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The race to net zero emissions requires a collective effort. But how do we navigate the complexities of carbon reduction? Steve Marks, Head of Carbon Advisory, dives into the practical steps public bodies can take to embark on their decarbonisation journey.

The UK's Climate Change Journey

A background overview

In December 2015, the Paris Agreement was adopted as the first legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties at COP 21, and came into force in November 2016. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global temperature rises to well below 2°C, and pursue 1.5°C. In June 2017, the UK passed a net zero emissions law, requiring the government to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Later in 2018 and throughout 2019, many local councils declared climate change emergencies, with some coming much later.  

In January 2020, the NHS also declared a climate emergency, committing to it as a health emergency. This means that they see the changing climate as a genuine concern to the NHS and to the public’s health. Finally, in December 2020, the NHS committed to act on the climate emergency. 

The government announced its target to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030 and added an intermediate target to the original 2050 target in April 2021. In addition, the government has added a second intermediate target of a 78% reduction by 2035. Since then, they have released the government Heating and Building Strategy and the net zero Strategy ‘Build Back Greener’, with the Future Home Standard coming in 2025. This highlights how we have moved from a global level to national, local, and sector-specific levels, building on the original declaration and intent by adding targets and strategies to achieve them.  

Extinction Rebellion gained significant media attention and has placed political pressure on national and local governments to take immediate action to slow climate change. Now, over 300 local councils have made a climate and emergency declaration as reported by the Local Government Association (LGA). Initially, the emphasis was on quick action and the creation of plans and other materials, to show that action was being taken. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made planning for the long-term future difficult. The carbon footprints at that time may not have been representative of a council’s own estate and could have looked completely different as the recovery from COVID-19 began. 

In addition, many local councils faced challenges in acting on their climate emergency declarations as there was no clear legislation or guidance like traditional government schemes. Each council had to select their areas to focus on and define their own scopes. However, conventions are emerging and despite these challenges, many local authorities have developed high-level plans and strategies. 

Where are we now?

Responding to climate emergency declarations presents numerous challenges. Strategies must be devised, projects developed to meet targets, and action plans created to manage these projects. Planning has been challenging, with the recovery from COVID-19 making predicting carbon emissions more difficult and uncertainty surrounding funding. Additionally, where there have been changes in public sector roles, accountabilities, and team structures, this has made it difficult to coordinate efforts and has sometimes resulted in a disjointed approach. We have also seen that in some instances, projects are chosen based on what people feel they should be doing, what they are familiar with, and what has a quick payback. 

Climate change is a vast and complex field, and it involves more than just direct emissions. Several other areas require attention, such as large-scale renewables, ecology, biodiversity, mitigation offsetting, adaptation, transport, waste, and the list goes on. 

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Learn how some of our customers are charting their course toward net zero.

How our public sector customers are moving the needle on net zero

There are many different areas in which a local authority can focus, depending on their priorities. Some have well-coordinated strategies and action plans, while others are focusing on specific areas or are in the early stages. Many of our public sector customers are now coordinating different work streams across departments to understand the long-term impact of their carbon reduction projects. They are adding more details to their portfolio level plans and identifying particular sites to carry out surveys or exploring transportation and vehicle options.  

Plus, we have found that some public bodies are preparing and applying for funding, while others are allocating internal funds. A portion of these public bodies are searching for contractors to manage projects and are developing relationships. Meanwhile, others are seeking genuine renewable electricity sources and exploring Purchase Power Agreements. Furthermore, they’re looking to widen their picture with better visibility of data. 

Don’t wait to act! Plan and implement carbon reduction projects in tandem. Consider building fabric upgrades alongside LED lighting upgrades, PV installations, and heat pumps. LASER’s net zero consultancy team can help you understand the combined impact of these projects, monitor their progress against base year targets, and map out predicted pathways.

Funding uncertainty 

Despite varying progress, funding remains a hot topic. An increasing number of customers are deciding they can’t rely on central government funding to progress. The unpredictability of funding makes it challenging for organisations to devise strategies, and there is no guarantee of successful bids. With each new phase becoming increasingly prescriptive and restrictive, public bodies often invest considerable time crafting applications and endure lengthy waits for the outcomes. Given the heightened demand and competition for these funds, the slim chances of successfully securing grants are leading some to question the practicality of pursuing such uncertain funding opportunities.

On the other hand, we’ve seen customers use innovative funding options, such as using Community Infrastructure Levy funding, to commission several decarbonisation surveys for their community buildings. Additionally, LASER’s funding studies have helped numerous public bodies identify diverse funding sources to support their net zero journeys.

In summary...

Don’t be overwhelmed there are many public bodies in the same boat as you, and it’s not possible to tackle every area in in depth all at once. Each organisation needs to assess the resources they have and make the best use of them. A key takeaway is to understand the long-term impact of the plan and the actions you’re taking.

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From creating a net zero roadmap to specifying, procuring and project managing your carbon reduction projects within set timeframes, LASER can support your organisation every step of the way. 

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