As pupils protest about climate change, Oxfordshire County Council works on action plan to go carbon neutral

Oxfordshire County Council notes that young people are pushing for urgent climate action and has confirmed its commitment to reducing its own ‘carbon footprint’ to zero by 2030. Schoolchildren are leading demonstrations in Oxford and Henley tomorrow (20 September) to raise awareness of climate change.

The council started a long-term programme five years ago to cut carbon emissions but Councillor Yvonne Constance, cabinet member for the environment, accepts that young people have challenged organisations such as the county council to move faster.

Since the county council motion in April 2019 acknowledging the climate emergency, the council has been working on a new action plan to accelerate the climate action programme to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The council has already delivered an average 6% per year reduction in carbon emissions since 2011 – double its target - but is determined to do more. Oxfordshire County Council is delivering a series of ‘green’ initiatives, including helping install more solar panels on schools.

Solar Schools is a partnership between the council and not-for-profit organisation Low Carbon Hub, funded by resident shareholders who make an ethical investment to fund solar panels for a small annual return. The 20 Oxfordshire County Council maintained Solar Schools generate electricity to the equivalent needed to power 150 households, saving over 260 tonnes of carbon per year.

Councillor Constance said: “We have set ourselves ambitious but achievable targets. We are determined to make a big stride in the right direction. Since school students are at the forefront of this campaign, it is right that we are working with schools to help them reduce their emissions. To meet our target by 2030, we will need to work with a much wider range of partners across Oxfordshire.”

Project LEO – local energy Oxfordshire – is one example of partnership working, with the county council joining a consortium led by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, together with the universities and Oxford city council to develop a localised approach to sustainable energy generation and use.

As part of its ‘big switch’, the council is committed to replacing street lights with low energy lighting over the next four years. This will reduce Oxfordshire’s greenhouse emissions from streetlighting by 70%.

The investment will also include a communications system between streetlights, allowing dimming of groups of lights when they’re not needed.

The council supports a 65-strong network of Community Action Groups (CAG) at the forefront of community-led climate change action. They organise events and projects on issues including waste, transport, food, energy, biodiversity and social justice.

Groups are working to establish community fridges to reduce food waste and share surplus. They run workshops, teaching residents how to repair items, keeping products in use for longer. Working with local businesses, they help them reduce their impact on the environment and set up refill stations for water and detergents to reduce waste from single use plastics.

Councillor Constance added:

“Today’s schoolchildren will inherit what we leave behind. It would be unforgiveable if that’s a polluted planet, damaged by global warming and rising sea levels. I am impressed by the determination and passion of these young people.

“Oxfordshire County Council is proud to be at the forefront of many ‘green’ initiatives, from the 20 Solar Schools to better waste management, and working in partnership with residents and volunteers as a thriving community. But we’re not complacent, and we recognise the challenge everyone faces to reduce waste, and prevent global temperatures rising.

“We will do more, because we want our children, and our children’s children to have a bright, green future.”