Carbon Reduction Targets and Local Councils: The Derby ExperIEnce

Silk Mill floodingCarbon Reduction Targets and Local Councils

 The Derby Experience


Peter Robinson

Derby Campaign against Climate Change

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Carbon Reduction Targets and Local Councils

Derby background

We started Derby Campaign against Climate Change in November 2005. About a dozen people came to our first very informal meeting, organised by myself[1] with a bit of help from friends. Although Derby is well served by environmental groups, we thought that we needed both a network and a group which focuses entirely upon climate change.

We did not want to be caught up in examples of the Blue Peter school of greenery – ‘gather up your old jam jar lids and rescue a glacier’ – accompanied by  the message that the planet can be saved if we all just try awfully hard. Green voluntarism, where we all become educated and do our bit, often creates an avoidance of political responsibility. It implies that the duty of dealing with climate change lies not with the state but with individuals, who in practice cannot even begin to make up for official failure to do anything serious. Great care has been taken not to have a false polarisation between the individual’s wish to do her or his bit against collective action, but our group rejected the idea that individuals alone can be the answer, or even an important part of the answer.  If climate change is as great a threat to human existence as politicians and scientists say, then this is an issue which cannot just be left to the experts and politicians. Nor can it left to individuals doing their ‘thing’. As David King, chief scientific officer to the government says, “what we need is the greatest collective response ever!” The question is “How?”

So from the beginning, we have been more than a group advocating individual actions over specific environmental issues. We support the National Campaign against Climate Change. But while the national marches and events are important, we have always agreed / known that we couldn’t just build a movement by organising around such events.

As we have met and organised in Derby we have kept on refining our main focus and have not sought to duplicate activity around specific campaigns, such as the closure of the local bus station or the erection of an enormous TV screen in the city centre. Of course we try to support all actions around issues where there are climate change implications.

How could we build a campaign? Should we focus upon major polluters? What should we focus upon? [2]


Targeting the Council

It seemed that the Council was the most obvious starting point[3]. There were environmentalists (somewhat isolated) employed by the local authority. Although the City Council was trying its utmost to take the threat of climate change seriously, in practice it saw itself as a conveyor belt, as a way of getting individuals to do their bit. What it was not doing was leading by example. The critical issue of carbon emissions was seemed to be a way of uniting all of us. As an elected body the local Council with a remit for the area, was, in theory responsible and accountable. And we were more likely to have some impact upon the Council than, say, Rolls Royce. Hence our local campaign and petition.

We started with a question at a Council meeting, raising the issue of a target for Carbon reductions; useful because it helped create a presence and some of us also learnt a bit about the Council in the process.

The importance of targets

Just as they are important internationally and nationally LOCAL targets are really important. There are many groups and councils and networks which have made good and concerned noises about the environment but this needs to be focused and translated into action. All good talk is meaningless unless something is done and we need to know the impact and targets are part of the process.

What should the target be for the local council? Should we just settle for the Friends of the Earth annual 3% National target? In order for an average to be achieved, some organisations will need to exceed the 3%; if one asks everybody to go for 3% then it won’t be met. Councils should go for a higher target and it is through them giving a lead that we might be able to get the national 3% average. Anyway a 3% reduction won’t solve all our problems.

It seems that a number of activists and other councils are looking at what to do and they are very receptive to suggestions at the moment.


In Derby we did agonise, momentarily, over seemingly correct and precise targets. Then we took a leap and set a challenge. The 25% over five years is pushy but not extreme. It also has a ring about it and happily it turned out that the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group has set out the same target; their inaugural meeting was called  “25/5: Make it Personal Challenge”.[4]

Derby Campaign against Climate Change is suggesting that if your council has not agreed a target, then you campaign for the ‘25% over five years’ target agreed by Derby City Council. The campaign would be much stronger if we could point to the lead of half a dozen councils, instead of a mish-mash of local targets.

