It’s all very well demanding that Wiltshire Council declares a Climate Emergency but what can it actually do? The reaction of several councillors was a request that we set out concrete, practical steps. That seems reasonable to me and here are some ideas.
To start with, we need a target. How many tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions should be avoided each year? Setting targets ensures we concentrate on approaches that make a significant difference rather than on small-scale measures of purely symbolic importance. It also gives us a way to hold the Council to account—have they actually achieved the targets?
So what should the target be? Well, if everybody in the world started to reduce now—and reduced steadily—we could aim for net-zero emissions as late as 2050 and still hit a 1.5 °C target. Wiltshire’s share should therefore be at least 3% of current emissions rising by 3% year on year. And perhaps we should be a little more ambitious than that. How about a 5-year plan aiming for a 20% drop?
Wiltshire’s total emissions in 2016 were equivalent to 2.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, so that translates into required savings of 560 thousand tonnes. Here are my top five suggestions of how to get reductions on that sort of scale:
- Replacing mixed-source electricity by renewables prevents approximately 2.6 tonnes per year of emissions for each kW of generating capacity. Let’s aim to increase capacity by 50 MW (preventing 130 thousand tonnes of emissions per year). That’s only a 10% increase on the Solar Energy we already produce in the county. Wiltshire Council could encourage this by guaranteeing to buy electricity from a supplier who sets up new renewable energy generation capacity. If the Council also offered land to the supplier, the resulting deal would probably save the council money on its current bills!
- Space and water heating of a typical house produces five tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Hence, Wiltshire’s target of 40 thousand new homes would avoid 200 thousand tonnes of emissions per year if they were required to be carbon-neutral.
- Improved insulation of existing houses could aim to save, say, half of their consumption and if this was offered to ten thousand low-income households the savings would be 25 thousand tonnes. The council can borrow the money required at much lower rates of interest than the general public and this could be recovered by requiring beneficiaries to repay a proportion of the savings, on their bills, for several years. Better insulation would also result in warmer homes for our most vulnerable neighbours.
- A combination of investment in public transport, further encouragement of car-sharing and installation of charging-points could reduce use of ICE (internal combustion engine) powered vehicles. Road transport was the biggest contribution to Wiltshire emissions in 2016 and produced 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Hence, a 10% reduction in ICE journeys within Wiltshire would save 130 thousand tonnes. Fewer cars on the road would also reduce congestion.
- Restoration of forests can sequester up to 3 tonnes per year per hectare of CO2. Hence, a programme of tree planting could have a significant impact (e.g. 30 thousand tonnes per year from 100 km2). If these habitats were created in the form of wildlife-corridors they would also improve biodiversity.
Total avoided emissions, from all of these suggestions, is 515 thousand tonnes of CO2. That’s 18% of Wiltshire’s total emissions. A good start, I’d say.
First published in Marlborough.news