Climate Change Plans in South West England

The plans for six areas are discussed:

Cornwall’s Climate Change Plan [1]; Bristol’s Mayor’s Climate Emergency Action Plan 2019 [2] and the related One City Plan [3] and Corporate Strategy 2018 – 2023 [4]; the Plymouth Climate Emergency Action Plan 2019 [5]; Towards a Carbon Neutral Exeter [6] and the related Energy Independence 2025 Roadmap [7]; Stroud District Renewable Energy Resources Assessment [8]; and Wedmore energy study [9].

The approximate populations of the areas are: Cornwall 545,000; Bristol, 463,000; Plymouth, 263,000; Exeter, 130,000 (Greater Exeter 481,000); Stroud, 117,000 ;  and Wedmore, 3,300.

The main topics identified in the plans are:

Global temperature increase – the target figure adopted by the plan; Dates set for carbon neutrality; Methodology; Assessment of historical and current emissions; Partner organisations and their relationships; Costing; Community engagement; Specific areas of intended action (e.g., building standards, retrofit, sustainable travel, renewable energy); and Action by Government required to implement the plan.

Global temperature increase

All but one of the plans refer to the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming [10] and the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and four of them directly commit to achieving it. The Wedmore report is primarily concerned with quantifying existing resources and deciding how to build on them.

Dates set for carbon neutrality

All the plans refer to 2030 as a target date, though there is some variation in what is to be achieved: Bristol commits to carbon neutrality in 2030, whereas Plymouth aims to be as close as possible to zero greenhouse gas emission by that date, and to find ways to offset any remainder. Distinctions are made between targets for the whole area and those which apply to estates under direct council control: Bristol aims to make the city council’s own estate carbon neutral by 2025; Exeter sets its corresponding date to 2022.


Cornwall Council commissioned the University of Exeter to provide the initial evidence base to inform its climate plan and indicate the sectors on which it should focus its efforts. This led to an updated Cornwall Greenhouse Gas Inventory using the World Resources Institute’s Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Inventories (GPC). The inventory includes methane, nitrous oxide and F-gas as well as carbon dioxide. Exeter University will further analyse what a carbon neutral future for Cornwall could look like, with three different timescales using the UK Committee on Climate Change’s Net-Zero UK standard scenario.  The three approaches are: a ‘do-nothing’ counterfactual scenario illustrating a business-as-usual approach; carbon neutral by 2030, showing the changes needed to achieve this target; and carbon neutral by 2050.

Bristol: The Mayor’s Climate Emergency Action Plan 2019 makes little direct reference to methodology, but states that the Bristol universities set out to establish the Bristol Advisory Committee on Climate Change to provide technical expertise to organisations in the city. The One City Plan notes that it did not start from scratch but began by looking at existing plans and strategies at local, regional, national and international level. The One City Plan is also about far more than climate change, making it difficult to state a concise methodology in this area. However, it presents a set of annual climate related targets for the years 2019-2050, and gives an outline of governance structure.

Plymouth City Council, like Cornwall Council, commissioned the Centre for Energy and Environment at Exeter University to provide different scenarios to support its 2030 net zero carbon target, and the University has also produced costing estimates.

Exeter City Council is a member of Exeter City Futures CIC, which commissioned reports examining options and roadmaps for a sustainable future. Energy Independence 2025, like Cornwall’s Climate Change Plan, outlines three possible scenarios: Business-As-Usual, which projects 2025 energy consumption based on forecast growth rates; Maximum Technology, which demonstrates what is possible in the absence of current barriers to deployment; and Maximum Deployment which forecasts a future based on a more realistic deployment of available technology.

Stroud’s report was prepared for the District Council by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Land Use Consultants, who followed an area-based methodology to assess the potential of energy resources: analysis involving industry-standard assumptions and calculations and/or GIS mapping established the technical potential for each type of renewable energy resource, then technical, economic, and planning constraints were considered to explore the deployable potential. The study involved a stakeholder workshop, and discussions covering community energy initiatives and renewable energy development.

Wedmore’s study was prepared for a community group by a consultant, and was grant funded. It aimed to establish baseline figures for carbon emission, energy consumption and generation, and to examine options for meeting demand for power, heat and transport without adding to emissions. Much of the data in the report is based on information from regional or national statistics, using BEIS data sets for consumption by postcode area and by Lower Super Output Area, and The Housing Need Assessment (2018) for the number of households and population.

Assessment of historical and current emissions:

The six plans present emissions and energy use data in different ways, and with different levels of detail.

