Surrey Climate Change Strategy - Green response

18 May 2020

Response to the Surrey Climate Change Strategy from Surrey Green Party

Cllr Jonathan Essex, May 2020


The Surrey Climate Change Strategy[1] is based on a clear overall framework that covers the relevant sectors[2]. It is driven from a baseline produced by a team at Leeds University, based on publicly available data.[3] The Council has an aspiration of seeking wider endorsements to create a wider partnership for climate action in Surrey. And that process could link to a stronger set of commitments within Surrey. The Strategy also has a set of asks for national government.


The Leeds University researchers found that based on its population, if Surrey is to take its fair share of global action to limit warming to 1.5°C (which is essential to avoid dangerous[4] climate change) it would have a maximum carbon emissions budget of 56 million tonnes[5] remaining in total. It proposes that this forms the basis of a climate emergency plan.


The baseline study also notes that Surrey is currently emitting carbon emissions through direct emissions within the county at a rate of 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions each year (MtCO2e/year). This means that if no further action is taken to reduce emissions, Surrey would use up its fair carbon budget in just over nine years.


I asked at a councillor seminar about how much this would increase if all the emissions associated with goods and services consumed in Surrey were included. That would include the embedded emissions in the materials we import into Surrey for what we build and buy, and travel by Surrey residents outside the county, including the significant number of flights that Surrey residents make. Professor Andy Gouldson, who led the study, said this would double Surrey’s emissions. This would increase our current annual emissions figure to 12 MtCO2e/year.


If we include emissions from our consumption and travel, we would use up our fair global carbon budget in less than four years.


I suggest five key areas where the strategy could be improved to deliver the rapid decarbonisation needed. These are set out in the following five points:


  1. Ensure the actions add up to meet or exceed the targets in the plan.
  2. Plan for zero carbon transport
  3. Retrofit all homes, and other buildings
  4. Ensure all public sector organisations, and then all private sector bodies, match or exceed Surrey County Council’s plan to reduce its organisational emissions to zero by 2030.
  5. Change the direction of development and the economy to align with the climate emergency.


 1.     Ensure the actions add up to meet or exceed the targets in the plan


The plan has a set of targets to stay within the 56 million tonnes carbon budget, which is twice what it should be if we consider the impacts of our consumption.


But the sector targets do not add up to the overall targets, and the actions within the sectors don’t yet add up to the sector targets.


So, for example, the interim target is for an 80% reduction on 2019 emissions by 2035. Yet the target for transport is a 60% reduction by 2035. Similarly, the sector target for housing is 66% reduction by 2035.


The strategy does not yet include sufficient actions to deliver against the targets. It currently omits what the Leeds University baseline study describes as innovative or stretch options in their proposals of how the targets could be met. These innovative or stretch options are measures, which are not widely adopted across the UK and will therefore require support from the national government – in the form of regulation or finance – to make them happen.

 2.     Plan for zero carbon transport


Transport accounts for 46% of Surrey’s direct emissions. Surrey County Council is the lead authority for transport planning and delivery. We need to challenge the predominance of the car and the underlying car-first culture that make it hard to deliver far reaching changes to our transport system. The extent to which we reduce demand for car travel through home working and supporting walking and cycling, and how much we shift to public transport, will affect the extent we need to electrify, provide electric charging points and update the national grid across Surrey to decarbonise the remaining road vehicles. There is an opportunity to build on the collective Covid-19 responses and the government’s recent allocation of money to scale up walking and cycling to enable better social distancing[6]  to make temporary changes permanent.

 3.     Retrofit all homes, and other buildings


There are no measures in the plan that aspire to a street-by-street energy makeover of our housing stock.  The five district and borough councils in Surrey with a 2030 climate emergency deadline will surely be pushing for a set of sensible policies to flesh out this section of the plan to decarbonise housing, majoring on a plan to retrofit all existing homes and other buildings too. We also need to go beyond the boroughs’ and districts’ current focus on new homes to retrofitting all that we have already. Not a small undertaking. The plan should highlight the scale of finance required – the first step to securing it.


