Devon County Council’s Carbon Plan

Twenty five partner organisations, led by Devon County Council, including all eleven councils and two national park authorities, are collaborating on the production of a Devon Carbon Plan to show a pathway to getting Devon to net-zero by 2050 at the latest. The partnership, which formed in May 2019, is also working with Cornwall Council and Isles of Scilly Council to prepare a Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Climate Adaptation Plan. An independent Net-Zero Task Force, led by the University of Exeter, is leading the process of preparing the Carbon Plan with the use of a Citizens' Assembly (June and July 2021). A Climate Impacts Group, led by the Environment Agency, is preparing the Adaptation Plan.

The challenge

  • No one organisation can respond to the climate and ecological emergency. In a two tier area, also with two neighbouring unitary authorities and two national park authorities, we needed a partnership to coordinate activity and to minimise duplication of effort and draw on the resources of partner organisations, such as the universities of Plymouth and Exeter and the Met Office.
  • Partner organisations have different dates set for achieving net-zero across their geographies and within their organisations. We needed a structure that would enable these different ambitions to work with each other.
  • The youth movement Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion were becoming particularly active and calling on the project partners to implement various controversial initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

The solution

In response to the challenges outlined above:

  • The Devon members of the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Resilience Forum were called to a special climate emergency teleconference meeting by the Chief Executive of Devon County Council, Phil Norrey, in May 2019. The partners all agreed that a Response Group to coordinate activity and a Tactical Group to get things done should be formed. This nomenclature reflects the terminology used in emergency planning situations and they essentially operate as the Project Board and Project Team respectively. The Response Group is attended by senior officers of the partner organisations whilst the Tactical Group has representation from colleagues in climate/energy/sustainability type roles. Devon County Council has funded a new, full-time, project manager and new communications officer to run the project on behalf of the partnership.
  • The Response Group invited Professor Patrick Devine-Wright from the University of Exeter, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Lead Author, to chair an independent Net-Zero Task Force. Patrick is joined by a further 14 specialists from academia, business and community interests, invited for their experience of a particular aspect of achieving of net-zero. The Task Force is leading on the preparation of an objective, evidence-led Carbon Plan that proposes actions to overcome hurdles to achieving net-zero in Devon. The Plan will be aspirational - it will contain actions for everybody in Devon, not just the partners - individuals, organisations, communities and councils.
  • Councillors saw the potential value of a citizens' assembly to inform the Devon Carbon Plan by hearing what types of measures the people of Devon would support. Devon County Council provided funding to operate a Devon Climate Assembly and worked with the University of Exeter to design how it should operate and evaluate its effectiveness to inform the potential use of assemblies in future policy work.

The Task Force initially undertook a series of Themed Hearings in November 2019, 'roundtable' conversations between stakeholders to discuss what the barriers were to achieving net-zero for various topics - Energy Supply; Transport; Built Environment, Food, Land and Sea; and Economy and Resources. These were live-streamed on Facebook.  Alongside these, the public were asked for their ideas between November 2019 and January 2020, a process that received 894 submissions. The Devon Youth Parliament also organised a half-day workshop which attracted 75 secondary and primary school students to get their input.

The next step was going to be the citizens' assembly, followed by the drafting of the Carbon Plan. But COVID struck.

Instead, an Interim Carbon Plan was drafted (this is online) that does not include actions to address a set of controversial issues that will be considered by an online assembly. A public consultation occurred between December 2020 and February 2021 on the Interim Carbon Plan. That received 1,300 responses, the consultation report will be online by the end of July 2021, and the Task Force is now working with the Tactical Group to produce a revised version.

The online assembly is now underway (June and July 2021). They are discussing their general appetite for implementing the Devon Carbon Plan as well as three specific issues:

  • How can we encourage people to use their cars less whilst improving mobility in the county?
  • How can we encourage people to retrofit buildings more quickly?
  • What is the role of onshore wind in providing Devon's electricity needs?

Their recommendations will be published in October 2021, considered by the partners and turned into implementable actions for consultation in March 2022. These actions will be combined with the Interim Devon Carbon Plan to form a Final Devon Carbon Plan for adoption by the partners from August 2022.

The impact

The impact of the work to date is that we have a strong partnership, with its member organisations pulling in the same direction to address the climate and ecological emergency in Devon and work with national government.

Most of the partner organisations are putting a Carbon Plan in place for their own geographies, which will pick actions from the Devon-wide Carbon Plan that are relevant to their area, their aspirations and their capacity to help effect change.

Co-benefits are a strong theme of the project. Opportunities to improve social justice, health, wellbeing, the condition of the environment and reinvigorate communities are shared priorities by all of the partners and are embedded within the Interim Devon Carbon Plan's principles.

The partnership has also led to collaboration on immediate carbon reduction projects. For example, the partnership came together to implement a Devon Solar Together initiative - a group buying opportunity for domestic solar panels. This attracted over 900 registrations from Devon's households. The marketing of this project was branded 'Devon Climate Emergency'.

Lessons learned

Working in a partnership of this size on such a complex issue takes time to ensure everybody feels engaged in the process and are able to contribute. This is crucial as the objective is to collectively implement the Carbon Plan, and if people don't feel involved in its production, they won't feel that ownership to help implement it. 

It has been challenging to balance this need with expectations from communities that action will be taken quickly to justify the so-called 'emergency'. This led to a resource on the website titled ‘Taking Action’ to show people what the partners are doing already alongside developing the Devon Carbon Plan and the Adaptation Plan.