The council was the first local authority in Lincolnshire to declare a climate emergency, and already at the time was taking measures to reduce its carbon footprint and help the environment.
Since the declaration, significant work has been undertaken to put together a Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan that details the first actions to be taken towards the carbon neutral targets.
These actions reflect that tackling climate change means improving every aspect of life and work. They include transforming the council’s current Environment Policy to ensure that improvements and opportunities for things such as low emissions energy and vehicles are taken by colleagues right across the organisation.
In addition to the Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan, a Tree Strategy was approved, which will increase the number of trees on land the Council owns by 10 per cent in the short term and by 25 per cent by 2035 to help tackle climate change, promote well-being and stimulate prosperity.
As well as planting more trees, the council also aims to redress the balance by planting shrubs, hedgerows, meadow grasses and wild flowers which will create interesting places for people to enjoy whilst improving the environment and providing new and enhanced habitats for wildlife.
Progress on these ambitious schemes was reported to a meeting of the authority’s Executive this week when it was also revealed that the council would provide 50 hectares of additional tree canopy cover by 2030.
Leader of the Council, Coun Richard Wright said: “This council has always championed the cause of protecting the environment we live in and that is why we were the first authority in Lincolnshire to declare a climate emergency and increasing the number of trees we have in our district will play a major part in this.
“We also want to improve public access to woodlands, create new woodlands and use trees to improve health and well-being.
“As an authority we have been working to reduce greenhouse gases for 12 years. We set ourselves challenging targets and we have repeatedly exceeded our ambitions which has helped us generate energy and fuel cost savings across our estate and services to the tune of more than £150,000 a year.”
Executive Member with responsibility for this area, Coun Mervyn Head, said that to achieve these goals the Council would be working with residents, businesses, town and parish councils, the Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, the Woodland Trust and anyone who could help to take the project forward.
“More trees will help the environment in so many ways. They reduce the impact of climate change by removing and storing carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants from the air and they absorb water which reduces the risk of flooding.
“Trees also have a cooling effect which counteracts the risk of overheating, they provide habitats for wildlife and improve our physical and mental wellbeing,” said Coun Head.
CO2 levels in North Kesteven are already much lower than in many parts of the United Kingdom but more trees are seen as a way of the council delivering the Government’s ambition of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The council accepts that the existing tree cover level in North Kesteven is relatively low and that is because 90 per cent of available land in the area is used for agriculture.
The authority will also expect new building developments to retain existing trees whenever possible but if there is no alternative but to remove trees on difficult sites they will have to be replaced on a greater than one-for-one basis.
Coun Wright said: “Our action on trees is very much part of our drive to achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2030. The proposed switch of our leisure facilities to 100 per cent renewable electricity which will remove 110 tonnes of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere every year and we also want to work on tackling gas emissions from heating from our leisure and culture facilities.
“Our council also has responsibility for 2,753 footpath lights in the district and we are investigating how we can change the current lanterns to LED devices on a village by village basis.
“All of this work will help us to make North Kesteven an even better place for everyone.”
Reducing emissions to tackle the climate emergency is a huge task that requires residents and businesses to be supported to implement a wide range of options to transform the way homes and businesses are powered, the way people and goods are transported, and how the natural environment is enhanced.
As part of the next steps, the council will open the Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan to communities and businesses to consultation to gather thoughts, ideas and feedback to inform future action.
Watch a video of Coun Wright explaining their next steps here.