England’s Environment Agency (EA) has committed to reaching net-zero carbon in its operations and supply chain by 2030 – two decades ahead of the UK Government’s national target.
The body’s chair, Emma Howard Boyd, announced the new ambition at an Aldersgate Group policy briefing on climate risk in London this morning (10 October), calling it a “significant change to business-as-usual”.
She explained that the delivery of the target would require the EA to reduce its absolute carbon footprint by 45% by 2030, against a 2017 baseline, before offsetting the residual 55% of its emissions.
“We’ve always been clear that adaptation is no panacea; we urgently need to reduce emissions and we all need to play a part,” Howard Boyd said. “We will adopt tough, internationally recognised frameworks and targets.”
Elaborating on why a date of 2030 was chosen, Howard Boyd said the EA believes it important to focus on “building resilience” rather than waiting for a “prescription” once the net-zero transition is already well underway.
She additionally revealed that the EA will explore the feasibility of committing to “absolute zero” by 2050. Doing so would require the organisation to address embodied carbon and in-use emissions without the purchase of carbon offsets.
The EA is expected to produce 44,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2019, after hitting its 2020 emissions reductions two years early.
Key contributors to these emissions, Howard Boyd explained, are the EA’s suppliers and contractors, as well as the physical infrastructure it installs for purposes such as flood prevention. To that end, the body will set up new contract arrangements which “ensure partners are innovating low-carbon solutions for construction”.
“This [new target] does not mean that we will stop building flood defences, currently responsible for around 80,000 tonnes of carbon every year; pumping water out of peoples’ homes if they flood and distributing it around the country to alleviate drought, 17,000 tonnes; or travelling, 12,000 tonnes,” Howard Boyd said.
“But we will certainly have to find radical new approaches to fulfilling our duties in creating better, more resilient places, while responding to the climate emergency.
“Success will require a wholesale cultural shift from our employees, partners and suppliers. It will require sustained focus, on the whole, on ensuring that all our future decisions are on track. It will require coordination and innovation, because some of the technologies we need do not yet exist.”
When asked by the Aldersgate Group’s director Nick Molho what kind of support would be most crucial to delivering the EA’s commitment, Howard Boyd cited partnerships and engagement with suppliers.
“We need to work in partnership and understand how people can work together to solve this challenge,” she said.