Authorities leading the field

Eastleigh: carbon-neutral by 2012
In March, the Hampshire borough of Eastleigh committed itself to becoming carbon-neutral in its own estate and services by cutting its carbon emissions and offsetting the remainder.

Eastleigh’s approach to offsetting is unusual. Instead of the usual practice of buying emissions reduction credits from projects in developing countries, it set up a fund to pay for emissions reductions in its own area by funding energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

The cost of carbon abated is likely to be higher but the approach gives more transparent emissions reductions, explained Beverley Draig, Eastleigh’s sustainability officer.

"We’ll be responsible for our own audit trail, and will be sure the emissions are genuine," she said.

Another advantage is that the local community will directly benefit from the projects, which should help build support for the approach and raise public awareness.

The carbon neutral commitment is only the latest in a long line of carbon cutting initiatives from the council, which has had a climate change strategy since 2003.

The strategy sets out 21 objectives ranging from reducing private car use to demanding that all major housing developments go beyond building regulations in terms of energy efficiency.

Eastleigh also actively encourages residents to install wind turbines and solar panels and refunds the fees for microgeneration planning applications.

In 2004, the council established a green energy fund to support local sustainable energy projects. The original £50,000 from the council has been supplemented by more than £150,000 of outside funding to pay for projects such as a combined heat and power plant at a leisure centre and a wind turbine in a local country park.

Political leadership at Richmond
Richmond-upon-Thames faces a paradox. It has an environmentally conscious population with nearly nine out of ten residents professing "concern" about climate change, but it also has the second-highest CO2 emissions per capita in London.

Last year, the new Liberal Democrat administration set about tackling the problem.

"When we were in opposition, we decided to put the environment at the heart of our policy," explained council leader Serge Lourie. "We fought the election on this."

One of its first actions was to sign up to the Nottingham declaration and begin drawing up a strategy to bring down emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. It set up a sustainability unit to put the strategy into action and established a £1 million climate change fund.

Richmond is focusing on four key areas: reducing emissions from its own estate; integrating climate change into the services it provides - planning and procurement for example; cutting emissions from schools and improving environmental education; and encouraging the wider community to take action.

The authority has signed up to the Carbon Trust’s low-carbon management programme to identify emissions reductions. It has also adopted the government’s sustainable schools framework and is providing extra funding and technical support to help schools.

Even though the council only has limited influence over public behaviour it has taken some brave steps to encourage its residents to cut emissions. As well as the usual awareness-raising exercises, the authority has linked the cost of parking permits to vehicle emissions, and it is looking into banning energy-intensive products like patio heaters from sale in the borough.

"Political leadership has been essential in driving the agenda," said Michael Doust, sustainability manager. "We have the commitment and the resources to carry out the work."

Shropshire’s energy challenge
Shropshire has an impressive track record on climate change and has been working on the issue for 16 years. The county council drew up its first climate change strategy in 2000 and soon after set a target to cut its own CO2 emissions by 40% on 1990 levels by 2010.

Being a predominantly rural authority, Shropshire has relatively high carbon emissions. There is a strong reliance on car transport and oil is widely used as a heating fuel.

Nevertheless, the authority is well on track to meet its target and has managed to cut emissions by 38% by focusing on energy use.

With the help of European funding, the authority established an independent agency to provide technical support. This gave expertise to identify energy saving opportunities and try out innovative approaches.

It has made strides in energy efficiency and at the same time supported low-carbon energy sources like biomass and solar. Ground source heat pumps are being used in schools and community buildings that are off the gas grid. Solar street lighting has been installed, an anaerobic waste digestion plant is up and running, and waste oils from school kitchens are being turned into biodiesel.

This expertise is now being put to use outside the council. Shropshire has set up a project to advise local businesses on cutting emissions.