How the response to COVID-19 is helping to tackle the climate emergency

Lessons being learnt in Oxfordshire during the COVID-19 pandemic should be used to help the county achieve its goals for tackling the climate emergency.

That’s the message from Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth as the authority’s Cabinet approved its Climate Action Framework on Tuesday, October 13.

The document sets out the county council’s plans to make itself a carbon neutral organisation by 2030, and to enable Oxfordshire as a whole to become zero-carbon by 2050. It acknowledges that the council and the county have adapted to cope with coronavirus, and that some of these adaptations have helped reduce carbon emissions.

Cllr Hudspeth said: “The ‘decade of action’ required on climate change has begun with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed our world almost overnight.

“We are experiencing a moment in time at which our pace of learning and appetite for change is rapid. We have adopted new skills and adapted how we live and work.

“It is this ingenuity that we will draw upon as we address the climate emergency. We will ‘build back better’ for a zero-carbon, resilient economy, strong communities and a healthy place to live.”

One of the priorities for the council’s Climate Action working group is to retrofit the county’s streetlighting with highly efficient, environmentally friendly LED (light-emitting diode) streetlights.

Scheduled to take four years to complete, the county council is investing £38m over this period – but is expecting it to lead to savings of more than £75m over the next 20 years. As well as the retrofitting, the £38m will also fund the replacement of 23,000 lighting columns which are nearing the end of their lives.

The move will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being produced by 70%. Currently, the county’s street lights account for around 7,596 tonnes of CO2 every year – representing nearly 35% of the council’s total emissions.

Oxfordshire County Council, which is working jointly with Cherwell District Council, declared a climate emergency in April 2019. It followed this up with a public commitment in November 2019 to prioritise action on climate change across the council’s decision-making, services and activities.

The Climate Action Framework will affect all aspects of council policy and responsibility, including:

  • Replacing its fleet with electric vehicles (EVs) and creating more EV charging points
  • Generating its own clean power and buying from green energy sources
  • Seeing what services can be delivered digitally
  • Promoting active travel such as walking and cycling
  • Reducing its demand for energy
  • Setting sustainability standards for its suppliers
  • Helping schools meet their low-carbon targets
  • Maximising waste reduction and recycling.

Cllr Yvonne Constance, Cabinet member for Environment, said: “Oxfordshire has a unique foundation from which to build a zero-carbon future, thanks to our proactive and engaged communities, charities and voluntary sectors; world-class academia; a proactive public sector; and a track record of collaboration on transport and energy challenges.

“The future we are aiming for will not be based on business-as-usual decision-making. Zero carbon is integral to our vision for a thriving county.

“Zero-carbon jobs and future-proofed infrastructure will create a resilient economy and help us achieve liveable, healthy communities.”

To read the Climate Action Framework in full go to https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/sites/default/files/file/about-council/OCC_Climate_Action_Framework2020.pdf