Leeds could become a carbon neutral city by 2050 – and potentially by 2030 – according to a carbon roadmap report by Leeds Climate Commission.

The report demonstrates that it is technically, and to a large extent, economically possible for Leeds to become a carbon neutral city and to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets in line with the global targets set out by the United Nations.

However, the report warns, “We should not underestimate the broader challenges that need to be overcome if Leeds is to make the transition from where it is now to where it needs to be if it is to become a carbon neutral city.

“Delivering the further changes needed to meet ambitious targets – especially in the coming decade when fast and deep carbon cuts are required - will depend on transformative action in all parts of the city.”

The “carbon roadmap” for Leeds identifies the city’s carbon budget – the amount of carbon emissions (as a proportion of the global carbon budget) that Leeds can emit between now and 2050 in order to stay within the 1.5°C temperature rise recommended by a United Nations special report released in October 2018.

The landmark UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns that the window to limit average world temperature increases to under 1.5 °C and avoid the worst climate change impacts could close within the next 12 (now 11) years, with current levels of global greenhouse gas emissions needing to be reduced by almost half in that period.

The science-based carbon roadmap report, produced by a team led by Andy Gouldson, Professor of Environmental Policy at the University of Leeds, sets out carbon targets and a roadmap for reducing Leeds’ emissions in line with the UN recommendations.

For Leeds, that means cutting its 2005 level of emissions by the following:

  • 70% by 2025
  • 85% by 2030
  • 95% by 2035
  • 97% by 2040
  • 99% by 2045
  • 100% (zero carbon) by 2050.

Innovative actions needed

While the roadmap shows a pathway to zero carbon by 2050, it also shows that even a combination of all of the currently available options does not deliver the emissions reductions necessary, leaving a substantial gap.

To close the gap, the roadmap looks at innovative actions, including switching the heating network to decarbonised hydrogen, working with the largest energy consumers to deliver significant improvements, deep retrofit of domestic and public/commercial buildings and ensuring that all new buildings are carbon neutral, accelerated roll out of district heating and electric vehicles and promoting ambitious levels of walking and cycling.

If all of these are achieved, it would be possible to close the gap and for Leeds to become carbon neutral by 2050, the report says.

Making the commitment

On 27 March 2019, Leeds council members voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency. The Motion included a resolution to sign up to a science based carbon reduction target that is consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement of no more than 1.5°C global temperature increase. It also resolved to work to make Leeds carbon neutral by 2030, and calls on central government to provide the funding and powers to make this possible.

In response to this, the Leeds carbon roadmap goes on to show that the highly ambitious 2030 target could be achieved, if behavioural actions that make a global contribution are also accounted for.  These include reducing food waste by 80%, a 33% decrease in meat and dairy consumption and a 33% decrease in steel and concrete use – all by 2030.

The report’s authors calculate that allowing 50% of the carbon credit for these measures reduces the gap between current levels of emissions and carbon neutrality by a total of 15%, with the potential to make the city carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon negative by 2050.

Political support needed

Taking all the actions necessary will require political, social and business support within the city, and support from central government, investors and organisations who influence life in the city, the report says.

It points to the substantial role that needs to be played by the largest organisations and energy users in the city, which should be encouraged to follow suit with their own roadmap.

Ensuring that the transition to zero carbon is just and inclusive one is central, Gouldson’s team emphasise, stressing that people and places are not left behind and that everyone participates in and benefits from the transition.

City-wide conversation

Included in the Climate Emergency White Paper Motion is a commitment by Leeds City Council working with the Leeds Climate Commission to undertake a city-wide "conversation" with residents, Trade Unions, public sector organisations, businesses and the third sector on developing a plan with the actions and milestones required to reach the 2030 target.

This will be ongoing throughout the year, with a report with the outcomes being presented to the Council’s Executive Board by the end of 2019.

Read the full report in the download below and join the conversation on Twitter #Leedscarbonroadmap.