Economy & Infrastructure Committee homologate report on actions to combat climate change 

Members of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee today (2 December 2021) homologated Highland Council’s annual report to the Scottish Government on its actions to combat climate change.

The report, agreed by the E&I Committee, presented the local authority’s mandatory report under the Public Bodies Climate Change Duties, as required under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

The Act requires that a public body must, in exercising its functions, act:

  • in the way best calculated to contribute to delivery of the Act’s emissions reduction targets
  • in the way best calculated to deliver any statutory adaptation programme; and
  • in a way that it considers most sustainable.

Today’s report provides an update to the Scottish Government on how The Highland Council is performing in respect of its duties and was submitted ahead of the report deadline of 30 November 2021. See report here.

The Highland Council declared a climate and ecological emergency on 9 May 2019 in recognition of the serious and accelerating changes to the world caused by climate change.

Over the course of 2020/21, the Council’s total carbon footprint fell by 8,218 tonnes CO2e compared to 2019/20, a year-on-year reduction of 20.2%. This fall can, to a significant extent, be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated reduction in emissions arising from use of Council offices and schools as well as business travel.

However, for the first time, an emissions figure has been included to take account of additional emissions arising because of energy used by staff when working from home. Various projects, as well as a reduction in the emissions associated with consumption of electricity, also played a key role in the overall reduction, and these are detailed throughout the report.

To calculate the Council’s total carbon footprint each year, units such as miles, kWh, tonnes of waste or litres of fuel are converted into CO2 equivalents (CO2e) by using specific conversion factors taken from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s official greenhouse gas company database. These conversion factors are updated annually and consider changes to behaviours and technologies relating to renewables, energy efficiency, vehicle types and fuel economy. For example, the emissions conversion factor for electricity fell from 0.277kgCO2e/kWh in 2019/20 to 0.253kgCO2e/kWh in 2020/21 – a drop of 8.7%. This means that the same level of electricity consumption in 2020/21 would emit 8.7% less CO2e than in 2019/20.

This reduction in the carbon footprint of electricity has been achieved through the shift nationally towards cleaner electricity, via the wide-scale installation of renewables such as wind and solar, and the removal of some fossil fuel generation from the overall energy mix.

Electricity consumption (including street lighting) accounts for around 42% of the Council’s total carbon footprint; therefore, the Council’s overall emissions have been significantly reduced thanks to the decarbonisation of the electricity sector, as well as through an overall reduction in consumption across the organisation.

Chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee and Chair of the Climate Change Working Group, Cllr Trish Robertson, said: “Whilst it is the case that a significant proportion of the Council’s reduction in emissions can be attributed to the greening of the electricity sector, several internal projects and initiatives have also significantly contributed to this.”

These include the following:

  • the ongoing replacement of sodium streetlights with LEDs. This has reduced the energy consumption from our streetlighting estate from 18.3MWh in 2011/12 to 11.2MWh in 2020/21;
  • the widescale replacement of oil-fired boilers with renewable energy heating systems, which has reduced the carbon footprint from oil consumption from 11,219tCO2e in 2011/12 to 4,391tCO2e in 2019/20 – a 61% reduction;
  • Solar PV deployment – through the Salix recycling fund, 2MW of solar PV panels have been installed across the Council’s estate, reducing our annual reliance on grid supplied electricity by around 1.3m kWh, thus reducing our corporate carbon footprint whilst also removing some of the risk associated with increasing electricity costs.

Cllr Robertson added: “However, it is recognised that the Council’s electricity consumption remains its biggest single source of carbon emissions and the area which requires most work if the organisation is to achieve net zero emissions in the future.

“Given that the cost of electricity continues to increase year on year, it is critical that the Council finds ways to either reduce its overall consumption of electricity, or to generate much more of its own renewable electricity; we do recognise that this is limited to a fairly significant extent because of grid capacity issues across much of the region, so we will need to develop innovative solutions and work closer with partners if net zero is to be achieved.”

2 Dec 2021