Published: Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Oxford City Council has set out its first Action Plan for bringing about a net zero carbon city by 2040 or earlier—ten whole years ahead of the Government’s national legal target.

The Net Zero Oxford Action Plan sets out the actions the City Council is, or will be, taking directly, as well as those in which it is seeking to partner with others. It references how it will engage residents, businesses and other organisations to eliminate Oxford’s contributions to climate change, and how it will use its influence with Government. It also takes a co-benefits approach to show that the consequences of climate action can improve lives, through better jobs, more money in local economies, clean air, better health, travel options, green spaces, and warm and cheaper-to-heat homes.

The Plan is launched ahead of a first meeting of the new Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership’s Steering Group. Earlier this year the Council launched the Zero Carbon Oxford partnership at the city’s first Zero Oxford Carbon Summit with 21 leaders from Oxford’s main institutions and employers, including the universities, hospitals, businesses and other organisations, which agreed to an aim of achieving zero carbon across the city as a whole by 2040, ten years ahead of the legal deadline set by Government.

The Action Plan is accompanied by the Council’s new Carbon Management Plan that sets out how it will achieve zero carbon emissions across its estate and operations by 2030 or earlier. The Carbon Management Plan was approved by Cabinet in February. The Plan leads into the conclusion of a new Sustainability Strategy.

The Action Plan acknowledges that achieving net zero will require a citywide effort, with action and input from local and national government, businesses, institutions and citizens. The Council is responsible for around 1% of the city’s emissions, however it is estimated that the sphere of the Council’s potential influence covers up to 66% of all of Oxford’s emissions.

The plan sets out the City Council’s action across six themes:

  • Buildings
  • Transport
  • Biodiversity and offsetting
  • Renewable energy
  • Waste reduction
  • Democratic discussion and engagement, and scientifically informed action

Current actions towards targets

The Council is currently working towards targets in the following ways:

Zero Carbon Council

  • Delivering the City Council’s 4th Carbon Management Plan, which aims to achieve zero carbon by 2030
  • Continuing to support the installation of renewable energy in and around the city
  • Publishing a plan outlining steps toward full decarbonisation of fleet vehicles and moving forward with electrification of 25% of fleet vehicles by 2023.
  • Purchasing renewable gas for all sites and offsetting remaining emissions in 2021
  • Investing £50m in the retrofitting of council homes with new heating systems and insulation to make them more environmentally sustainable.
  • Developing proposals to reduce carbon emissions at key sites after being awarded nearly £11m to explore the provision of heat pumps, thermal storage, and battery storage powered by renewable energy.

Net Zero Carbon City

Alongside its own efforts, achieving net zero will require significant collaboration between the City Council, local and national stakeholders, and residents.

  • Introducing Britain’s first Zero Emission Zone Pilot from 2021 in the city centre and a wider zone from spring 2022.
  • Introducing the UK’s largest EV charging hub at Redbridge in 2021 and continuing to install EV charging infrastructure. Oxford City Council is responsible for a third of the city’s public EV charging infrastructure.
  • Ensuring Council tenants and purchasers of Council-built homes are supported as much as possible to engage in low-carbon lifestyle.
  • Supporting the delivery of transformative energy systems and projects including Energy Superhub Oxford and Project LEO.
  • Continuing to lobby government to raise energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector and to give the Council selective licensing to raise standards.
  • Revitalising the countywide Oxfordshire Environmental Partnership to drive behaviour change around waste reduction and recycling and achieving new highs in recycling rates in the city.
  • Expanding the Council’s outreach and curriculum programme with Oxford schools to cover broader climate change issues.
  • Producing a roadmap to net zero with input from the newly created role of independent Scientific Advisor to inform the work of the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership.
  • Developing and delivering a biodiversity strategy that takes a holistic approach to carbon reduction and biodiversity net gain
  • Publishing an Urban Forest Strategy, which provides a strategic approach to tree planting in the city which supports our biodiversity and climate adaptation objectives

Other action that the Council has taken includes:

Listening to the community: Citizens Assembly

The Net Zero Oxford Action Plan is rooted in the declaration of a climate emergency in January 2019 by the Council and, in September of the same year, Oxford’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change (the first to be held by a UK city on the issue).

90% of Assembly Members agreed that the UK Government’s current targets to reach zero carbon by 2050 are not ambitious enough, and that Oxford should aim to achieve net zero sooner than 2050.

On Saturday 28 November 2020, the Council held a Youth Climate Summit to help young people to learn more about the climate emergency and identify how their actions could help to create a more sustainable future locally.

Oxford at net zero – a shared vision

In 2018, Oxford City Council developed its Oxford 2050 vision with input from citizens and organisations. 

Contributors put forward a vision that accorded with that expressed at the summit:

  • Oxford will be a hub for clean technology and innovation.
  • Many of its streets will be car free, with clean air and more cycling and walking.
  • Nature will be thriving, with more trees and healthy green spaces.
  • Homes will be warm in winter, cool in summer, with lower energy bills all year round.
  • Energy will be used much more efficiently and what we do use will be largely locally produced.

See the Oxford2050 Vision.


“The City Council is responsible for 1% of the city’s emissions, but we know we can positively influence up to 66% of Oxford’s emissions. With this Action Plan we are bringing together all of the Council’s carbon-busting work in one place for residents and businesses to easily find and read. We also wanted to set out our underlying vision of why, as well as how, we’re committing so much time, energy, and focus to working with others to bring about a Zero Carbon Oxford ten years earlier than the Government’s own legal target. What’s good for the environment is good for jobs and the local economy, air quality and our health, how we live and how we get around.”

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

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