Cllr Danny Thorpe discusses how their evidence base report has shaped their plan for carbon neutrality

This blog post was originally published on 31 January 2020

Like many councils, we’ve declared a climate emergency and set an ambitious target – we’re aiming to reach net zero carbon emissions in 2030 which is 20 years ahead of the national target.

This is a challenge we’re taking seriously, so for the last few months, experts have been doing an indepth study into where the borough’s emissions come from and what policies and projects we should consider to help us get to net zero by 2030. We’ve published their findings in an evidence base report, which we debated at Full Council last night.

We’re already procuring 100% renewable energy, buying zero and ultra-low emissions vehicles, roll out schemes to discourage car use, enabling people to walk and cycle more, installing electric vehicle charging points and so on. It’s easy as politicians to set the target and turn up to photo ops at tree planting events, but that won’t get us to zero emissions. For that to happen we need to develop, implement and invest in radical policies, which will take councillors and staff well outside their comfort zones.

If we made all the changes recommended in our evidence base report, the level of emissions saving would require an almost complete decarbonisation of heating in buildings. It would mean that the total distance driven in cars is reduced by 45%, and more than half the cars on our roads are electric. It will get us close to zero emissions by 2030. And it will mean investing hundreds of millions of pounds to get there.

Declaring the climate emergency received full support across the Council Chamber, but last night we faced some challenging questions from colleagues, opposition councillors and local residents.

Some people wanted to know why we’re “only publishing an evidence base” when an emergency needs immediate action. However, we can’t jump in blindly and just hope that the actions we take work.

That’s where the 128-page evidence base comes in. It suggests that we would need to implement a comprehensive suite of highly ambitious policies by 2023 at the latest.

However, some of the figures involved in implementing these recommendations are eye-watering. Insulating existing buildings, installing low carbon heating systems in all council-owned homes and creating heat networks would cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

So we have to talk about money.

Since 2010, the amount of money Greenwich Council receives from government has reduced by over £130million – that’s over £1,000 per household. This decade of austerity, combined with increases in costs, means that we are facing an estimated £57m pressure on our budgets between now and 2024.

We know we have to change, we know we have to invest, but we also know that councils up and down the country are having to cut basic services due to austerity. The debate isn’t about whether or not we should take actions to reduce emissions, it’s about how we fund those actions. It’s about how we embed it into every council service.

We will use the evidence base to develop a fully costed carbon neutral plan which will be consulted on in late 2020. But it’s not just about the Council. Only about 25% of the borough’s total emissions come from the council’s offices, vehicles and housing, so we need everyone’s help to step up to the carbon neutral challenge.

We’re setting up a climate emergency network and partnership so that residents, businesses and organisations within the borough can help us develop our plans. The first partnership meeting is at the end of February and I can’t wait. We’re getting people who wouldn’t normally be in a room together – businesses, climate experts and campaigners all working towards a common goal.

We aim to bring our plan to Full Council in Autumn 2020. However, we will require greater powers and more funding to deliver on our climate neutral ambition.

This is the only way a robust plan, fit to deliver our unparalleled 2030 carbon neutral ambition will be delivered.

Please note – this was written when Cllr Danny Thorpe was Leader of Greenwich Council between 2018-2022.