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Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions

Overwhelmingly, climate scientists accept that the earth is warming as a result of human activity.  The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states:

"human activities... have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate... Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts."[1]

Unchecked, climate change and associated impacts of a warmer planet, represent a significant global threat to biodiversity, food production and the future sustainability of human societies – life on Earth as we know it. 

Figure 1:  The global temperature anomaly from 1880 to 2015. 

Graph showing the global temperature anomaly from 1880 to 2015.

Source: IPCC, 2018: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report, IPCC, 2018.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for about 81% of the UKs greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.  

However, methane released by cows and sheep (which produces about 28 times as much warming in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide) is also a major global concern.[2]  In the UK, agriculture is currently responsible for about 9% of greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from methane.[3]  

Provisional estimates suggest that in 2018, total UK greenhouse gas emissions were 43.5% lower than in 1990 and 2.5% lower than 2017.[4]

Herefordshire faces some particular challenges that impact upon the emission of greenhouse gases, including:

  • A much higher proportion of detached and older (pre-1900) housing than nationally, which can be poorly insulated and require more energy to heat.
  • Relatively large numbers of properties without access to mains services, some of which use coal for heating.
  • The rural nature of the county, with farming playing a significant role.  

Despite these challenges, in Herefordshire, total carbon dioxide emissions from industrial and commercial sources have fallen from 763.5 kilo tonnes (KT) in 2005 to 506.7 kt in 2017.  Emissions from domestic sources have fallen from 479.4 kt to 289.4 Kt and emissions from transport have fallen from 444.7 kt to 421.0 kt in the same period.[5]

Figure 2: Herefordshire county carbon descent 1990 to 2050.

Graph showing Herefordshire county carbon descent from 1990 to 2050.

Average per capita emissions have also fallen from 9.4 tonnes in 2005 to 6 tonnes in 2017.[5]

Figure 3: Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in Herefordshire 2005 to 2017.

Chart showing per capita carbon dioxide emissions in Herefordshire 2005 to 2017.

The current greenhouse gas reduction commitment is an 80% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 for Herefordshire as a whole and the county is currently ahead of target.   However, reflecting growing international concern about global warming and associated climate change, in March, Herefordshire Council declared a climate emergency and committed to an accelerated reduction of the Council’s carbon emissions, with the aspiration to be carbon neutral by 2030; and to change its energy supply to 100% renewable sources.[6] The 100% renewable energy for corporate electricity use started on the 1 September 2019. 

The significant change required to reach carbon neutral for the county by 2030 is shown clearly by the steep change in gradient required between the 2030 and 2050 targets (see figure 2 above).  This new, highly ambitious, target requires a new carbon management plan to be developed over the coming months, however progress already made in reducing carbon emissions means the county is well-placed to achieve the new objective.

The recently introduced 'beryl bikes' scheme is already making a significant contribution to reducing the number of short car journeys in Hereford city and to cutting associated CO2 emissions.

Herefordshire council's carbon emissions

In July 2019, Herefordshire Council reported that its total emissions in the year 2018/19 were 15,623 tonnes CO2e, showing a decrease of 43.2% from the baseline year of 2008/09. This exceeded the 2020/21 target of 40%, which was a significant achievement and establishes a strong base from which to take on the challenges of trying to be carbon neutral by 2030.

There was a total decrease of 1,843 tonnes of CO2e from the previous reporting period (2017/18), which equates to a 3.48% decrease.

One of the most notable decreases in emissions was from “Street Lighting” which showed a 78% reduction from the baseline year and a 19% reduction from the previous reporting year.[7]

Figure 4 below shows the council’s current reduction trend and the new aspirational target against the government actual and proposed reduction targets. 

Figure 4: Herefordshire Council carbon descent from 2008/09 to 2029/30.

Graph showing Herefordshire Council's carbon descent from 2008/09 to 2029/30

[1] Special report: Global warming of 1.5ºC Summary for Policymakers, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018.

[2] Fifth annual assessment report, IPCC, 2014

[3] 'Five ways UK farmers are tackling climate change', D. Brown, BBC News, 18 August 2019.

[4] 2018 UK greenhouse gas emissions, provisional figures, ONS, 2019.

[5] UK local authority and regional carbon dioxide emissions national statistics: 2005-2017, Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2019.

[6] Agenda item: Notices of motion under standing orders, Herefordshire Council.

[7] Greenhouse gas emissions summary financial year 2017/18, Herefordshire Council, 2018.