Posted: 09.06.21 at 16:27 by The Editor
By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner.
Work to tackle the climate emergency has been slammed for “moving at a snail’s pace” in Bath and North East Somerset.
The council mapped out its carbon footprint after the emergency was declared in 2019 – but a major lag means government data from that year will still not be available before the next elections in 2023.
Scrutiny councillors said it was difficult to track progress or see what had actually been achieved.
Former cabinet member for transport Joanna Wright, a Liberal Democrat, said “political rhetoric” from her party’s administration about planting 100,000 trees by 2023 made the public think that “deals with the problem” and they can get on with their lives.
She claimed more than 40million trees, covering 61 per cent of Bath and North East Somerset, would need to be planted just to capture the carbon emissions from transport.
Corporate sustainability manager Jane Wildblood said it was “nonsense” to suggest that the council believed the answer to everything was planting trees, and it would consider various other ways of sequestering carbon, such as by working with farmers.
A 2019 report said 28 wind turbines, 116 football pitches worth of solar panels, mass tree planting and cutting car use by a quarter would be needed for the district to be carbon neutral by 2030.
It recommended retrofitting older houses to make them more energy efficient but said the £1billion bill could not possibly be met by local government.
Councillor Sarah Warren, the cabinet member for the climate emergency, said residents love planting trees as it makes them feel they have done something positive, but it was only one strand of the council’s work.
“It’s easy to plant a tree, whereas trying to create a whole industry around retrofitting houses is a much harder and more nebulous thing,” she said, and described the authority as “pioneering”.
Ms Wildblood said as long as it is focusing on its priority areas of buildings, transport and boosting the supply of renewable energy, it is on track.
“It’s incredibly difficult to actually give a detailed pathway between now and 2030 because so little is actually in the gift of the local authority to control,” she said.
She said in her report the council is only directly responsible for one per cent of the carbon emissions in the district but can influence a great deal more through policies on planning, procurement and commissioning.
She said the council’s initial reporting had caused a misunderstanding: “We never went out there with the intention of being able to measure absolutely everything – those [actions set out in 2019] were the types of action you would need to do and the scale of action that you would need to take. It wasn’t a plan saying ‘you’ve got to do this by this date’.”
But Cllr Grant Johnson was among the councillors saying progress was too slow.
“It is very disappointing how far we’ve got. In a couple of years we haven’t done anything. I can’t think of many things we’ve actually really achieved,” he said.
“We’re moving at a snail’s pace and it’s an emergency. Where is the urgency?”
Ms Wildblood replied: “We had a pandemic in the middle of it all and it did sort of throw all our plans up into the air for a while but things are getting back on track now.
“I would just ask for patience, really. We’re trying to produce something that that enables you to see more clearly what we’re doing and that measures it in a sensible way
“We’ll bring that back to you soon as we can.”