Step change required in Council performance

'Not good enough - must try harder' is probably a fair assessment of Aberdeenshire Council's performance on meeting climate change targets.

All councils are going to have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions arising from their operations on an on-going basis as part of meeting national targets on climate change. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 requires a cut in emissions of 42 per cent by 2020 and at least 80 per cent by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels).

Aberdeenshire Council set itself bold targets on climate change in the wake of a report from its Scrutiny & Audit Committee in 2007.

However, the Council's own data show there was an increase of over 3 per cent in its carbon dioxide emissions during 2009/10. This followed a small drop of half a per cent in 2008/09.

Clearly, Aberdeenshire Council won't get anywhere close to its own or anyone else's targets if it carries on like this.

To achieve a cut in emissions in line with national targets, the Council needs to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by around 3 per cent per year. To meet its own targets, the reduction would need to be significantly more.

The figures for last year do have to be interpreted with caution. Some of the increase in emissions will have been caused by the hard winter. Some of the increase is attributable to more accurate data on fuel use - the figures in previous years probably underestimated this. It may be that the true increase in emissions was closer to 2 per cent. What is not in doubt is that there was a significant increase despite considerable effort being made to bring about a reduction.

The bulk of the Council's carbon dioxide emissions arise from the operation of its buildings and relate to energy used for heating, lighting and electrical equipment. To meet emissions reduction targets, the Council will have to both improve energy efficiency and switch to renewable sources of heat and power.

Cutting the Council's greenhouse gas emisssions by 3 per cent per year is undoubtedly possible. The measures required are not difficult to identify. But reducing emissions will require the Council to make changes and that will require commitment from councillors - something that has been sadly lacking amongst the Council's leadership.

Some councillors are arguing that at a time of budget cuts the Council cannot afford to prioritise reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Cutting emissions means cutting energy use - and that means a financial saving, a very good reason to prioritise energy saving measures and investment in renewable energy generation. In fact, taking steps to reduce fossil fuel use now will help the Council protect both public services and the environment for years to come.