Council’s carbon reduction targets won’t do the job

Following its Climate Emergency declaration three years ago, Teignbridge District Council has published and adopted Part 1 of its Climate Action Plan. Part 2 is expected later this year.

Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) welcomes the long-awaited plan, believing it is an essential first step in delivering on the council’s commitment to be a carbon neutral district by 2025. It is excellent to see standards set, but ACT has concerns that the emission reduction targets included in the plan are based on outdated data and will not make the difference we need to see.

Part 1 of the plan sets out how the council expects to reduce carbon emissions in its own sphere, in things it owns, purchases, funds and supplies. Part 2 will cover the wider district, including transport, housing, businesses, land use, energy and infrastructure.

The plan includes 39 actions, four policies and 11 targets. ACT has no major problem with the actions or policies. It is primarily the targets that need further work.

Carbon emission targets are set by reference to a carbon budget. The budget sets a limit on the cumulative amount of greenhouse gases an organisation, a country or the world can emit that gives a significant chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is like a financial budget, where you set yourself weekly or monthly spending limits so you don’t go overdrawn.

In the case of carbon budgets, the limits are how much carbon can be emitted over a time period, to make sure we don’t trigger runaway climate change. We can’t afford the equivalent of an overdraft when it comes to the climate!

Carbon budgets have to be adjusted as the average global temperature rises and to take account of whether targeted emission reductions have been achieved. Global warming has now reached 1.2C and we are on track to reach 1.5C by the early 2030s, if not earlier. The tighter the budget, the more likely we are to limit global warming.

The Teignbridge plan states that the council aims to limit its cumulative emissions “to levels consistent with 1.5°C and well below 2.0°C of global warming”. This needs revising as, at the COP26 climate meeting held in Glasgow last year, governments agreed to make 1.5C the firm limit to aim for, due to the risks of allowing any further warming.

The basis for setting the council’s carbon budget also needs revision, as the budget calculation uses data from a 2018 study. That doesn’t sound too out of date, but there has been a significant rise in average global temperature since then. Moreover, setting targets for emission reductions based on this budget means they fall well below the UK government’s legal requirements.

ACT believes the council should use the government’s statutory carbon budget to set its targets. It would be even better if it used the Paris Agreement targets, as ACT has proposed.

There is a big difference between these various targets. The annual emission reductions required under the Paris Agreement (for a likely, or 67% chance of staying within 1.5C) are 10.4% year on year. To meet the UK’s statutory requirements (for a 50/50 chance), they are 7.9% year on year. The Teignbridge plan targets are based on a study that recommends a minimum carbon reduction of 4.2% flat rate.

There is another issue: the targets only include the council’s direct emissions. These are mainly from heating council buildings and fuel used in the council vehicle fleet. These are known as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, and only account for about one-third of the council’s annual emissions. The bulk of the emissions, known as scope 3, are indirect, from stuff the council buys, mainly for building work and services they buy in.

The plan does have ambitions to influence the council’s suppliers with regard to scope 3 emissions, but they are not included in the targets.

Finally, while most of the 39 actions in the plan are good, some excellent, there is no indication of the expected emissions reduction for each action, or the timescale involved. ACT believes this should be addressed as soon as possible, and that a regular review of progress against the expected reduction for each action should also be part of the plan.

Teignbridge District Council still has work to do on its Carbon Action Plan.

2 thoughts on “Council’s carbon reduction targets won’t do the job”

  1. Good read Fuad. Pointing out these needs should help TDC keep to their Climate Pledge, provided your recommendations are adopted.

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