Despite the recent heatwave, Devon County Council is on course to beat climate change targets

Devon is set to swelter under a heatwave this week. Picture: Getty Images

Devon was bathed in sunshine during the recent heatwave - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

John Hart leader of Devon County Council.

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council - Credit: Devon County Council

The recent mini-heatwave and the national report identifying parts of the Devon coastline as most at risk of erosion have again put climate change in the spotlight.

But I can report that at Devon County Council we are ahead of our target to be net-zero carbon by 2030.

We were one of the first authorities to declare a climate emergency and we also pledged to be net-zero by 2030 at the latest rather than the 2050 target others have adopted.

Our baseline for comparison has been how much carbon we were emitting in 2013 and earlier this month my Cabinet considered a detailed report demonstrating that our emissions have fallen by 53 per cent since then.

That means that we are well ahead of our target to cut carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 with the remaining 30 per cent being achieved through offset projects such as creating new forests and other tree planting.

Personally it is my hope that we will have cut our emissions by more than that over the next seven and a half years and we will have a smaller percentage being achieved through offsetting.

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I want to thank everyone who has helped achieve this figure but we do not have any grounds for complacency and we need to re-double our efforts to cut carbon emissions.

We can't do too much about emissions in other parts of the country and indeed in other parts of the world. But I hope that the county council can be seen as community leaders across Devon and that our efforts will encourage other public bodies, businesses, communities and individuals to play their part.

So, how have we done it? I won't produce an endless list here but some of the examples are the retro-fitting of some of our buildings with heat pumps and the replacement of older boilers with condensing models.

The street lights on our roads were a big source of emissions and we're converting all 79,000 units to LED lights. So far we've done over 61,000 and when the project's complete it will reduce carbon emissions by three quarters. We're also installing solar panels on our buildings which obviously produce electricity and reduce emissions and we're introducing more electric vehicles to our fleet.

New technology reduces the need for staff travel. Obviously the restrictions we've all been under these last two years have required staff to hold far more online meetings - our business travel emissions were down by over 60 per cent. More people are returning to the office but, even as we move towards more normal working, , I think a lot of meetings will continue online.

In a large rural county like Devon that not only cuts emissions but saves a considerable amount of time that staff might have spent driving miles for face to face meetings and saves money on fuel.

Obviously face to face meetings will still happen. Our social workers still need to meet their clients in person on some occasions, for example. But I think we will all continue to use Teams more in the future. And many staff will adopt a hybrid-style of working with a couple of days a week in the office and the remainder working from home. That may well mean we need less office space which will further reduce our carbon emissions and mean staff will travel less. It’s a virtuous circle.

But whatever we do we have to be very mindful that rising temperatures will most affect those least able to adapt such as the elderly with physical conditions and the less affluent.