Challenge of achieving net zero ‘does not come cheap’ council warns
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
The scale of the challenge faced by councils to slash their carbon emissions has again been highlighted – this time in a report about “net zero”.
The Welsh Government wants the public sector in Wales to be net zero by 2030, which means greatly reducing carbon emissions and offsetting those that can’t be eliminated, by 2030.
Given the number of often old and energy-hungry buildings, like schools and hospitals, the public sector operates, the number of vehicles it runs and the miles and miles of street lights it owns, achieving this would be no small feat.
Swansea Council has now put a price on becoming net zero – £187 million. And it said only £4 million has been budgeted for.
To add to the complexity, the public sector is now expected to quantify their indirect as well as direct emissions, such as those generated by their suppliers.
For Swansea Council, which has commissioned several large-scale projects like the new indoor arena, these indirect emissions have multiplied their overall emissions nearly sevenfold.
The £187 million net zero delivery plan, though, only tackles direct emissions and would be spent mainly on decarbonising the council’s buildings and vehicle fleet.
While it is an eye-catching sum, it is dwarfed by what would be needed for the council to decarbonise its stock of 13,600 houses and flats – a subject discussed at a council scrutiny meeting last month.
It was said that retrofitting the properties to meet a proposed new Welsh Government housing standard would cost hundreds of millions of pounds – an “extremely high price tag”, according to Cllr Andrea Lewis, cabinet member for housing.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on December 15 about the net zero plan, Cllr Lewis said meeting the 2030 target would not come cheap.
“This is money we do not have, and we will be heavily reliant on Welsh Government if we have any chance of reaching that target,” she said. “I cannot say that strongly enough.”
The council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and set out its intention to become net zero by 2030.
Climate scientists repeatedly warn that carbon emissions must be cut as quickly as possible to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences of global warming.
Achieving net zero would also have spin-off benefits like less polluted skies and, in the case of energy-efficient homes, lower bills for residents.
Cllr Lewis said the move towards net zero was “a journey” the council had been on for a number of years. Electric vans have been added to its fleet of vehicles, the electricity it buys is renewable, thousands of trees have been planted, solar panels installed on schools, and a new solar farm planned at the Tir John landfill site in Port Tennant.
A report before cabinet said there was an option to buy environmentally-friendly gas derived from the recycling and composting of natural waste, rather than conventional gas, but it would be more expensive.
Council leader Rob Stewart said the net zero delivery plan was “very clear” and that what it represented was much-needed in terms of protecting the planet.
He also said that a funding commitment was required from central Government for the council to achieve its aims.
The Swansea Labour leader added that the tidal lagoon planned as part of the Blue Eden energy, housing and technology project at Swansea’s SA1 would be “a huge opportunity” for the city and region to become a world leader in renewable energy.
Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, also called on central Government money to stump up for net zero measures.
“It’s all well and good moving legislation – if it’s not followed up by funding it’s a bit meaningless,” he said.
Asked by the Local Reporting Service if it would fund councils’ net zero plans in Wales, a spokeswoman for the Welsh Government said an energy service and interest-free loan scheme it ran provided technical, strategic and financial support for energy-efficiency projects across the public sector to help deliver decarbonisation plans, reduce carbon emissions and generate savings.
She added: “We also fund the Welsh Local Government Association support programme, which shares best practice, facilitates collaboration and explores opportunities for innovation with local authorities.”
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