Published: Monday, 1 February 2021

Oxford City Council has today outlined how it aims to achieve its goal of becoming a zero carbon council by 2030, reducing its carbon emissions and making a contribution to address the climate crisis.

Later this week, the Council will be hosting the Zero Carbon Oxford Summit, bringing together leaders of major Oxford institutions and businesses to discuss their decarbonisation plans, and set a vision for reaching net zero as a city.

The Council’s 4th Carbon Management Plan for 2021/22 to 2029/30 Plan outlines the intensification of the Council’s decarbonisation ambition, with the Council aiming to achieve an average annual (absolute) emission cut of 10% (approximately 530tCO2e) every year until 2030 – doubling its current business as usual rate of reduction of a 5% year on year reduction target.

The Council’s main focus of activity to achieve this will be to effect a rapid switch to decarbonising its power for heating systems across its buildings and its fleet vehicles.

What is a zero carbon Council?

In January 2019, Oxford City Council unanimously declared a climate emergency, and although it is responsible for just 1% of Oxford’s emissions. In April 2019, the City Council set out a vision to reach zero carbon across its own operations by 2030.

In its proposed Budget for 2021/2022, the Council will become net zero for its direct activities - where it pays the energy bills – by the end of this year, through buying only renewable energy and offsetting residual emissions. The goal of zero Carbon by 2030 will see the acceleration of existing and new programmes to reduce the Council’s underlying emissions.

The transition to becoming zero carbon will mean that, year on year, the Council reduces its purchase of both green gas and offsetting (as boilers are replaced with low/zero carbon heating technologies and approaches, and fleet vehicles are electrified).

In the absence of a fully decarbonised electricity grid, this means the Council will rely on green electricity purchase and local renewable energy generation to provide zero carbon electricity to power electrified heat and fleet vehicles.

Zero Carbon Council Vision

The Zero Carbon Council by 2030: 4th Carbon Management Plan focuses on how the Council aims to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030 across its estate and operations.

The Carbon Management Plan covers all buildings and operations where the Council pays the energy, fuel and water bills, and can be more directly measured and reduced. These are classified as:

  • Scope 1 emissions (gas and fuel use)
  • Scope 2 emissions (electricity purchased from the grid)
  • Scope 3 emissions (for transmission and distribution of grid electricity, water consumption and business travel)

The plan demonstrates how the Council will prioritise emissions reduction based on the significant energy use hierarchy - targeting the biggest energy and fuel consumers, and therefore carbon dioxide emissions sources, first.

This will include:

  • Carrying out detailed investment grade energy audits in its highest energy consuming buildings to rapidly advance deeper carbon reductions
  • Decarbonising heat in its highest gas consuming buildings through building fabric and air tightness improvements, as well as a shift to high efficiency electric heating systems such as heat pumps
  • Installing more solar PV across its estate and operations and investing and purchasing electricity from local solar farms on longer term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) contracts
  • Electrifying the fleet of vehicles and moving to low carbon forms of transport
  • Implementing staff carbon awareness campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits and opportunities to driving down carbon emissions in the Council’s estate and operations

The Carbon Management Plan has been established within the context of the current challenging financial situation the Council faces due to COVID19. In order to reach its target, the Council will need to continue to make bids for external capital funding, additional match funding and support/grants to fund carbon reduction measures across its estate and operations.

The Carbon Management Plan is to be presented to the Council’s Cabinet on 10 February 2021.

Work so far

The Council has been managing energy and carbon emissions from across its estate and operations since 2008.

Significant progress has been made towards zero carbon status, with an average 5.4% per year reduction in underlying emissions over a five-year period to 31 March 2020.

The Council has been exceeding its ongoing target of implementing measures to reduce CO2 emissions by 5% of its previous year’s emissions. Other projects to date include::

  • implementing a range of Salix funded carbon reduction projects to a value of £1.8m, saving an estimated £440k/year in energy bills and an estimated reduction of CO2 emissions by 2000tCO2 per year
  • over 1000kWp of Solar PV installations, equivalent to over 10% of the Council’s current rate of electricity consumption
  • Planning to switch over 25% of the Council’s fleet to electric by 2023
  • Purchasing 100% certified REGO renewable electricity - helping to create a market for the installation of additional renewable capacity on the grid.
  • Participating in world leading energy/carbon reduction related initiatives such as Energy Super Hub Oxford (ESO) and Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO)
  • Supporting Oxford’s Low Carbon Hub and helping enable many local community projects to go ahead

Zero Carbon Oxford summit

The Council’s carbon emissions are around 1% of the total for the city, however the Council has an important role to play in leading by example across the city and further afield. This week, the Council will also be hosting the Zero Carbon Oxford Summit, bringing together leaders of major Oxford institutions and businesses to set a vision for reaching net zero as a city.

The Zero Carbon Oxford summit, which is to be held virtually on Thursday 04 February 2021, will bring together universities, hospitals, councils, large businesses and other organisations to consider the actions required to accelerate carbon reduction across the city and discuss how early it could be possible to achieve net zero carbon.

Organisations that will be attending the summit include University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford University Hospitals, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, BMW Mini, Landsec, Unipart, Beard Construction, Lucy Properties, Oxfam, Oxford Bus Company, Stagecoach Oxfordshire, River Learning Trust, Activate Learning, OxLEP and Low Carbon Hub.

The Summit aims to set an aspirational but scientifically robust date for when net zero emissions can be can be achieved for Oxford as a whole.

The Summit will be an opportunity for representatives to showcase their climate plans and action, facilitate conversation about a collective vision, and establish a formal partnership and collaborative approach to tackling the climate crisis.

It is intended that the Summit will also lead to the creation of a new Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership for the city, replacing the Low Carbon Oxford partnership established a decade ago. The new partnership will enable a wider range of stakeholders to play their part in cutting Oxford’s carbon footprint to zero.

“The City Council produces just 1% of citywide emissions, but that’s 1% too much. With our new action plan, we will end our contribution to global warming by 2030 or sooner. In this year, the Council will become net zero carbon, creating a staging post for reducing all underlying emissions this decade. We’re doubling our ambition by doubling the Council’s annual emissions target from 5% to 10%. Getting to Zero won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do for citizens and the city if we’re going to meet the climate crisis, and do it in a way which creates jobs and economic activity.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford


“ODS is fully invested in the Zero Carbon Council Vision and have already reached many of  the major milestones supporting Oxford’s journey as well as actively delivering others.

"Since 2018 we have worked in improving our CO2 emissions with the use of telematics and converting at least 25% our fleet to electric by 2023. Last year, we installed Oxford’s first 50kW rapid electric charger for our fleet vehicles as part of the £41m Energy Superhub Oxford project. We have also recently won a grant to collaborate with OCC to develop an innovative and cost-effective device that could allow households without off-street parking to charge electric vehicles at home. Finally, very soon we will see Oxford’s first electric refuse collection vehicle quietly at work.

"These strides towards zero carbon showcase the Oxford model, our new approach to business whereby the community is considered in all our decisions.”

Simon Howick, Managing Director at ODS

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