Meeting the challenge

it’s now almost impossible to avoid the impacts of climate change. Everything from extreme weather to rising sea levels, changes in biodiversity and health risks will have an impact on business in one way or another so many have taken to calculating their carbon footprint with the aim of doing something positive about reducing their emissions.

But what about the bigger picture ? What do we do about the city as a whole ? What can we use as a baseline for action and how can that inform the targets we set ourselves ?

Thankfully, there are annually released stats that help.

You’ve got to start somewhere

Back in 2007/08 a series of new environmental indicators required local authorities (and businesses) to report on their local carbon footprint for the first time. There was, however, one slight problem. The emissions information needed for this complex calculation was almost non-existent and, according to the energy companies, was subject to commercial confidentiality. So the Government stepped in with some new rules on reporting and, with a baseline of 2005, the national local authority and regional carbon dioxide emission statistics have been available every year since.

Since then they have proved very useful in setting local targets for emission reduction, in tracking progress towards reductions and highlighting the average per capita carbon footprint in each area as well as the regional and national comparisons.

Released on 24th June 2021 the stats for 2005 to 2019 can be found in a range of reports and spreadsheets

So how are we doing ?

We used to have some very simple reduction targets in Plymouth’s Climate Change Strategy…….20% by 2013, 60% by 2020 and 80% by 2050; all carefully calculated to address local action. Unfortunately things aren’t so clear in the current Climate Emergency Action Plan so it is a little more difficult to work out what we need to do to meet the PCEAP target of carbon neutrality by 2030 but at least we have the national stats to compare.

However (brace yourselves…here come the percentages)……the national emissions stats can tell us a lot. It would appear that progress towards an overall reduction in the city’s footprint is slowing as, since 2005, our overall footprint has gone down by 40.94%. It has only reduced by 2.2% since 2018.

The commercial sector fares a little better with an overall reduction of 62.2%; backed by a reduction of 47.1% for the industrial sector. Until recently, these sectors had recorded excellent progress towards reduced emissions so it may be that there is a threshold for the city whereby new reductions become difficult to achieve without considerable change and/or investment.

The domestic sectors and public sectors score 43.5% and 49% respectively. Our Transport sector fared worst with an overall reduction of only 14.45 since 2005.

Our personal carbon footprints have gone down from 5.9 tonnes per capita to 3.3 tpc in 2019. This compares with figures of 4.7 tpc for Devon, 4.6 tpc for the South West as a region and 5.2 tpc for the UK as a whole.

I was asked the other day what an ‘ideal’ personal footprint would be ? I’ve had a look but there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to this but, compared with the average footprint of 16 tpc in the US, the UK is clearly doing reasonably well. Globally the average per capita carbon footprint is 4.0 tpc….so, at 3.3 tpc, Plymouth’s residents are also making a positive contribution.

Although the latest edition of the stats includes some new information on the values for croplands, grasslands, wetlands and settlements, the figures here are not complete so a comparison against the baseline for 2005 is a little difficult. Nevertheless the spreadsheets still contain a wealth of information…ideal for anyone who loves data and stats !

The figures are always issued with a two year delay so what June 2022 will say about the footprints for 2020 is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure, there will be a huge dip in some sectors in response to the lockdowns we’ve experienced. We’ll have to wait to see how the levels will rise as we recover, where the new baselines will be set and whether any reduction thresholds might limit what more we can do. If we’re heading for carbon neutrality by 2030 we definitely need to know more about the target figures expected of us but the good news is that Plymouth’s commercial and industrial sectors are already clearly doing their bit.

If you’d like more information on how to reduce your organisations carbon footprint then check out the resources in our Climate Action Toolkit.

Blog Courtesy of Environment Plymouth

Photo by Frederica Diamanta on Unsplash

Plymouth Social Enterprise Network