Cornwall presents a carbon footprint for 2016 of c. 4MtCO2e, showing the following sectors: commercial and industrial 23%, road transport 22%, residential 21%, agriculture 19%, industrial processes and waste 6% each, aviation 1.5%, marine navigation and rail transport 0.75% each.

Bristol: the two reports cited give little current data, but state that transport is responsible for 25% of Bristol’s current carbon emissions; the One City Plan emphasises that it is a work in progress.

Plymouth: present consumption is given as 910 GWh p.a. Transport accounts for 28% of the city’s total GHG emissions, waste for 10%, and the City Council for approximately 1%.

Exeter: present consumption for Greater Exeter is stated as 10TWh p.a. (costing £0.9bn p.a.)

Stroud: 2017 consumption across the industrial/commercial, domestic and transport sectors for 2017 was estimated at c. 3.1TWh. This corresponds to a total CO2 emissions inventory of 785,917 tCO2, of which 539,351 tCO2 are considered within the scope of local authorities, including all the domestic and industrial emissions, and 35% of transport emissions, but excluding large industrial sites, railways, motorways and land-use.           

Wedmore: Average daily energy consumption is estimated at about 93kWh per household (33% transport, 53% heat and 14% power), with average daily CO2 emissions per household of 22kg (32% transport, 50% heat and 18% power).

Partner organisations and their relationships

Cornwall Council and Plymouth Council have commissioned the University of Exeter as already mentioned, and the University also works with Exeter Council.

Cornwall Council works or expects to work with the Cornwall Association of Local Councils, other Local Authorities in the South West, the Universities of Falmouth and of Plymouth, Cornwall College and Truro and Penwith College, Cornwall AgriFood Council, and the NFU.

Bristol City Council works with the University of Bristol and with the University of the West of England, and with a wide range of partners including Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Energy, Bristol Green Capital, Bristol Waste, Bristol Water, North Bristol NHS Trust and Wessex Water.

Plymouth is working with Plymouth Energy Community, the NHS and Plymouth Marjon University, and with Devon Net-Zero Task Force to ensure that actions taken within the city are integrated into a wider strategy across Devon.

Exeter City Council is a member of Exeter City Futures CIC, and has links to Oxygen House investment group, and the Global City Futures consultancy. It also has contact with the Met Office, The University of Plymouth, Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Rothamsted Research, Devon County Council, Exeter College, and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS.


Cornwall Council quotes figures from European Regional Development Funding for low carbon projects, but does not estimate overall costs for the county.

Bristol promises a £1bn programme of investment in cleaner, greener energy.

Plymouth estimates that reaching carbon neutrality by 2030 would cost 5.8% of the city’s GDP, approximately £442m, or £1,625 per household.

Exeter cites the energy consumption patterns which lose the region over £900m each year, with about £467m due to transport, £236m to the domestic sector, and £211m to the industrial and commercial sectors. It identifies broad areas of potential saving, such as £129m per year through adoption of Passivhaus standards, but many other costs and savings are discussed in terms of national policy or of very detailed measures.

Stroud and Wedmore have not made overall cost estimations.

Community engagement

Cornwall recognises that stakeholder and community engagement will be integral to success of the Action Plan and intends to utilise existing platforms and networks, such as its residents’ panel, community network panels, and the youth parliament to ensure that solutions come from all sections of society. It intends to promote community owned renewable energy projects.

Bristol commits to work with the whole community in responding to the climate emergency and plans monthly drop-ins for the community to discuss issues.

Plymouth’s action plan for engagement and responsibility involves a programme of “climate conversations” to bring together key stakeholders from across Plymouth to review strategic options for delivering net zero by 2030.  It will also work to bring forward new community owned solar farms, and renewable energy installations.

Exeter’s City Futures Community Interest Company (ECF CIC), brings together the organisations listed above under ‘Partner organisations and their relationships’.

Stroud intends to facilitate community and business partnerships with local supply chains and installers, but its focus on community is mainly in terms of building on existing links to community energy groups; Ecotricity, an energy company based within Stroud; and the wider community in relation to wind power development.

Wedmore’s plan was prepared for a community group, Green Wedmore, with existing community engagement.

Specific areas of intended action

Sustainable travel has a place in each plan. Plymouth estimates that transport accounts for 28% of its emissions, and notes the need for behavioural change, charging infrastructure for EVs, the role of electric car clubs and electric bikes and the possible use of bio-methane or hydrogen in heavy goods vehicles. Stroud notes the importance of encouraging and facilitating walking, cycling and public transport; encouraging home-based working (including the provision of high speed broadband); siting new development close to public transport hubs; and reducing the need to commute by providing affordable housing in appropriate locations. 

