Addressing climate change and nature recovery requires a behavioural shift but financial incentives to do so are limited, a Swansea Council meeting was told. The council has committed itself to becoming a “net zero” carbon-emitting authority in 2030, and wants the whole county to match this by 2050.
It would require everybody to think more about their actions and make changes. Net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions and offsetting those which cannot be cut, for example by installing solar panels or planting trees.
Swansea Council’s energy and transport emissions have reduced by more than 20% between 2018-19 and 2020-21, although reduced activity during the Covid pandemic may explain some of the fall. Members of the council’s climate change corporate delivery committee were told that councils encountered a lack of funding to implement climate change actions and a shortage of skills in delivering low-carbon transport and housing schemes. Lead officer Rachel Lewis said there were a lack of incentives and disincentives for councils and also the public at present.
Cllr Angela O’Connor said: “If it’s expensive and hard, people are not going to do it.” She said many people needed to educate themselves on this subject, and that she’d happily work with schools in her ward if required.
The committee heard a lot of work was being done by the council, and that 12 organisations had also signed up to the 2030 net zero target. “It’s a massive behavioural change project, really, and it’s a joy to work on,” said Ms Lewis.
Cabinet is to consider adopting a new climate change and nature recovery corporate objective next month, meaning it’ll underpin the council’s priorities and overall strategy. The authority has proposed installing more electric vehicle charging points and low-energy street lighting, building a solar farm at Tir John landfill site, Port Tennant, and planting thousands of trees, among other things.
Swansea emits around one million tonnes of carbon emissions per year from transport, industry, agriculture, and commercial, public sector and domestic energy. The figure for Cardiff is around 1.6 million tonnes. Woodland and grassland contribute net, or positive emissions, because they store carbon. The figures for Swansea, from 2019, are displayed in the graph below.
Where Swansea’s carbon emissions come from
Cllr Stuart Rice said he would like to see electric vehicle charging points “hard-wired” in new planning applications, more homes insulated, and a “brownfield-first” approach to siting new developments. He said addressing nature recovery meant “stop doing damage to it” first.
Cllr David Phillips wanted to know who in the council would ensure that its own targets were achieved, and also where the electricity would come from to power the increase in electric vehicles. Head of property services Jeff Bacon said governance arrangements were in place for council actions and their delivery, and that he would refer to the electric vehicle question to transport colleagues.
Cllr Phillips started to reply but was asked by committee chairwoman, Cllr Kelly Roberts, to raise a hand if he wanted to ask a question. “Raising hands, chairman, I’m not in school,” said Cllr Phillips. Cllr Roberts replied: “Don’t interrupt me then like a child.”
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A little later, Cllr Phillips said he was concerned about electric vehicle “virtue signalling”. He said people didn’t take into account the carbon emissions required to manufacture them and that poorer households with third, fourth and fifth-hand cars, let alone second-hand cars, could not afford them.
Cllr Roberts said his point was valuable. “Electric vehicles begin at around £30,000, so it’s a completely unreachable cost for a significant number of people in Swansea, let alone across the UK,” she said. But she said that didn’t mean the council should not strive to support people who were able to afford them.
Ms Lewis said car share clubs, better public transport and more cycling and walking routes were also being worked on. According to car website Parkers, an electric Fiat 500 currently starts at £22,995, a VW e-Up £23,555, a Peugeot e-208 £28,550, a Nissan Leaf £31,145, and a Kia e-Niro £32,845.
A scientific paper in 2020 which analysed thousands of other studies ranked the most effective actions a person could take to lower their carbon footprint.
The top seven actions, in order, were:
– Live without a petrol or diesel car
– Use an electric car
– Fly less
– Get your energy from renewable sources (many suppliers offer this)
– Use public transport
– Upgrade your home’s energy efficiency
– Switch to a vegan diet
The study was pulbished in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Other research has said moving your pensions and savings to providers which exclude environmentally-damaging investments also had a considerable impact.