If a campaign has already been started (e.g. Portsmouth) or the council has already agreed to a target (3% or above) then so be it; the next thing to do is to focus upon the measurement of carbon emissions and the actions needed to reduce them.


Petitions are a good way of getting to talk to people. Furthermore petitions should be drawn up with a specific end in mind. A general petition, e.g. for 3% carbon reduction in the UK, has little value. Here is the wording of the petition we started:

We, the undersigned, while recognising the efforts made by the City Council in the campaign to reduce carbon emissions, believe that much more has to be done and that setting local targets is an important part of this process. We therefore call upon Derby City Council to reduce its own carbon emissions by a minimum of 25% over the next five years. We believe that the council has to give a lead to other users in the area.

The commitment from the council

We launched the petition in November at the showing of the Al Gore film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. The leader of the council, Chris Williamson, signed before he went into the film. The group did a short introduction to the film; and afterwards Chris Williamson went to the press and told them that everybody should go to see the film and that not only he agreed with our targets but also that he was going to do his utmost to commit the Council to them.

To some extent this took the wind out of the petition’s sails, but as we had started it we continued, using the petition to establish a presence.

Cross-party agreement

The petition was signed by councillors from all the parties represented on the council. We arranged for representatives from these political groups on the council to come to our next meeting and to back a cross-party statement. In terms of attendance (31 people) and, despite some dog fights, the meeting was very successful and it had an impact. We think we can now safely say that the parties represented on the Council have agreed to the following:

In order to fight climate change we need to develop a strategy akin to that of the government fighting the Second World War. Hence we need

  1. an agreement that climate change is the major challenge facing all of us
  2. recognition that it is necessary to implement a programme of carbon reductions as soon as possible
  3. a strong cross-party commitment
  4. recognition that there will be problems in implementing a radical programme, some of the solutions will have pitfalls and that mistakes will be made.

The Council is going to be criticised in all sorts of ways when trying to implement a policy, both from some of the environmentalists – and the individual objections and worries need to be looked at seriously – and some from the public

Subsequently we presented our petition to the three main parties, a photo was taken, and it was generally agreed that all parties support a non-partisan campaign.

Agreement by the Council

The 25% reduction over five years is now Council policy.

Here is a passage from an article from the Evening Telegraph, from April:

DERBY City Council is to spend more than £1m in its bid to become greener. The authority will invest about £500,000 on making its own buildings more environmentally friendly and the same amount in schools. But the council believes the energy-saving measures will help it save more than £700,000.

The authority is still considering installing wind turbines in the city and small-scale hydro power stations along the River Derwent but the £1m is to be spent on more basic projects. These will include improving insulation, installing movement-sensitive light switches and low-energy fluorescent tube lighting. One more innovative proposal is for 25 members of its own staff to become environmental police, who will look out for ways in which employees waste energy. Automatic meter readers and better insulation will be installed in 32 schools and time-switches will be fitted to printers and photocopiers.

Chris Williamson, leader of the council, said the £1m, which would come from grants and council funds, would cover the authority’s initial basic plans. So far, the Carbon Trust, which is funded by the Government and helps businesses cut emissions, has awarded a grant of £100,000. This will be matched by the council. Mr Williamson said: “This is the first stab at taking our energy-reducing agenda further forward.” The council has pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 25 per cent over five years. Almost 80 per cent of the authority’s emissions are produced from running its buildings, through electricity and the burning of fossil fuels. More than 10 per cent come from the use of vehicles. In 2005-6, council employees clocked up 3.2 million miles at work. Disposing of waste accounts for nine per cent.

The council’s energy bills amount to about £5.5m a year and it estimates that, if it does not make any changes, these could rise to £9m by 2011. Plans also being considered, which are not covered by the £1m, include training staff to drive in a more efficient way, trialling greener fuel and promoting electric bicycles. The council’s cabinet last night approved its preliminary plan for cutting carbon emissions by 2011. Dave Roberts, deputy leader of the council, said: “A large part of our emissions come from burning fossil fuels in buildings like schools. We are actively looking at the replacement of gas burners with woodchip or bio-fuel ones. “We are finalising our business plan to effectively monitor our performance, so we can see over the five-year programme that we achieve the reduction we have set ourselves.”


