In the year when recovery from the global pandemic and the upcoming UN COP26 climate change conference are uppermost in the minds of many, East Ayrshire Council has taken a bold step towards a cleaner, greener future with the launch of a new Climate Change Strategy to tackle the challenges of global warming by reducing carbon emissions.
In October 2019 Councillor Claire Leitch, Cabinet member for Children and Young People, Net Zero, Environment and Climate Change, Equalities and Inclusion was instrumental in working with members of the Young People’s Cabinet to set up and run a Children and Young People’s Climate Conference, which was held in East Ayrshire’s Council Chamber.
One of the major outcomes of that conference was the overwhelming plea from the young delegates, that we all look locally to see what changes we could make, and that this should include every function carried out by the Council.
As a result, a Members and Officers Working Group (MOWG), which included delegates from the Young People’s Cabinet, was set up and given the monumental task of assessing every area of the Council’s operations to see what could be changed both internally and in the wider community to help reduce the local carbon footprint.
The MOWG came up with a wide ranging strategy which has now been approved by full Council. Setting targets to be followed over the next 10 years, the report looks at major areas for improvement including making a commitment to join the UK100, a network of highly motivated local government leaders who are working to create more powerful, cleaner communities with a net zero target for carbon emissions in line with the UN targets.
On a more local level, all the council services are being scrutinised to see where positive changes can be made with a focus on the main areas where improvements can be made:
Transport is the largest polluter in East Ayrshire, with a responsibility for 40% of all carbon emissions in the area, followed by 31% from domestic and 29% from industrial and commercial enterprises.
To help cut the transport emissions, the report looked at ways of cutting transport emissions both within the Council and in the wider community.
A large number of the council’s fleet are already electric or hybrid vehicles. As older vehicles are replaced, this policy will continue to be uppermost in the choices made when procuring new vehicles.
For larger vehicles such as bin lorries, hydrogen power is being explored as an option for the future.
Electric charging points have already been installed throughout the area, and the plan outlines a rolling programme to increase the number and locations of these to encourage greater uptake of electric cars.
Active Travel is also a major priority, with officers working with organisations such as Ayrshire Roads Alliance East Ayrshire Leisure, Active Travel Hub, Sustrans and SPTE to make walking, cycling and public transport more accessible and attractive to use, helping cut down on car use and boost health and wellbeing.
Waste and recycling are also major issues, with ambitious targets set nationwide to cut all levels of waste going to landfill in the race to zero carbon.
The report looks at building on recent work to upgrade recycling facilities throughout East Ayrshire to boost recycling uptake, including making it easier for the public and business to recycle.
This includes enabling, campaigning and educating people and businesses to cut their food waste. Setting up of food larders, the dignified food programme and campaigns to cut down use of single use plastic, are all part the work being done to help reduce waste while alleviating food poverty in the community.
Buildings - The way in which we build, heat and power our homes is also a big issue for climate change. The council’s programme for building and refurbishing new schools, community facilities and housing stock already includes stipulations for eco-friendly materials and heat sources. Using high standards of insulation, heat pumps, solar panels and non-fossil fuel boilers are all now built into the design process for any new project.
Building on this philosophy the multi million pound Ayrshire Growth Deal will be working with businesses and communities to decarbonise and support the growth of high potential, low carbon enterprise. A major part of this will be the National Energy Research Demonstrator - a ground breaking project, centred around the Cumnock area which will harness the area’s natural energy assets, including geothermal, river source, wind and sustainable biomass energy to create a low cost energy grid.
Coupled with a major programme of refurbishing buildings to increase thermal efficiency, residents will also be able to benefit from a new build programme based on two “demonstrator” zero carbon houses to be built on a site at Knockroon. This will also house a research facility for scientists and students working on combating climate change through technology.
Environment - East Ayrshire benefits from a diverse natural environment which includes water courses, commercial forestry, windy hillscapes and former coal workings, all of which lend themselves to being used sustainably for clean energy production. At the same time, by controlling emissions, encouraging environmental clean ups where litter and fly tipping exists, and encouraging diverse, eco-friendly and worthwhile land use, there is great scope for both harnessing and protecting the natural environment for the long term.
Welcoming the Council’s endorsement of the report, Councillor Claire Leitch said: “This report represents two years of hard work by all members of the MOWG. Full credit must go to the young people who pushed for its creation and whose unflagging enthusiasm and drive has helped inspire and push us on to do what we can to produce this blueprint change for our bit of the planet.
“With four key themes of Energy, Transport, Waste and Natural Environment, the council’s services are now very much focused on analysing both their own work and then looking at what they can do to involve the community, schools, businesses to both raise awareness and take on projects which can bring about meaningful permanent change for the better.
“This report is only the start, we know we’ve already made some positive moves, but there is so much more to do, and it’s clear from the work done so far that not only does everyone living in East Ayrshire have a responsibility to make what changes we can, we can all benefit long term. Making these changes may not be easy, but it makes a lot of sense, by upgrading our homes and buildings where we can, and cutting our waste, emissions and energy use we will find we are all also saving some money and making life a little easier too.
“By thinking about what and how we eat, learning to shop more wisely, growing our own if we can, buying from local suppliers, and getting inventive with leftovers, we can enjoy a healthier, less expensive diet and have less need for food waste disposal.
“And by changing the way we work, leaving the car at home for short journeys, taking a bike, walking or taking a bus or train instead of always driving, we can also get fitter, enjoy our free time, fresh air and a cleaner, greener environment.
“We can thank the young people who started this process, but the best thanks we can give them is our pledge to carry forward this ambitious strategy to give them a brighter, carbon zero future.”