Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. Following on from that, over the last year and a half, they have been developing a climate action plan to take the council’s own carbon emissions down to net zero by 2030. This would be 20 years ahead of the UK government’s overall commitment, and is to be much welcomed, but it is, of course, only 9 years away from now. Consequently, anybody would rightly expect the EFDC 2021 Climate Action Plan (CAP) to be highly specific and well-funded to make quick progress reducing those emissions. The present status is that a draft action plan has been published for 6-weeks of public consultation from June 2021 (too short for a widespread consultation?). There will then be a period of revision before it is formally enacted.
What does the Climate Action Plan contain?
The CAP describes the council’s current emissions profile, distinguishing between emissions of its own (direct emissions), those from the generation of purchased electricity and other indirect emissions from sources not controlled by the council. The intent of the CAP is to address all three areas, although not all emissions have yet been quantified to enable a baseline to be set from which to measure the necessary reductions. The council finds that the majority of their emissions come from: gas and electricity consumption and transport.
The action plan describes a large number of initiatives in the following areas:
- Council buildings
- Staff travel
- Council processes and behaviour change
- Public travel within the district
- Engagement with residents, community groups and businesses to secure behaviour change
- Domestic and industrial buildings
- Natural environment
- Air quality
- Climate change adaptation
EFCA’s view of the council’s climate action plan
EFDC’s plan is to be welcomed. Clearly, a lot of thought and cross-departmental collaboration has gone into it. It is ambitious and is being taken seriously by the council leadership. EFDC intend to collaborate with community groups, such as ourselves, to improve and implement the plan. There are several areas to focus on to improve the likelihood of its success.
There are too many ideas and not enough focus on the goal. The initiatives and actions should be whittled down to those that are very directly relevant to the goal of Net Zero by 2030. There is no pathway shown to Net Zero and no indication of the value in carbon terms of each of the initiatives. Although everything written in the plan would result in a positive outcome, at this point with the clock ticking, we need tight focus on the right actions to dramatically reduce emissions. This means having clearly measurable initiatives that are properly owned and funded for the next several years, targeting the biggest areas of emissions. It may mean that topics like air quality and natural environment need to be part of other programs, because their relationship to achieving Net Zero is more indirect than, for example, burning of fossil fuels and thermal efficiency of properties.
Some topics are noticeably missing or under-stated. For example, there is no mention of influencing people’s behaviours with regards to food emissions. A quarter of people’s emissions are due to food, with consumption of meat, dairy, and air transported out-of-season produce being major contributors. We believe that education to change behaviour is needed in the area of food consumption as well as food waste. Regarding waste, we would like to see more council investigation in to, and transparency on, waste recycling processes. How much of the district’s waste is actually recycled (rather than just collected at the kerbside and passed on to other bodies)? How much ends up anyway in landfill (or the sea) somewhere in the world, resulting in highly damaging methane emissions. It’s equally important for the global picture of greenhouse gas emissions whether the waste ends up inside or outside of the district’s territory.
Finally, we felt that the CAP had perhaps an over-emphasis on electric vehicle (EV) use. While EVs do not create carbon emissions at the point of use, there is anyway a large embodied carbon footprint due to the manufacture of vehicles, whether they are fossil fuel burning or electric. We need to be careful to not over-stimulate the discard of petrol and diesel vehicles provided they are running efficiently. The circumstances that dictate whether it makes sense to switch from diesel/petrol to EV require a comparison calculation of operational emissions versus embodied carbon.
In summary, we welcome the Epping Forest District Council’s Climate Action Plan. We do believe it should be more focussed and there should be clear, measurable targets for reduction that can then be monitored on a regular basis. There are less than 9 years left to run and the current draft does not look like a plan to tackle an emergency.
To read EFDC’s Climate Change Action Plan Draft for Consultation: https://rds.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/documents/s102428/C-076-%20Appen.%20Climate%20Change%20Action%20Plan%20v6%20Apr%202021%20002.pdf