Published: Thursday, 22 July 2021

This week, during Net Zero Week, a new science-based roadmap and action plan outlining how Oxford can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040 has been published.

This follows its approval by the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership earlier today.

The roadmap, commissioned by Oxford City Council on behalf of the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership and developed with the Carbon Trust, models a pathway to net-zero 10 whole years ahead of the UK’s Government’s legal targets.

The Zero Carbon Oxford roadmap

The roadmap outlines key milestones for each sector which contributes to climate breakdown and maps a timeline of ‘what needs to happen, and by when’ for Oxford to stay on-track to achieve net-zero by 2040.

The roadmap divides almost all the city’s emissions into the five sectors with the greatest climate impact - domestic, commercial, industry, institutional, and transport.

Following the timelines identified in the science-based roadmap it is predicted that by 2040, action will have reduced Oxford’s carbon emissions by 88% from 2018 levels.  If any residual emissions remain in 2040, they would be offset to meet the net zero target.

This means:

  • Domestic emissions must be reduced by 87%
  • Commercial emissions must be reduced by 86%
  • Industry related emissions must be reduced by 86%
  • Institutional related emissions must be reduced by 91%
  • Transport related emissions must be reduced by 88%

For each of the five sectors contributing to climate breakdown, there are specific targets to reach net zero by 2040 as a city:

Domestic emissions:

  • Rooftop solar on existing homes: 20% of existing homes by 2025 (11,458 homes); 30% by 2030 (17,693 homes); 40% by 2035 (24,267 homes); and 55% by 2040 (34,297 homes)
  • Rooftop solar on new homes: 40% of new homes by 2025 (608 homes), 75% by 2030 (1,639 homes), 75% by 2035 (2,907 homes); and 75%% by 2040
  • Existing homes receiving 1 energy efficiency measure (starting after 2025): 16,600 by 2030; 37,643 by 2035; 48,291 by 2040

Commercial emissions:

  • Rooftop solar on commercial buildings to generate 0.9MW of renewable energy by 2025; 3.31MW by 2030; 5.6MW by 2035; and 6.6MW by 2040 – equivalent to roughly 1500 homes
  • A reduction in electricity demand from energy efficiency measures: 10% by 2025; 20% by 2030; 30% by 2035; and 40% by 2040.
  • A reduction in gas demand from energy efficiency measures: 10% by 2025, 20% by 2030; 25% by 2035; 30% by 2040.

Institutional emissions:

  • Rooftop solar on institutional buildings to generate 2.8MW by 2025; 8.4MW by 2030; 13MW by 2035; and 13.1MW by 2040
  • Reduction in electricity demand from energy efficiency measures: 10% by 2025; 30% by 2030; 32% by 2035; 35% by 2040
  • Reduction in gas demand from energy efficiency measures: 10% by 2025; 15% by 2030; 20% by 2035; and 25% by 2040

Industrial emissions:

  • Fossil fuel processes electrified: 10% by 2025; 12% by 2030; 18% by 2035; and 24% by 2040
  • Reduction in industrial energy demand: 11% by 2025; 33% by 2030; 38% by 2035 (38%); and 45% by 2040

Transport emissions:

  • Electrification of car use: 25% of cars in Oxford to be electric by 2025; 80% by 2030;and 100% by 2035.
  • Introduction of EV chargers in workplaces to facilitate electrification of car use: 165 by 2025; 319 by 2030; 501 by 2035; and 576 by 2040.
  • Introduction of domestic on-street EV chargers: 334 by 2025; 709 by 2030; 1,089 by 2035; 1,233 by 2040.
  • Introduction of off-street EV chargers: 3,502 by 2025; 8,341 by 2030; 12,799 by 2035; and 13,057 by 2040.
  • Facilitation of hydrogen public transport: 10% of buses and coaches to be hydrogen by 2025 (57 vehicles); 20% by 2030 (99); 30% by 2035 (147); and 50% by 2040 (213).
  • Reduction in the use of vehicular transport through increases in cycling, walking, home-working, and car sharing and car clubbing: 15% decrease by 2025; 25% by 2030; 25% by 2035; and 30% by 2040.

A full breakdown of each sector is available online.

Carbon Budgets

The Zero Carbon Oxford roadmap is broken down into five-yearly carbon budgets over the 22 year period between 2018-2040.

A carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted over a period of time to keep within a certain temperature threshold and to reduce the impact of global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Oxford’s total carbon budget for this period has been calculated as 7,624 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

In order to meet the net zero target, the following carbon budgets need to be achieved:

Table showing carbon budgets

Net Zero target

By 2040

Reduction in Oxford’s emissions required

Total carbon budget (2018-2040)

7,624 ktCO2e


Carbon emissions reduction required by 2025

409.6 ktCO2e


Carbon emissions reduction required by 2030

270.5 ktCO2e


Carbon emissions reduction required by 2035

159.5 ktCO2e


Carbon emissions reduction required by 2040

88.7 ktCO2e


Amount of remaining carbon to be offset in 2040

88.7 ktCO2e


While every effort will be made to reduce emissions as far as is possible, under the current scenario, and in line with the decarbonisation of other areas and the country, it is expected that a small amount of residual emissions will remain in 2040. The Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership (ZCOP) offsetting strategy will be required to account for the 88.7 tonnes of greenhouse gas residual emissions.

What is net zero?

There is no agreed definition for what is a ‘net zero city’ and its definition depends on the context. The action plan follows the definition of a net zero city outlined by the Carbon Trust which aligns to an ambitious and science-based approach.

