Falkirk Council want to turn district green in next decade

Falkirk councillors have pledged to tackle climate change by getting the local authority’s emissions to net-zero by 2030 – 15 years earlier than the Scottish government target.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 2:00 pm

It will mean they have to come up with innovative solutions: perhaps using hydrogen to power bin lorries, encouraging electric taxis and asking people to work from home.

Other options include meatless days in schools, nurseries and care home.

But these sit alongside projects that have, over recent years, been steadily making the council’s buildings and vehicles less dependent on fossil fuels.

A pilot project is already underway to look at how council-owned buildings in Falkirk and Grangemouth can be adapted.

Falkirk Council’s executive recently pledged to commit to the new targets and agreed to form a working group to oversee the changes, with councillors from every party and officers to advise them.

It will also include high school pupils to represent the young people who will undoubtedly be most affected and less afraid to embrace change.

Members agreed the urgency of the problem meant that every department of the council would have to act should start to see it as a priority.

Councillor Paul Garner, the SNP’s environment spokesperson, said: “Yes, our target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 is ambitious but achievable.

“Climate impacts are already being witnessed and indeed experienced across the planet as we are all witnessing in the catastrophic events in Australia.

“We’re facing extreme weather events on a more regular basis, catastrophic loss of wildlife and a crisis over future access to freshwater and food.

“The worrying acceleration of climate change and its impacts mean we need to act and we need to act now, the time for talking is over.”

Mr Garner said: “We want and aspire to Falkirk Council leading the way for other local authorities to follow.”

In September last year, Holyrood declared a climate emergency and brought in new laws that forced councils and other bodies to reach net-zero emissions by 2045.

The council declared its own climate emergency and asked for a report into what exactly would be needed to reach their net-zero target by 2030. When the report was presented to them this week, they were left in little doubt about the scale of the challenge facing them.

In the next ten years, the council will have to reduce business mileage by 90 per cent – and cut electricity use by more than half.

It must also reduce its use of gas in buildings by 86.5 per cent; electricity in buildings by 61.5 per cent; vehicle fuel by 80 per cent and waste by 70 per cent.

The executive also heard that making the council’s buildings and fleet energy efficient would not be cheap – with a cost estimated at £165 million.

Robin Millard, the council’s head of design, roads and transport, who presented the report to councillors, says the pilot project should mean they can get a more accurate picture of the costs involved. He is also hopeful that their ideas will be supported by the Scottish Government which is funding the pilot.

But while government and council will lead the way, people in the district will have a role to play too, as waste is by far the biggest contributor to CO2 for the council.

Mr Millard said: “A very significant drop in waste produced by the council but also from households must be achieved, as even recycling and composting produces emissions.”

While reducing waste full stop is the ideal, the next best thing is to increase recycling.

These will have increased thanks to the burgundy bin which stops paper and card being contaminated and means it can be recycled easily.

And by the end of 2021 they hope a new process will be in place that will allow  waste that cannot be recycled to be used to create energy, reducing landfill to almost zero.

Other ways people can make a difference are thinking about how they travel and choosing walking, cycling or public transport and the council has pledged to continue to improve its network of paths.

In the past year the Energy and Climate Change team has worked on 90 projects that will help to save 13,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next two years.

Switching to LED lighting, installing solar panels, replacing old heating systems and changing to recycled paper are among the small projects that are adding up to a big change. But even that is not enough.

To achieve net-zero emissions, they have to cut or compensate for the council’s entire carbon footprint – currently 48,800 tonnes of CO2 annually. And despite the good work done so far, there has been no real change in the emissions figures for the past two years.

In fact, the figures for 2018/19 were actually two per cent higher than the previous year because of changes to the way waste figures are reported.

The change to net zero it’s looking for can’t be achieved by cuts to emissions alone and it is also looking to expand its work to restore peatlands, which are a natural way to capture carbon. And it will be looking to plant nearly 40,000 more trees as part of its forest estate plan.

The meeting also heard that even if the council reaches its net zero emissions target, that was only part of the story. The council is responsible for two per cent of the emissions produced by the district as a whole.

Mr Millard said: “The council is home to some of the country’s highest emitting industries – it doesn’t have any direct control over emissions.

“We do have a role to explore partnership working with industry but it should be acknowledged the council does not have direct control over the ultimate success of these projects.”

The council leaders would like to see the expertise in Grangemouth’s chemical and oil industries being used to lead the way in developing new technologies that have the potential to either store or use carbon.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “It’s up to the public sector to lead in the change going forward.”