Measurement is critical. If the mechanisms for measuring are not there, then a campaign around a specific target will help ensure the councils puts measurement mechanisms in place – lack of mechanisms should not be an argument for not having targets.

Here is a question one of our supporters put to a council meeting:

Derby Climate Change Campaign would like to congratulate Derby City Council for agreeing to reduce its own carbon emissions by a minimum of 25% over the next five years. What would the starting date for this be and at that date what would be the Council’s estimate of its own carbon emissions?

It took the council quite a few months to agree on the actual emissions, and this was delayed, in part, by the difficulties in establishing what the emissions amount to. Eventually the Council agreed on some figures on the Council’s current level of carbon emissions. Figures from the Carbon Trust ‘Value at Stake’ spreadsheet for the year 05/06 showed the tonnes





Fleet Diesel


Business travel




As the officer who did the calculations said, ‘The figures are not complete – no commuting, no waste to landfill, we have no knowledge of the diesel/petrol split in business miles, no street lighting and the energy figures are not from meter readings.’

The first set of calculations for targets is almost inevitably going to be refined. But the important thing is that we obtained a figure, and that part of the process of meeting targets is re-examination of the measurements.

Managing various demands

Some have said:

‘I don’t see how we can ask a council to reduce emissions by X% unless we and they know where that reduction is or could come from. Some councils can probably achieve much greater reduction than others. Does switching their electricity supply to renewable energy count towards emissions reductions?’

There are going to be a host of demands and different suggestions for carbon reduction. An obvious one should be the switching of electricity supplies to renewable sources. There is a danger of allowing the specifics (eg plasma screens, road widening, patio heaters, alternatives to petrol, energy saving initiatives) to become diversions. Overall it is the collective – indeed the Council – that needs to make the choices. Obviously there are some things locally which are scandalous and can be rectified. It is much easier to make decisions about difficult choices within the context of a strategy.

Should the local group always be coming up with particular solutions? While it may be gratifying, or a sign of weakness, if the Council asks your group, the emphasis has to be on strategy and targets.

Somehow the Council will need to respond and prioritise.

The Climate Change Commission

An idea we considered and proposed is that the Council set up some sort of consultative commission, where all suggestions are looked at, in terms of cost and impact upon carbon footprint.

This could be accompanied by running a discussion forum on the web – an interesting example is that done by Woking Borough Council – but in order to stop getting embroiled in issues such as bin collections, we would suggest that it be limited specifically to activities relating to the reduction of carbon emissions.

At the Annual Meeting in May 2007 the Council resolved to set up an additional Overview and Scrutiny Commission, the Climate Change Commission.  The portfolio of this Commission includes Energy Conservation and LA21 Strategy and Environmental Co-ordination.  In common with the other five Overview and Scrutiny Commissions, the Climate Change Commission can undertake scrutiny and policy development and can make recommendations to Council Cabinet and Full Council.  The role of this Commission is still developing but it has the potential to make a significant contribution to the Council’s Climate Change Action Plan.

The Climate Change Commission consists of nine elected members and two non-voting co-optees who are also members of the Derby Campaign against Climate Change.

The Climate Change Commission has five scheduled business meetings in the municipal year but other ‘special’ meetings can be arranged to enable the Commission to undertake evidence gathering or research or to respond to particular issues.  The scheduled meetings of the Commission are public meetings but members of the public cannot speak at them unless specifically invited by the Chair of the Commission.

The Commission meets formally, at least five times over the year, is served by council officers and in practice many people attend and members of the public can join in. The meetings have, so far, been well attended and the importance of consultative commissions cannot be underestimated.

Strategic view

One of the issues has been how to move beyond the immediate issues into more strategic realms.

