potential savings is one of the big drivers for local authorities cutting carbon, according to Mr Pryce.

Local and city governments can be important catalysts towards climate change mitigation and towards meeting carbon reduction targets. Clearly, they are not the only part of the answer but they are an important piece of the jigsaw – Tim Pryce, Carbon Trust

‘We would recommend that local government look at the most cost-effective measures for better lighting, building fabric and upgrading boilers, before they look at the longer payback projects,’ he says.

‘Unless you are looking at a really well-managed, brand new building, there are usually lots of cost-effective opportunities to make air conditioning, heating, lighting systems work more efficiently. There are good cost savings to be had if projects are implemented and tackled in the right order in most local government estates.’

He adds: ‘Climate change is a significant driver for some in local government. We always argue that local government should be aiming to cut both their corporate emissions and lead their wider area towards cuts that are in line with the UK Climate Change Act and the UK Carbon Budget.

‘We would argue that local government should be aiming for a minimum 80% cut by 2050.’

Leading by example

Mr Pryce describes Reading’s 32% borough-wide reduction as ‘good progress’.

‘It’s great to see major UK towns like Reading doing this, because there’s a huge amount of international interest now in local government leadership in climate change. A lot of big world cities now have climate change and air quality action plans, with clear carbon reduction targets embedded within those plans.

‘We’re working with cities not just in the UK, but also in Malaysia, Mexico and China, helping them set and meet carbon reduction targets at a city-wide scale.

‘We think at the Carbon Trust that local and city governments can be important catalysts towards climate change mitigation and towards meeting carbon reduction targets. Clearly, they are not the only part of the answer but they are an important piece of the jigsaw.’

Last week’s announcement by the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Madird and Athens to ban the use of diesel-powered vehicles in their city centres by 2025 being a case in point.

‘When you look at most towns and cities, transport is up there with buildings as the biggest source of energy use and carbon emissions,’ says Mr Pryce. ‘Of course, it’s a big air quality issue as well.

‘You could argue, in managing its own fleet well, local government is acting as a leader and a catalyst to the wider region in switching to cleaner and lower carbon types of transport, or to switching to walking, cycling or public transport.’

In terms of support from Whitehall, the Heat Network Delivery Unit – which is now part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – is now helping local authorities develop low carbon heat networks.

‘It would be good for national government to clearly signpost to local government that they should be developing cost-effective plans to meet carbon emissions, inline with Climate Change Act targets,’ adds Mr Pryce. ‘I would like to see that message going out a bit more strongly.’

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