CPD article

Zero Carbon Councils – The Climate Emergency Declaration

This informal CPD article was written by Aaron Moon, a Graduate Sustainability Consultants at AES Sustainability Consultants for CPD UK.

Prompted by the IPCC special report on Global warming of 1.5°C released in Autumn of 2018, as well as increasing pressure from community groups and youth climate protests, multiple councils in recent months have passed motions of ‘Climate Emergency’. This declaration marks the councils’ acknowledgement of the immediate need to take action, and in turn have set aspirational goals for their respective regions to be carbon neutral.

The framework for declaration has involved a set of common commitments within each council:

  • To set a target date for carbon neutrality, ideally by 2030.
  • To establish a working group to develop and implement the climate action plan. This must be reported to the full council within 6 months, including the proposed strategy to reach the target and the associated budget required.
  • To call on national government to provide the powers and resources necessary to meet the 2030 target.
  • To work in association with other councils to determine best practice, and implement similar strategies.

As of April 2019, 42 councils in the UK have made a declaration of climate emergency, of which 27 have set the target for 2030.

Achieving Carbon Neutrality

To achieve these ambitious targets will require an extensive overhaul of infrastructure, the economy and societal norms of these communities. One integral area for decarbonisation will be the reduction of energy demand from the built environment; both new and existing. This suggests that future Local Plans in these regions will place greater emphasis on low energy/zero carbon developments, and set a precedent for all new developments to be resilient to climate change. However, as these motions have only passed in recent months, the strategies for meeting the targets across the 42 councils remain in continued development. Currently, South Cambridgeshire council is seeking to establish a carbon-free area in the next local plan, which will consider not only the dwellings, but also land-use, transport links and waste systems. This demonstrates the whole-systems, holistic thinking that will be required to meet the rapid decarbonisation goals effectively.

Milton Keynes council are also in discussion on a proposal to trial post-occupancy monitoring of new-build household energy performance, overheating and air quality to facilitate continuously improving standards for planning. A recognised monitoring scheme would be established to achieve this, which would intend to monitor these factors within 10% of each new developments’ dwellings for the first five years of occupation. This would drive up performance of new dwellings in terms of energy-performance, whilst also ensuring that the homes are resilient in the long-term to climate change, and additionally could establish a proven monitoring program that could be implemented in other councils.

Decarbonisation of New Developments

While the decarbonisation of new developments is vital, the importance of existing buildings cannot be underestimated – with 80% of homes in occupation today projected to still be in use in 2050. The decarbonisation of the built environment will therefore require the roll-out of large-scale retrofitting programs, which would drastically reduce the energy demand of existing homes, whilst also tackling other problems such as fuel poverty and unhealthy living environments (e.g. damp). Such schemes have been pioneered in the Netherlands under the ‘Energiesprong’ program, with a similar project now being implemented in Nottingham (with the support of a £5m EU Regional Development Fund). This innovative program demonstrates Nottingham’s commitment to their targets, having already achieved their 26% reduction target for 2020 two years early, and having set the earliest target for carbon neutrality (by 2028).

Collaboration between Councils

Lastly, communication between councils is highlighted as a key aspect of the declaration. This drive towards collaboration between councils suggests a promising direction towards the establishment of best-practice for decarbonisation. This has the potential to strengthen policy and provide guidance to further councils that make the declaration going forward. A collective approach would also facilitate easier implementation within the relevant business sectors, for example a standardised improvement on planning requirements would have to be met by the industry in all regions.


To summarise, over the coming year we can expect more councils to declare climate emergencies, with the councils to already have made the declaration announcing their decarbonisation strategies. By working collaboratively, and with increasing pressure on the government to support councils in these targets, best-practice approaches to rapid decarbonisation will be identified and over the coming years implemented.

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