This offsetting of residual emissions is accepted under the standard definition of a net zero target. A net zero target requires these emissions to be compensated with certified greenhouse gas removal (GGR) in the target year of 2040 (and then for every subsequent year from 2040 onwards).

Zero Carbon Oxford Action Plan

In addition to outlining a science-based roadmap and targets for emissions, the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership has approved an Action Plan, which outlines the ways in which the 2040 target can be achieved.

The Action Plan highlights the immediate actions required before 2030 to stay on track. As earlier and deeper decarbonisation achieves the pre-2030 actions, the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership will decide on appropriate additional longer-term actions.

The Partnership has today established ‘Sprint Groups’, smaller subgroups of the overall Partnership with a remit to move agilely and intensely, to collaborate on the immediate actions required to reach net zero emissions by 2040. 

Immediate actions required by the Action Plan and agreed by the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership as a focus for Sprint Groups includes:

  • Working with Oxford City Council’s planning team to engage with and input into the next iteration of the relevant Local Plan policy, so that it helps to meet the ambitious targets set within the Roadmap.
  • Improving understanding of heritage and conservation-related constraints on retrofitting buildings, and developing appropriate methods for retrofitting.
  • Developing a ‘knowledge transfer platform’ which enables a wider sharing of knowledge about decarbonisation, particularly in complex areas, so that the city can unlock innovation and progress towards these ambitious targets.
  • Conducting a feasibility study into creating a mini hydrogen network in Oxford.
  • Setting up a bulk-buying scheme for low carbon equipment (solar PV and heat pumps) that enables local businesses, organisations, and households to quickly access equipment and benefit from reduced transaction costs which enables a speedier and cheaper introduction of decarbonisation.
  • Exploring the introduction of EV charging infrastructure into a strategic series of sites in line with Oxford’s EV strategy which is to be created.
  • Uniting Oxford’s bus service providers to further identify 'pinch points' slowing bus services and disrupting service regularity.
  • Developing a detailed building stock inventory for Oxford, with a particular focus on filling in knowledge gaps in the city’s commercial stock.
  • Decreasing the use of vehicular road transport through cycling, walking, working from home and car sharing.
  • Piloting a number of freight consolidation centres around the edge of Oxford.
  • Developing a network of joined-up low carbon training and re-training courses which could lead to the development of green apprenticeships.
  • Establishing a joint strategy for lobbying for powers, roles, and responsibilities, and securing investment into the city’s green economy.
  • Developing a shared and centralised plan for communicating with Oxford residents and businesses about ways to decarbonise.
  • Creating a publicly accessible online dashboard for all to understand and track progress against ZCOP’s decarbonisation objectives.

Next Steps

The Roadmap shows just how challenging it will be to achieve net zero carbon emissions in Oxford by 2040—a point acknowledged by the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership.

While initial progress can be made by the city, achieving a target of this ambition requires a considerable step-up in national-level policy and funding support. The Partnership will co-ordinate and join up lobbying for powers and funding applications to ensure the city as the strongest chance of securing the support it needs.

“The Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership commissioned this important piece of science-based research on what needs to be done for the city to achieve net zero ten years ahead of the national target. Oxford is distinctive for setting such a challenging ambition. This Roadmap is a uniquely detailed and comprehensive tool, that shows us what needs to be done if we are to achieve that.

“The complexity of specifying what is scientifically necessary has been huge, but that piece of work will be infinitesimal in comparison to the complexity of implementing the plan. For example, the Roadmap shows we should seek to implement rooftop solar for 40% of new homes and 20% of existing homes, plus and heat pumps must be installed in 27% of all homes – all by 2025 if we are to stay on course. We now have to focus on how these sorts of measures could be implemented, share knowledge and skills as a partnership, and seek the additional resources from Government we will all need to achieve that.

“We’re transforming our whole way of life. What’s good for the environment will be great for high-skilled jobs in the places where we live, but such change will involve constant citywide conversations, and they will be as challenging and necessary as any we’ve ever had.

“The partnership will be applying for financial support and grants to ensure that we are able to help residents on this journey and that we are all able to move towards zero together.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Chair of the ZCOP steering group

“We are really pleased to have supported the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership to develop this Action Plan, modelling what net zero by 2040 looks like in terms of emissions reductions and collaboratively developing actions which will help the partnership realise its ambitious net zero target.

“Bringing together stakeholders from across different sectors has been vital to ensure that the activities outlined are both feasible and ambitious to drive the scale of emission reductions needed. The ongoing collaboration enabled by the partnership will be critical to ensuring continued progress.”

David Reilly, Director of Cities & Regions at the Carbon Trust

“It’s critical to have ambitious carbon reduction targets if we’re going to prevent runaway climate change. The ZCOP action plan has been a great opportunity to map out how we’re all going to pull together to meet our targets and ensure we protect our communities and our planet. Now, we look forward to working together to making it all happen.”

Dr Barbara Hammond, CEO, Low Carbon Hub

“The Net Zero workshops and completion of Net Zero Roadmap has provided welcome opportunity to engage with Oxford stakeholders, all having common goal in reducing Carbon emissions”

John Upham, Sustainability Manager, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

“SSEN is delighted to see this important step in Oxford’s plans to achieve net zero by 2040. The whole city approach set out in the Plan recognises the significant changes that the partnership will need to make working together to meet its ambitious aims, and the importance of the support of both local and central government policy in enabling this to happen.

“We hope to see all the partners in ZCOP participating in LEOs energy trials in some way over the next 18 months as we believe modelling the smart local energy system of the future is an important step to meeting all our aspirations for the city.”

Melanie Bryce, Oxfordshire Programme Director, SSEN

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