 4.     Ensure all public sector, then private sector, organisations match or exceed Surrey County Council’s plan to reduce its organisational emissions to zero by 2030


It is very positive that Surrey County Council has committed to reduce its organisational emissions by 2030 (others have gone for 2025, but this still has some ambition). 


If that was matched or exceeded by every borough and district council in the county – some currently have less ambitious plans  – and all public sector bodies then we could encourage the private sector to match this commitment.  This could be a lever to push to get to near to Zero Carbon by 2030. Currently there is no plan to seek endorsement of the Surrey Climate Change Strategy from any bodies in the health sector or any schools.

 5.     Change the direction of development and the economy to align with the climate emergency


If we are going to deal with the climate emergency in Surrey, we need to change the direction of the local and national economy. The carbon impact of all planning and investment plans (whether by the public or private sector) should be measured and required within Surrey’s carbon budget.  The climate impacts of any proposal coming to the Council should be evaluated, alongside consideration of the financial costs and equality impacts – this must include the carbon embedded in construction, as well as that anticipated for subsequent operation and maintenance. Thus, all new development must sit within the carbon budget and the carbon invested in delivering the plan will also be measured and included.


This plan is tied to the national climate reduction strategy for the UK, because it shares the government’s zero carbon by 2050 target. It is worth reflecting where the UK government is. It currently has an updated energy and emissions projection published every year. The last one published in April 2019[7] (presumably this year’s is delayed due to the Covid-19 crisis) said that for the 5th carbon budget period, from 2028 to 2032, there is currently a shortfall in emissions cuts of around 196 MtCO2e. And this could be as low as 167 MtCO2e or as high as 353 MtCO2e. So basically the UK is not even on track to meet its 2050 carbon plan, let alone a more ambitious date and carbon budget that is aligned to the climate emergency. So if Surrey aligns itself to the UK’s current plans and level of ambition we will miss our Surrey budget because the UK plans are not ambitious enough. (As well as needing to act locally too). In order for Surrey to respond adequately to the climate emergency, it is vital that the UK also does so.


We need to see the creation of climate jobs as the way forward. So instead of aviation, oil and gas production, infrastructure and house building to drive growth we should look to the higher economic multipliers associated with green job creation. This is an opportunity to unlock the potential to create ‘climate jobs’[8]as we address unemployment due to staff reductions in high carbon sectors.


We need to link this to the creation of affordable homes and rebalancing and stabilising the economy across the UK[9].


If we want a climate emergency plan that works for Surrey, it needs to be part of a climate emergency economy for the UK[10].

[1] See Note there are later papers that change the baseline reference from 2005 to 2019.

[2] These sectors are: Surrey County Council’s own (organisational) emissions; transport and air quality; energy generation; housing and planning; buildings and infrastructure; waste resources and circular economy; land use and food systems; industry and green economy; and adaptation.

[3] Surrey Carbon Roadmap by Leeds University – includes as Annex 2 to Annex 1 of the cabinet report, from page 168

[4] IPCC (October 2018) IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C.

[5] See p10 of Surrey’s Climate Change Strategy (para 58 of cabinet report).

[6] Department for Transport (9 May 2020) £2 billion package to create a new era for cycling and walking.

[7] BEIS (11 Apr 2019 – Projections of greenhouse gas emissions and energy demand from 2018 to 2035 . “For the fifth carbon budget (2028 to 2032), the UK’s emissions are currently projected to be greater than the cap set by the budget. We will continue with our ambitious implementation of the policies and proposals set out in the Clean Growth Strategy to address the gap. In EEP 2017 the reference case shortfall was 196 MtCO2e: this has increased to 245 MtCO2e. Taking account of the uncertainty around the projections, this shortfall could be as low as 176 MtCO2e or as high as 353 MtCO2e.

[10] Essex (May 2019 – forthcoming) What would a UK Climate Emergency Plan that faces up to climate reality look like. Published at 

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