At the second meeting of the climate change commission we proposed:

That all planning application reports that are presented to councillors have a section on carbon emissions implications.

And here is the note which accompanied this proposal:

Currently, reports have an appendix specifying the implications of the action that is being recommended in the report. It includes sections on (from memory) financial, legal and equalities implications. If the council is to reach its target of a 25% cut in carbon emissions it is important that councillors are made aware of the implications for carbon emissions so that they can make informed decisions.

The need for this is illustrated by a report in the Derby Evening Telegraph on 25 July 2007 about the cost of running the big TV screen in the Market Place. I quote:

“The figures, released by the city council, show that each year the electricity needed to power the seven-by-five-metre screen will cost £3,200, which the council said is offset by electricity savings it made by modernising services at its Roman House offices. The electricity savings at Roman House came from replacing old light fittings with ones using lower amounts of electricity.”

So the carbon reductions made by replacing light fittings have been undone by the decision to install the screen. I don’t intend to debate the merits of the screen but it does illustrate a wider problem: what is to stop the good work done in saving carbon emissions in one area of the council from being cancelled by a decision made in another area?

Of course, the opportunity could be taken to include not only the implications for carbon emissions but for wider environmental implications too, such as flooding and biodiversity.

We also proposed that the Council have a public meeting with speakers from Woking Council (which has reduced its own carbon emission by 77% over 17 years). The Woking experience is undoubtedly the most relevant UK local authority experience.

While immediate and short term gains are very important, and a way of raising the profile, they will be insufficient. Indeed the lesson to be learnt from other experiences is that it is likely that in the short term the targets will not be met, despite the immediate gains from some quick fixes.

City-wide target

The council is not only responsible for the carbon emissions from its own offices but also, through its policy decisions, has a large influence on the emissions of the population of Derby. Ultimately we need to get the council to sign up to a target cut for the emissions of Derby as a whole, as has happened in Nottingham. After all, the council’s emissions are only a small proportion of the emissions of Derby as a whole.

The Sheffield campaign has gone for a petition urging the council to set an annual target of 3% across the city.

Emissions under the direct control of the council are only 5% of the emissions across the city as a whole. We worked in conjunction with the two Sheffield Green Party councillors, also members of the campaign. We obtained 1,400 signatures and presented it to the full council on December 6th. Many of us asked questions from the public gallery and we got good local press and radio coverage.

In Derby we argued that it would be better to just focus upon the council before going for a city-wide target. Partnerships with firms are good (and they are in place in Derby) ‑ but can also be a barrier ‑ it is better that the Council gives a lead from the front than waiting for all to agree. There is nothing stopping people in workplaces and colleges asking for their own organisation to go for the same target as the Council. Currently at DerbyUniversity students and staff are developing their own 25/5 year campaign.

The Nottingham Declaration

The Declaration originated in Nottingham and represents a statement of commitment that any council can make to its own community. More than 130 councils across England have signed up to the Declaration since its launch. As a voluntary statement, councils are free to amend the name and content of the Declaration to suit the level of commitment they wish to make. (For an online toolkit for the Nottingham Declaration visit:

While it sounds very laudable it is only a first step. Signing up does not oblige councils to take action. It does not contain any targets.

What other councils are doing

Many councils are taking many actions. The Woking example leads the way.

The Guardian published an article Ever wondered which are Britain’s best performing councils on green issues? Ponder no more, we name the top 10. [5]


For example the Guardian article said of Aberdeen city council:

The Scottish local authority has slashed CO2 emissions on its own estate by 31% over the past two years. Along with a wholesale switch to green electricity, it has a carbon management programme that includes energy audits, a street light replacement programme, a green travel plan for council officers, and energy efficiency measures in council homes. The council created the not-for-profit Aberdeen Heat and Power Company to develop CHP projects, the first of which provides heat and power for 288 flats in four tower blocks.

