It has been a long hot summer so far, with record temperatures, devastating wildfires in Portugal, Greece and the United States, and life-threatening flash floods in southern France. Scientists have long warned that global warming will bring with it extreme weather events, and inevitably questions are being asked as to whether this summer is the new norm. I suspect we’ve still got some chilly, wet English summers to come, but I have no doubt that the climate is changing in significant and dangerous ways. As the Cabinet member for Improving Camden’s Environment at Camden Council I want us to be at the forefront of local action to tackle the issue.
In 2010, we became one of the first local authorities nationally to commit to a 40% boroughwide carbon reduction by 2020. With a population of over 220,000 and a significant commercial and institutional sector generating around 65% of Camden’s carbon emissions, we knew from the start that we could not bring down borough emissions on our own. So we established a supportive policy and programme framework that would enable businesses and residents to play their part in reducing the emissions driving climate change.
A good example of this approach, and something that has worked really well, is our business network, the Camden Climate Change Alliance. The Alliance now has over 320 members ranging from large public sector institutions such as Great Ormond Street Hospital to the London University, the Wellcome Trust and Arup. Members commit to reduce their emissions year on year and are supported by us through a number of paid-for services, such as energy audits and carbon footprinting. Four in five reporting members showed carbon reductions of on average 8% last year, and since its formation in 2010 emissions from the commercial sector across Camden as a whole have fallen 36%. The Alliance cannot take all the credit for this improvement but it has certainly played its part. Crucially, it has encouraged businesses and organisations to work together and learn from one another in a way that would not have happened otherwise.
Improving the energy efficiency of homes to reduce carbon emissions and fuel poverty presents its own particular challenge in Camden, partly because over 75% of the borough is protected with Conservation Area status. Whilst much of our early work focused on maximising investment from national and regional programmes such as the Mayor of London’s RE:NEW scheme and the problematic Green Deal, I wanted to share the new approach we’re taking with our Camden Climate Fund.
The Camden Climate Fund uses the London Plan’s carbon offsetting mechanism to collect funding from developments that fall short of required energy performance targets. It then redirects this to householders and community energy groups in the form of grants to fund solar installations. It sounds simple, and it is, but more importantly it is helping to sustain renewable energy uptake in Camden at a time when the government is increasingly reducing support for the sector. Of course, one could also argue that householders and community groups are simply being asked to do the job that developers should have done in the first place. But that fails to capture the way that the Camden Climate Fund is drawing more and more people into the renewable energy story. There is also the added benefit that, unlike major developments in Camden, the smaller renewable energy systems funded by the Camden Climate Fund tend to be installed by the local supply chain. The scale of deployment through the Camden Climate Fund still needs to grow but the potential for local economic benefit and a re-energised community sector is something we should all aspire to if we’re serious about our contribution to climate change. To drive more solar uptake we are also working with the Mayor of London to promote Solar Together.
Of course, we need to lead by example as a local authority too, and that is why we have our own target of 40% carbon reduction by 2020. Our most recent 2017 data shows that we have now cut our carbon emissions by an impressive 29%, bringing approximate annual energy bill savings to the council of £1m. We have driven this progress through an in-house Carbon Reduction Fund, which allows teams to apply for funding for projects that cut energy bills and carbon against agreed payback criteria. Recently this saw a large solar array installed on our Grade II listed Swiss Cottage library, showing how heritage and energy conservation can go hand in hand. We have more projects in the pipeline.
More widely, we have also led the way with our flagship decentralised energy project, Somers Town Energy, which connects over 500 council homes to a new low carbon energy network in one of the most deprived wards in Camden, bringing fuel poverty and emissions reductions benefits with it. Somers Town Energy won the national 2016 Best District Heating award. We are now expanding the network to a local school and will start selling electricity from our energy centre to a third party in 2019.
All of these initiatives describe a growing trend to distribute energy generation away from the old power station centres to our communities. For this to work, we need the support of local distribution network operators like UK Power Networks to help enable connections to the power grid. This transition presents a subtle infrastructure challenge and we are pleased to be part of the solution. With the support of organisations like UK100, and the knowledge that cutting carbon often makes good financial sense, I am confident we can accelerate our collective investment towards our 2050 clean energy goal.