Much has been written, and declarations made, about the urgent need to tackle climate change. As local councils, we need to take this further by producing and delivering measurable action plans.
Wealden District Council declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and published its first Climate Emergency Plan five months later. However, we can’t begin to set ourselves meaningful targets or measure progress until we better understand where we are starting from.
We began by analysing our own greenhouse gas emissions, as well as those of the wider district, and creating baselines for both. We also modelled the potential impact on future emissions of a range of policy and technological developments.
Ultimately, this has enabled us to identify the key intervention measures and steps needed to achieve our decarbonisation target.
It is easiest to start where we have the most control – our own assets, and almost all of our corporate and retirement living buildings are now powered by renewable energy sources.
Our main office building has been completely redeveloped to incorporate passive ventilation, solar shading, solar PV and air source heating, achieving a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating of ‘excellent’.
We are developing carbon-reduction plans for our 3,000 council homes, exploring alternative heating options for our off-gas homes, and hydrogen-ready and hybrid systems for others. We know that there will not be one single solution for gas replacement, so we are investigating a range of alternatives.
We only have a small vehicle fleet, which we have started to replace with electric vehicles, and we are working with our waste contractor on how to decarbonise our waste collection service.
Perhaps the biggest impact that we can have, however, is through our ability to influence and facilitate change locally and nationally.
Emissions across our district have reduced by more than 32 per cent since 2005, but we know this is not enough. Our main challenges are emissions from transport (47 per cent of all emissions), and domestic gas and electricity consumption.
One of our current priorities is to install electric vehicle charge points into our car parks, to increase the availability of public infrastructure and stimulate the switch to electric vehicles.
Through the planning process, we have granted permissions for one wind farm and nine solar farms, and we have recently delivered a solar PV and battery storage group-buying scheme for residents and businesses.
Collectively, we are already producing enough renewable electricity to power around 40 per cent of all our housing.
We are planning the wholesale regeneration of our largest market town, and a whole range of low-carbon and ecological features are being incorporated, including low-carbon building design, the co-location of ‘green’ technologies, and a district heat network.
We are engaging with our local communities, to share information and exchange ideas, including recently through a virtual climate day for town and parish councils.
Our residents are active and engaged. We have a 51 per cent recycling rate and are committed to increasing this further through campaigns and education. Of the 49 per cent that is not recycled, 48 per cent goes to a local incinerator, feeding energy into the National Grid.
We know we cannot achieve our net-zero ambitions alone; we all need to get involved, and learn from each other and our communities by stimulating a wider exchange of ideas.