Action to reduce energy used in buildings has a prominent place, with Exeter planning a supply chain and policy environment to deliver net positive energy buildings; a program to deliver comprehensive domestic retrofit; innovative methods of reducing domestic energy use; and development of energy saving methods for commercial buildings and industrial processes. Plymouth reports that some two-thirds of its 120,000 homes are currently rated at energy performance band D or below, and prioritizes insulation and improved energy efficiency. Stroud intends to use heat mapping with existing datasets to identify areas which may be suitable for district heating, and Wedmore stresses energy efficiency measures such as roof, floor and wall insulation, draught-proofing, and efficient appliances.

Waste has an important place in the Plymouth plan, with greenhouse gas emissions from waste estimated at 118,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Waste is recognised as a resource and the council supports a circular economy to keep resources in use for as long as possible and recover value at the end of life.  Proposals include a campaign to reduce waste; a review of legacy and recent landfill sites, of opportunities for methane capture and energy production, and for recycling in the UK where possible.

Renewable energy is a common concern with frequent mention of rooftop solar PV, as well as a proposal to use a GIS based method of identifying suitable sites; ground mounted solar PV is discussed in three plans, as is onshore wind (subject to revised planning regulations).  Two plans consider geothermal energy, several mention biofuel such as Miscanthus or forest waste, and marine technology is seen as a possibility in one. District heating is considered by Bristol and Stroud.

Exeter’s plan refers to grid constraint, and suggests possible solutions such as capacity amnesties, the socialisation of upgrade costs and smart grid infrastructure.

Opportunities for creating low carbon jobs and businesses in areas such as house retrofit, installing new renewable energy, and sustainable travel are recognised by the county plan and by the three cities, particularly Bristol.

Action by Government considered necessary to implement the plan.

All the plans recognise that their aims cannot be realised without support from government, and there are calls for resources, funding, subsidies, clarification of policy, and changes to taxation and regulations. Cornwall Council makes the most detailed statement, asking Government to set explicit decarbonisation objectives for Ofgem,  announce a commitment for the UK to reach at least 117 GW installed renewable electricity generation capacity by 2030, and bring forward legislation in the form of wider carbon taxation to incentivise behaviour change based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. It calls for a Green New Deal for the UK, a strategic grid reinforcement programme, a whole house retrofit programme supported by a retrofit skills development and apprenticeship scheme, reinstatement of Zero Carbon Homes for new homes through legislation, a zero carbon energy off-gas grid pilot, an interest free loans programme for homeowners to enable them to install renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures, and legislation for revised financial or progressive tax incentives which support the take-up of deep retrofit.

Readers of the above plans may feel that some topics have not been adequately addressed; for example nuclear power is discussed only in Energy Independence 2025 [7], and the actual trajectory of carbon reduction is mentioned only in One City Plan [3], where an exponential rather than linear decrease is implied. A perspective on carbon reduction in the South West is provided in Manchester Carbon Budget Reports [11], and a global view of carbon reduction measures is given Project Drawdown [12].


[1] Climate Change Plan: creating the conditions for change through direct action and a new form of place-based leadership for Cornwall to become net carbon neutral                                                             Cornwall Council    July 2019

Available at

[2] Mayor’s Climate Emergency Action Plan 2019              Bristol City Council

Available at

[3] One City Plan                                                                            Bristol City Council

Available at

[4] Corporate Strategy 2018 – 2023                                       Bristol City Council

Available at

[5] Plymouth Climate Emergency Action Plan 2019

Moving Towards Carbon Neutrality by 2030                                    Plymouth City Council

Available at

[6] Towards a Carbon Neutral Exeter: Recommendations for a carbon-neutral  Exeter by 2030                                                                           Exeter City Futures 2019

Available at

[7] Energy Independence 2025 Roadmap to city-scale Energy Independence

A report for Exeter City Futures                         City Science Corporation Ltd 2017

Available at

[8] Stroud District Renewable Energy Resources Assessment 

A report by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Land Use Consultants for Stroud District Council 

Version: Final 1.2   Date of issue:  21st November 2019  

Available at    

[9] Wedmore energy study                                Final report 5th October 2019

Mark Letcher Consulting

Available at    

[10] IPCC sr15

Available at

[11]  Manchester Carbon Budget Reports

[12]Project Drawdown


Popular posts from this blog

Subjectivity and Climate Change

Carbon Neutral Planning for Local Government