Carbon offsetting for local planning authorities

Ensuring that new development is net zero carbon

Project duration: October 2019 to May 2020

Nearly 70% of local councils have now declared a climate emergency with many of them aiming to bring emissions within their areas down to net zero decades ahead of central government’s 2050 target. Many are revising their local plans to ensure that they align with and help deliver on their climate emergency declarations.

Aside from proactively supporting renewable energy development and promoting sustainable patterns of development which reduce transport emissions, the most important thing local plans can do to reduce emissions is to set binding standards requiring new development to be net zero carbon. Given the substantial practical and technical challenges with reducing emissions from our existing building stock, if a zero emission target is to be met, it’s vital that new development doesn’t contribute new emissions and make the problem worse.

Although it’s technically possible to build true zero carbon (or even carbon negative) developments – that is developments which genuinely produce no emissions from their use of electricity and heat – it isn't possible within current planning policy and legislation to insist on this standard for new development.

Instead the best approach currently possible is to bring emissions down as much as possible through requiring very high levels of thermal energy efficiency, requiring the use of renewable or low carbon heat and the integration of on-site renewable energy. Developers are required to account and predict the carbon emissions arising from their development within their planning application. They’re then required to pay into a fund to “offset” the remaining carbon emissions from their development, that is pay to save or sequester those carbon emissions somewhere else. The overall effect of the policies and carbon offsetting is that development is net zero carbon.

In separate studies for the four West of England authorities – Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire – and the ten authorities within the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, CSE has advised on how carbon offset regimes should be set up and administered as part of zero carbon planning policies.

Our advice has covered:

  • The proposed cost of carbon (per tonne) charged to developers for offsetting their residual carbon emissions.
  • The mechanisms for administering carbon offset funds.
  • Principles for the management and governance of the fund.       
  • Suitable projects which might be funded.
  • Eligibility and marking criteria for possible carbon offset projects.
  • How carbon offset regimes should engage with planning processes, and the use of s106 contributions to facilitate payments.

Carbon saving opportunities will vary from place to place and community to community, but suitable projects will typically include:

  • Domestic, community and commercial energy efficiency retrofitting projects and fuel poverty alleviation projects.
  • Renewable energy projects, including domestic, community run and commercial projects.
  • Heat decarbonisation projects  and district heating.
  • Carbon sequestration through tree planting and peat bog restoration.
  • Vehicle electrification.

Whilst there are variations from authority to authority in how they might best administer their carbon offset regime and how this might fit into their planning policies, and corporate strategies, many of the key insights we’ve come to, and key principles for carbon offsetting apply to all local authorities considering them. We’ve written an opinion-piece which aims to condense these to save authorities time and trouble when developing their own carbon offset regimes.

If you want more detail, our final study for the West of England authorities can be viewed here.

The companion study from Currie & Brown, which looked at the feasibility and cost impacts of the councils’ proposed technical policy standards can be viewed here.

If you wish CSE to look at your carbon offset policy, please get in touch.

For further information contact:

Dan Stone | 0117 934 1417

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