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Cabinet member for climate change talks about top priorities

A CLIMATE change boss at Cardiff Council said he is confident of the authority and city reaching its net zero target by 2030 despite the major challenges it faces.

The size of the task is not lost on Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for climate change, Cllr Caro Wild.

He said a “huge” piece of work is needed in terms of behaviour change to get residents on board with the mission to net zero and added that the council’s current £23.5 million budget gap will also be a major challenge to contend with.

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week, as heavy rains again brought home the ever present risk of flooding to the people of Cardiff, Cllr Wild said work is going on “now” to make sure people and their homes are kept safe.

Here’s what the councillor, who has been in his new cabinet post for over six months, had to say.

How do you see the size of the challenge in getting to net zero for the council and the city? 

“The council’s emissions are about 1.5% of the whole city, which is a tiny fraction really and we should be leading, but what we do across the whole city is arguably more important.

“Some of the big challenges are around our estate, old schools, council buildings and council homes, and it is worth saying I think over the last eight years or so since 2014, emissions have halved.

“We have made really good progress in terms of getting a lot of our buildings more sustainable in quite basic ways, but still our estate needs a lot more work and when you think about the amount of schools we have to look after and the amount of houses and buildings all built at different times, there is no one size fits all.

“There is a lot of hard work to do on that, but I am really pleased with the progress we are making there.

“Some of the other big emissions are around our supply chain and that is more complicated.

“Our socially responsible procurement policy – it doesn’t always grab the headlines, but what that has indicated to the market is really important and that we now factor sustainability and carbon into how we decide how we spend our money, the different companies that we use and how we go about doing some of our work.

“There is some really big work going on there. Pretty early after my appointment, I asked the Chief Executive to set up a meeting of all the directors to really drive down emissions to get to net zero by 2030.

“It is alright for us talking about being net zero and saying we are going to be the greenest city, but that really requires some quite complicated and difficult data analysis work, so I am really pleased a lot of that is done now and we have a really clear picture of what needs to happen.”

In a meeting last month, a graph showed that the council will still be about 16,000 tonnes short of reaching its net zero target if it continues with its current green projects. There are a number of strategies coming down the line, but some of these, like the potential tidal lagoon project, could be years from fruition. Does this still make getting to net zero by 2030 realistic? 

“I think it does. I think there is a pathway there. It is worth noting that those figures are the current agreed projects. There is a lot more work going on in the background.

“Once projects get agreed, they will go into that graph and show that that is going to eke away at that 16,000 figure.

“Not to say that there won’t be some serious challenges. There are some parts of the council’s operations that we are going to find really difficult to get to net zero in 2030, no doubt about that.

“There are definitely challenges, but we are still pretty confident that that 2030 figure can be met. It is ambitious, but I think it is the right level of ambition that we can do if we really put our mind to it.”

Have you factored in how the budget gap could have an impact as well? How much could that hold you back?

“It definitely can. A lot of it does come with a cost, especially when you look at the estate, the heat pumps and all of these kinds of things that would need to be fitted to get to net zero.

“That is going to be a challenge and we are calling on all levels of government for more funding, especially for retrofit, council house retrofit and private home retrofit.

“There is a massive gap in the financial market across the whole of the UK, so we would need that to change. It will add more pressure, but there are loads of opportunities there as well in terms of getting our cost down and taking some of the difficult decisions now to actually decrease costs.

“We have just found out, and we will make the figures a bit clearer to the public, that the solar farm this year made half a million pounds net profit. We are looking at more renewable schemes that are likely to add some investment as well.”

In terms of sustainability, the council has control over the houses that it has built, but it probably doesn’t have as much control over private housing. Is there anything the council can do to bring in more planning guidance or conditions that need to be met? 

“In terms of private housing, I would say that we do have control over the sustainability of houses that are built, but it is not necessarily the biggest issue.

“A lot of new homes that are built in the city by private developers are very efficient.

“The real problem is privately owned and rented houses that are already built in the city that have got poor levels of insulation and poor gas boilers. That is where we have very little control over.

“That is where we are really seeking the Government to invest in, and again that is a UK wide issue.

“Actually, planning guidance is strong. Most of the new houses being built are very sustainable.”

How do you see the size of the challenge of getting members of the public on board with helping the city reach its net zero targets and educating them?

“I think every day people are seeing the real impacts of climate change and I think they are recognising their own actions as being important in that.

