Proposals to reduce Edinburgh’s carbon footprint by two thirds are estimated to cost around £8 billion to the entire city over the next 11 years – and be paid back in savings after 16 years – while the remaining carbon is set to be removed through embracing improved technology or by offsetting, which could include planting a new forest in the Capital.
Earlier this year, Edinburgh City Council pledged that the Capital will become carbon neutral by 2030 – and councillors will consider a “road map” to how this can be achieved when the policy and sustainability committee meets on Friday.
Council leader, Cllr Adam McVey, has committed to a “massive expansion in recycling facilities” across the Capital while all of the authority’s new buildings are set to be built to Passivhaus standard – using high insulation and a heat recovery system to require no central heating.
A new tourism strategy will be drawn up which will focus on a sustainable approach to the visitor economy of Edinburgh – while the provision of electric vehicle charging will be accelerated. Changes to planning guidance and the local development plan will mean developers could be subject to stricter sustainability and carbon rules, while some policies, particularity relating to listed buildings, could be relaxed. Cllr McVey insisted he doesn’t think this “will be a trade-off against our World Heritage status”. The authority will also ensure that cultural agencies who want to receive grant funding include a “carbon management plan”.
The council will write to all of its arms-length organisations which it owns, including the EICC, Edinburgh Leisure and Lothian Buses, requiring them to adopt the 2030 carbon neutral target.
Cllr McVey said: “This is by no means an exhaustive list but it’s the next step we are taking to drive our own operations and services down to net zero.
“Edinburgh is probably one of the best placed cities in the world for meeting our carbon obligations and securing our climate future. The business decisions stack up just as much as the environmental ones. This is an agenda everyone wants to be part of.
“The city understands our obligation as a wealthy capital city of a developed western European country. If we can’t do it, I don’t think anyone on the planet can.”
The council’s “short window improvement plan” outlines 37 immediate and short-term actions across all areas of the authority’s business to help achieve carbon neutrality – including transport, housing, energy, education, tourism, culture and planning.
But the public sector only accounts for around 12 per cent of Edinburgh’s carbon emissions – meaning the private sector in the city will have a big role to play.
Depute council leader Cllr Cammy Day said: “We don’t have all the answers which is why we are looking to the government and to universities to say what can we all do for the city? We need the whole city to play their part in it.
“We need to work with communities across the city. It can’t just be about people who live in the city centre and travel to work. It needs to be about people that live in Wester Hailes, Craigmillar and Pilton and what can they do to contribute. I think that will be really difficult but we need to be seen to engage with people who are not the normal people who care about green climate issues.”
A City of Edinburgh Climate Commission is also set to be established – co-sponsored by the council and the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI). The commission is set to be launched by the end of the year and will attempt to bring experts and partners together from across the Capital. Through the commission, a sustainability plan covering the entire city, will be drawn up by the end of 2020.
Cllr McVey added: “Technology will change in the next 10 years, innovation will be applied – the centre for carbon innovation will not stand still, they will talk about new and exciting projects that will be taken forward in the city.
“As the greenest city in the UK, there is still opportunity for some sort of offset measures within the city – so not just tokenistically buying off carbon emissions and claiming to be a net-zero city. But taking actions within our city boundary that genuinely absorbs the additional carbon that we are not able to deal with through reduction. Afforestation is mentioned in the report as one of these things.
“This is not what we are focusing on. We don’t want our starting point to be nobody can change, we can’t reduce anything so we’re going to deal with offset measures. There will be a big discussion about offset measures probably within the latter bit of this plan as we start reaching 2030 and we have a better idea of what we have achieved.”
The end of gas central heating?
As well as building all new council buildings to Passivhaus standard and tightening planning rules to encourage more sustainable building measures – the council hopes existing tenement heating systems can undergo an overhaul to contribute to the carbon neutral aim.
Council leader Cllr Adam McVey believes the 2030 pledge will inform residents’ choices when they need to purchase a new boiler.
He said: “Even though we have communal stairs across the city, most of them will have their own boilers.
“It’s about saying to those individuals who live in the city, when replacing their boiler when it comes to the end of its life, which a lot will be in the next 11 years, it’s about taking the right decisions to improve the efficiency of that.”
Cllr McVey admitted that the “holy grail” for the city would be to transform the way heating is provided, but acknowledged it may be a “tall order” in the next 11 years.
He added: “It would be about moving from an underground gas supply across the city to an underground heat supply.
“A renewable district heating model is what as a city we have to drive towards. If we did that, we would de-carbonise heat in the same way we have as a country in Scotland, de-carbonised electricity.”
‘Words will be meaningless without action’
Green politicians have welcomed the strategy by the council – but have called for divestment from fossil fuels by the Lothian Pension Fund.
Green Cllr Steve Burgess has also pointed to councillors set to sign off a progress report on the city deal on Thursday as another lack of action to tackle the climate emergency.
He said: “While the UK is gripped in Brexit chaos, the planet burns. There is nothing bigger or more urgent than the climate emergency which is why it is important that the council has set out a net zero carbon ambition by 2030. That is both a massive challenge and a huge opportunity to lead the way in new green jobs, healthier ways of living and warmer, drier homes.
“But the council has some work to do to translate fine words into real action. In the same week, the council will be signing off on progress on the City Region Deal, a £1.3 billion programme of investment which is basically business as usual, with hardly a mention of climate change. This is in spite of four of the six partner councils all declaring climate emergencies. What is more, the council oversees an £8 billion Lothian pension fund, which still includes investments in fossil fuels, despite increasing pressure on pension funds to look elsewhere.”
As part of the council’s action play to achieving zero carbon by 2030, the authority will consider divestment from hydrocarbons by the Lothian Pension Fund in partnership with the other employers in the scheme.