Around The UK In Two Years


It’s been two years since Bristol City Council became the first council in the UK to declare a climate emergency, on 13 November 2018. Around the UK today, almost three-quarters of all local councils across the country have formally declared a climate emergency and over half of them have set a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions locally by 2030 or sooner.

This is the urgency of leadership on the climate crisis that we need. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that countries need to dramatically accelerate the transition to climate neutrality. By its own estimates, we have until 2030 – less than 10 years – to prevent 1.5°C warming. According to Prof Mark Maslin at UCL, “The [UK’s] zero-carbon target is essential, but the date of 2050 is too far in the future. The UK must adopt a 2030 zero-carbon target.”

The UK Carbon Zero Explorer is an interactive map that lets you explore different local areas across the country and discover more about the Climate Action Plans that are in place as well as the current level and source of carbon emissions. We also shine a light back on some of the local councils, community groups and companies that are implementing high-impact, low-carbon initiatives and celebrate the climate action they are taking.

Imagine a map of the UK, uniformly grey in colour. This bird’s eye view of our nation represents the overall greenhouse gas emissions target for the UK of becoming net-zero by 2050. No doubt, it’s better to have a legally binding commitment to reduce our emissions than no acknowledgment of the climate emergency or no target date. And yet, a thirty-year timeline is at complete odds with the escalating environment and climate crisis unfolding around us.

People are impatient for action and strong leadership, as the UK Climate Assembly concluded in its report published in September 2020. The answer from the Assembly to the question ‘How should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?’ was clear: radical solutions to reduce carbon emissions are not only expected but are demanded, urgently.

Zoom in a little closer to the ground, and the picture represented by local authority areas of all political parties across the country tells a different story. Despite the grey overview nationally, indications of green shoots are everywhere as ambitious local authorities set the pace.

We would like to champion all those people in local areas that are treating the climate emergency as an emergency and attempting to reach a carbon zero future before 2050. How many of these ambitious 2030 councils will achieve their targets? In the words of Professor Kim Cobb, “You don’t have to know where we’ll end up. You just have to know what path we’re on.” What is so inspiring is the sheer number of people locally who are willing to work backwards from goals that may seem impossibly ambitious at the start.

As you explore the UK further, you will also notice that the majority of local Climate Action Plans aspire to transform the entire local authority area and not merely to improve the running of the council’s own assets and operations. This is the crux. Local plans are there to be implemented by all of us: we are to be the change we wish to see. The good news is that we’re not alone – we are surrounded by others in our local communities with similar ambition and desire to take action. And that will make all the difference in the world.

Illustration: It can be hard to visualise the huge numbers around carbon emissions. It helps to look at it in terms of the number of hot air balloons that they would fill: one tonne of CO2 would fill a typical, large hot air balloon. So, when we talk about local area carbon emissions of millions of tonnes per year – which is not uncommon today – it’s equivalent to the sky over the UK being filled with hundreds of thousands of hot air balloons every single day.

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