This response was posted on the National Climate Change web-site:

Aberdeen City are one of the Councils listed, but few people here think that the Council as a whole deserves this honour! One of the problems is that Councils can perform really well in one sector and yet still follow policies which increase overall emissions, because they have no joined-up strategy.

In Aberdeen, we’ve got some amazing people working on energy efficiency from Council properties and they certainly deserve much praise. They are also very good on offering free energy advice to people across the City. However, when it comes to transport and town planning, those gains are totally wiped out, and the overall carbon footprint is growing. We’ve got the Planning Department saying that they will not take global warming into account in planning decisions, we’ve got one of the largest urban road building programmes in the country, airport expansion, etc.

Whilst any good practice needs to be highlighted as an example, I think we have to be very careful to look at total carbon footprint resulting from Council policies. [6]

We feel that targets are a way of moving beyond general awareness campaigns. Norwich have now adopted one of 6% per year. The Greater London Authority have also agreed one.

Clearer National structure and lead

National organisations needs to give a lead, if only a suggestion, as to what the target should be for the local councils. We in Derby are trying to get the National Campaign to promote our targets as part of a national strategy.[7]

Our experience is that it is not difficult to get the council to agree a target and that this is a very effective way of organising around climate change. But we have found it difficult to spread the experience. We are now trying to organise a national campaign and a national meeting. Interestingly the World Development Movement have published a very useful hand book showing how such campaigns can be initiated locally. It states that

Because local authorities are so different and have diverse ways of operating, we are asking you to find out which of the options below will be most effective in your area. As usual, please let us know what actions you are taking. We will be plotting local campaign developments on a map in the office to give an overall picture of how the campaign is progressing, and enable us to share ideas between groups.

Of course the variations between councils and the balances of forces means that is not always possible to get councils to follow the examples of Norwich, Derby and others[8]. But all councils should set targets. It is necessary to get others to do so, if only to stop Norwich and Derby being isolated. No need to mention the planet.

by Peter Robinson 12/11/07

Photograph courtesy of the Derby Evening Telegraph

This is only a draft. I would like to reflect better experiences and sharpen discussion. Please email me ( or phone 07876595993

If you wish to join Derby Campaign against Climate Change contact myself, or the secretary Keith Burchell at

[1] an occasional activist and a rusty socialist and a paid supporter of  several environmental groups.

[2] We now have an active steering group (touch wood) of eight, three from various churches, one member of the Green Party, one from the SWP. Most of us are members of environmental groups.

[3] Defra (Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs) also emphasises the role of local authorities See: Monday 27 November 2006 11:17 Local Councils crucial to fighting climate change

Local authorities are at the forefront of the UK’s efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions, Climate Change Minister Ian Pearson said today, as statistics on local and regional emissions for 2004 were released.

Mr Pearson said the statistics underlined the vital role of local authorities in fighting climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, both in their own work and in the wider community.

“Everyone has a role to play in fighting climate change and reducing emissions,” he said.

“As estate managers, service providers and community leaders, local authorities are at the forefront of the fight to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. They have the power to make a great difference throughout the UK, and these statistics are an increasingly valuable resource to help them cut emissions.

[4] Speakers: Stephen Byers MP, Colin Challen MP.

[5] January 3, 2007, by Terry Slavin, The article listed: Greater London Authority; Kirklees; Shropshire County Council; Aberdeen City Council; Southampton city council; Nottingham City Council; Woking borough council; Leicester city council; Cornwall county council; Merton.

Then it mentioned ‘20 more bright sparks’ namely: High Peak (Derbyshire), Lewisham, Devon County, Bristol City, Hampshire County, Enfield, Oxford, Sutton, Wellingborough, Kent county, West Sussex, Derby City, Middlesbrough, Nottinghamshire, Sutton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Croydon and Barnsley.

[7] We held a meeting in Derby on Saturday 4 March 2007 specifically on the issue of 25% 5 year Carbon Reduction Targets for Local Councils. 35 people attended, including members of the Council