Chart showing the difference in cumulative emissions from Indigo Shire

Climate Emergency actions and target dates

Journalists and others who blithely repeat the myth that Climate Emergency Declarations (CEDs) are ‘just symbolic’ or ‘just words’ would do well to set up Google Alerts on ‘climate emergency’. I routinely see news about post-CED actions taken by local councils. These include bans on fossil fuel use in new buildings, insulation schemes for low-income homes, adoption of Climate Emergency Action Plans and carbon neutrality targets, allocation of budget for climate strategies, rewilding and tree planting, tackling waste, renewable electricity projects, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, climate events and drop-in centres, and so on. You can see plenty of examples on cedamia’s Council post-CED actions page.

Some examples receiving media coverage in just the last two days include a new repair cafe supported by Godalming Town Council in the UK and, from the Abingdon Town Council website, a Climate Conversations event. Incidentally, Item 1 of council’s ‘Key Objectives’ listed on the Abingdon website homepage is:

1. To respond effectively and speedily to the climate emergency.

Town and Parish councils are the lowest tier of local government in the UK and have very limited powers and responsibilities compared with Australian councils and mid-tier UK councils. My impression though is what they lack in scope they make up for with effective community engagement – possibly the main game given the need for everyone to tackle the Climate Emergency.

Emissions reductions achieved by Indigo Shire Council

Also just yesterday, and on a different scale and the other side of the globe (Australia), this Council Magazine article reported the outcomes at Indigo Shire Council resulting from the first year of their participation in the Victorian Electricity Collaboration (VECO) scheme. Under that scheme, 46 local councils collaborated to secure a power purchase agreement to buy all their electricity from two Victorian wind farms. 26 of those councils, including Indigo Shire, have declared a Climate Emergency and Indigo Shire has set a target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.

Participation in the VECO scheme has reduced Indigo Shire Council’s emissions from their own operations by 1,100 t CO2-e over the last year.

EMissions reductions achieved by Indigo Shire Council

The biggest reduction has been in their Scope 2 emissions, which includes the indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity.

To put that 2021/22 total emissions figure of 19 t CO2-e in perspective, the average per capita emissions per year in Australia in 2020 was 19.9 t CO2-e. Simply by buying 100% renewable electricity, Indigo Council’s own operations now have slightly less negative climate impact than the everyday living of one ‘average’ Australian. (The per capita figure for the UK is 7.3, and much of Europe has similar relatively low figures.)

What difference will achieving local emissions reduction target dates make?

It’s not completely clear from the Indigo Shire website whether its 2035 net-zero target applies to the entire community rather than just to council operations. Assuming it does, and if the target is achieved, this will result in the 16,490 people living in the Shire producing a total of 2,625,208 t CO2-e between 2020 and 2035 and net-zero after that. If instead the community only reaches net-zero by 2050 in line with the national Australian target, they would produce 5,086,341 t CO2-e by 2050.

Chart showing the difference in cumulative emissions from Indigo Shire

Of the 112 CED councils in Australia, 50 have announced clear community-wide carbon neutral or net-zero target dates ranging from 2025 to 2050.

Chart showing the GHG emissions to 2050 from council areas with earlier target dates
The emissions column shows t CO2-e between 2020 and 2050 assuming net-zero is reached by the targeted year

If all 39 of the councils with target dates earlier than 2050 achieve those goals, they will emit 702,033,215 t CO2-e before reaching net-zero. If instead those communities only reach net-zero by 2050 in line with the national Australian target, they would produce almost twice as much: 1,348,951,171 t CO2-e by 2050.

Chart showing cumulative emissions from CED council areas in Australia with earlier targets

Setting ‘as soon as possible’ as a carbon neutral or net-zero target date

Some local councils in the UK and USA have simply set ‘asap’ as their community-wide target. Is this a cop-out, or is it the only serious target to set?

The above charts show the significant benefit from setting target dates earlier than 2050, but climate impacts are already dangerous. Every tonne of emissions between now and reaching net-zero will only make things worse. Even achieving a 2025 or 2030 community-wide target will do that.

From that grim perspective, a seriously implemented ‘as soon as possible’ target, based on thinking that every tonne of avoided emissions will make future climate impacts a little less bad, seems like a logical choice.

It’s tricky! Setting ‘asap’ might leave a lot of wiggle room. Some people might think it means tomorrow and some might think anything earlier than 2050 is not possible. Setting a specific date makes a council’s ambition less ambiguous, but the down side is that it suggests the adopted date is sufficient to achieve a safe climate…and that we don’t necessarily need to act just yet.


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