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Carbon budget published by Suffolk County Council for first time

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A carbon budget that will chart reduction in emissions up to 2030 has been published by a Suffolk authority for the first time.

Suffolk County Council in 2019 declared a climate emergency with a pledge to be carbon net zero by 2030.

The authority on Monday published its first carbon budget which collates the carbon emissions across the whole organisation.

Councillor Annette Dunning. Picture: Suffolk County Council. (54459074)
Councillor Annette Dunning. Picture: Suffolk County Council. (54459074)

That includes things such as travel for staff, emissions from council buildings, waste produced, and even areas like emissions where staff are working from home.

It will then become a measurable baseline reported annually to ensure carbon reduction measures are working and what further measures are needed.

But opposition councillors said the financial base budget and carbon budget needed to be produced together and informed by one another, and questioned where the checks and balances will be to ensure it is working.

Councillor Richard Rout. Picture: Suffolk County Council. (54459081)
Councillor Richard Rout. Picture: Suffolk County Council. (54459081)

It has not been ruled out that it could drive policy decisions themselves alongside the usual considerations such as finances and level of demand for services.

Councillor Richard Rout, deputy leader and Conservative cabinet member for finance and environment at Suffolk County Council, said: “This is an historic budget – the first full budget of its kind that the council has ever produced.

“Becoming a net zero organisation by 2030 is incredibly ambitious, but I’m committed to doing everything we can to realise that vision.

“It’s incredibly challenging to have an exact figure for every last gram of CO2 that the council emits.

“But our officers have worked incredibly hard to collate data so far, giving us a baseline against which we can measure our future emissions. We’ll continue to improve how we gather this data so that we can see our progress to net zero by 2030.

“The pandemic has also changed many of our routines, not least around travel and working from home. During 2021/22 we estimate that council workers saw a reduction of about 1.5million miles commuting in their own vehicles, and around 1,800 working weeks of driving. We will continue to learn as we look to new ways of working at the council.”

Data published ahead of the cabinet’s discussion on the matter on February 1 indicated that the 2020/21 figure was 17,742 CO2 equivalent (CO2e) tonnes compared to 25,138 in 2019/20.

The authority explained that while some emissions, known as scope one and scope two, are easier to calculate as they are direct emissions or emissions from purchased energy, others were harder to work out.

Those are scope three outputswhich occur because of the council’s business but are not directly controlled by the council. Those include emissions from homes where staff are working from, contractors’ work and staff transport in their own vehicles.

Cllr Rout also stressed that while it is not possible to eliminate all emissions, it aims to offset those emissions through initiatives such as tree planting or producing its own renewable power.

Andrew Stringer, leader of the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said the group was disheartened as it felt the environmental impact of would not be known until it was too late.

Annette Dunning, group spokesperson for achieving net zero, added: “What I’m concerned about are the lack of performance measures to ensure this carbon budget remains at the forefront of local government spending.

“We need measures in place to ensure this council is accountable in becoming carbon neutral by 2030.”

“While we welcome the first instalment of the carbon budget, it is imperative that we concentrate on making sure scope three emissions are reported in the future.

“Areas, such as transport and waste need precise data to inform the council’s decisions on how to keep our promise of carbon neutrality by 2030.”

A carbon budget is set to be produced each year at the same time as the financial budget going forward, with at least one review point midway through the year.

Among measures that are already going on to reduce carbon output have been a £12.8m fund dedicated to decarbonising buildings, continuing remote digital meetings to reduce staff travel and upgrading street lights with LED alternatives.