“We can see in Cardiff that we suffer the impacts of climate change now. It is happening. It is not something that is in the future and I think the public are broadly coming around to that.

“There is going to be a huge piece of work needed in terms of behaviour change of individuals and there are some levers that we have, such as recycling and transport. All of those day to day actions that the public take are really important.

“We are looking to do some work on behaviour change along with the Welsh Government over the next few years.

“Asking residents to really think about how they get around every day, what they do with their waste and recycling, think about what they buy and how they spend their money and the impacts of that.

“That is why things like the recycling strategy are so important in terms of getting peoples’ thought process around their carbon footprint.”

“In terms of housing and energy, the big impact we also have there is the cost of living crisis, which in many ways has forced people to look at when they put their heating on and which bit of the house they heat.

“That is a really tough one for people, but in many ways it is really important as well for people to think about the energy they use and how efficient their homes are.”

Do you know when the segregated recycling scheme could be rolled out to further areas of Cardiff and are you able to say where that might be?

“I can’t I’m afraid, not for any other reason than we don’t exactly know. We are still learning a lot from that scheme.

“We do want to roll it out to more areas and planning is going on with that, but we have still got some decisions to make around getting the fleet right, the vehicles right, getting the infrastructure at Lamby Way right so that the materials can be collected properly.

“That is quite complicated stuff that is just being worked through, but we made it very clear in that cabinet report that we are trying to roll it out to more areas.

“We want this to be a standard way. The one exception to that is HMOs and flats, which we are still not convinced that is the right way when you look at the number of bags and containers and when you look at the number of flats in a building.

“There is still a bit more to work on that, but in terms of homes, this is the way we are looking to move things forward.”

When I spoke to people on their front doors about it there was a mixed reaction. Some people thought it was a good idea and some had difficulties with it. I think one thing that stood out is that some older people and less able bodied people said that they found it difficult using the scheme – handling some of the containers, lifting them and sorting them. Will you be looking into how that can be improved for that group of people?

“Definitely. That is exactly the kind of learning process we are looking to do. For example, we know that some of those sacks as they are now are not brilliant for people.

“Some of them blow away. We are looking at a couple of designs. That kind of feedback is really important. We are getting that through members and through the public to try and make it as easy as possible.

“We don’t want to make life difficult for people, so those kinds of things are being factored in.

“The other thing we are really trying to do is to make more things recyclable. We know that makes a big difference to people.

“If they have got a few things, they don’t want to go all the way to a recycling centre or leave it, so as part of this strategy we are trying to work out what other things we can collect so that most of peoples’ recycling can be done on their doorstep.”

How concerned are you about the threat that flooding poses to Cardiff? I know there are flood defences being built and flood defences being planned, but I am sure there are a lot of people in Cardiff who are worried about the safety of their homes and what the future holds.

“The number one thing for people in Cardiff and for us is to make sure that we are keeping people as safe as possible and that homes are as safe as possible.

“We are at risk of flooding. We are a coastal city and we have got a number of rivers running through it as well. We are at risk in a number of different ways.

“We have got a flood risk management strategy coming forward. The work on that has already started.

“The coastal scheme, we can’t express enough how important that is. A big chunk of taxpayer money is going to go into making sure that we have got good protection in place there.

“We are in the process of tendering there and hopefully we can make a start on it before too long.

“The river and the streams work is also going on. A number of different schemes are coming forward at the moment to try and make sure that our defences are as good as they can be.

“There are issues around parts of Rumney and Whitchurch. We have got programmes coming forward where our experts and our flood teams have looked at all of the mapping and the work from Natural Resources Wales to look at where the risk is. We are doing work now.

“And then there is all the work we are doing with sustainable drainage, which is a big problem. That is a problem all over the developed world, really.

“There is a lot about sustainable drainage and the work in the city centre is taking a lot of water out of the drainage system and getting water directly out there in a more sustainable way.

“All of that work goes on all of the time. Any development now over a certain size has to have sustainable drainage. That all being said, the risk is there.

“You can see it. The risk from rain as well. Our drains do struggle to cope with the amount of water when it all comes at once.

“This is an impact of climate change, when you have got water coming down so suddenly and in some cases out of season.

“It is something we are really aware of and we have got a strategy coming forward to try and capture that and try and make sure people can see all the different measures we are putting in place.

“That has been a real priority for the city and days like this are really testing it. It is a big challenge for people and we know the risks.

“We also asked the public to make sure that drains and gutters are kept clear. It can be a massive help.”

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