22 February 2024

Sustainability Committee February 2024 roundup

Aberdeenshire Council’s Sustainability Committee, held on 21 February 2024, began by congratulating the River Dee Trust on winning the Nature & Climate Action Award for its Million Trees Campaign project.

The award was given as part of the 2023 Nature of Scotland Awards. The Million Trees Campaign was launched in 2020 and is a multi-million-pound campaign to plant native trees on hundreds of miles of the river Dee's tributaries.

The trees are to provide cooling shade to reduce the soaring summer water temperatures that threaten the river's wildlife. In November of 2023, more than 460,000 trees had already been planted.

The River Dee Trust is delivering the Million Trees Campaign in partnership with the Dee District Salmon Fisheries Board, landowners, Nature Scot, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, members of the public, and many other stakeholders.

Route Map to 2030 and Beyond Progress

The committee looked at the progress within Aberdeenshire Council’s Route Map to 2030 and Beyond, which summarises the key milestones to work towards a carbon-free society.

Scotland set into law these ambitious targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 (Scottish Government, 2019) with interim targets of 90% reduction by 2040 and 75% reduction by 2030. Aberdeenshire Council has aligned with these targets through its route map.

The committee noted that the resources to deliver the route map in line with Scottish Government schedules would rely on adequate funding and that local authorities are not yet being supported to finance everything that is needed to deliver it. However, officers have a plan of action to take forward and were optimistic that the timelines set are achievable.

Carbon Budget Update 2023/24

The final update on the actions agreed by Aberdeenshire Council on 9 March 2023, and listed in the Carbon Budget 2023-2024, was presented to the Sustainability Committee.

There is still a risk that the target of 44,152tCO2e set for the Carbon Budget 2023-24 is not met due to the challenge of supply chain delays, resources not being available to add additional projects by directorates, and the national emissions factor for electricity actually increasing in 2023.

The emissions factor is the carbon dioxide emissions associated with each unit of electricity at a national level.

The largest reduction in carbon emissions for the 2023-24 carbon budget came from the NESS Energy from Waste facility, located in East Tullos, beginning full operation. The plant processes non-recyclable waste from Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, and Moray Councils and will produce electricity for the national grid, and heat for a district heating network.

With all non-recyclable waste now going to the energy from waste plant, the estimate for emission savings has increased—an average of 3,180 tonnes of waste is diverted from landfills giving an estimated saving of 1,351 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Local Climate Impact Profile

Councillors discussed and approved the Local Climate Impact Profile (LCLIP) for 2019 to 2022 that raises awareness of the impact that extreme weather events have on Aberdeenshire Council’s services and the need to adapt and build resilience to them.

Between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2022, there were thirteen incidents of excessive rainfall, eighteen storm incidents, eleven incidents of extreme low temperatures/snow and ice, and nine incidents of extreme high temperatures/heatwaves across the region.

Councillors were concerned about the impacts of storms and their cleanup and how the costs can continue for many years. To add to this, the full costs of extreme weather are difficult to attribute in a timely manner while the immediate costs have not reached the Bellwin Scheme’s threshold for funding.

Officers shared that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and potentially more impactful. To prepare for the future, services are working with larger agencies such as Transport Scotland and sharing their work through COSLA and other resilience and emergency planning networks.

Environmental Standards Scotland Report

Councillors commented on the Environmental Standards Scotland report, which was an investigation into the effectiveness of systems in place to support local authorities in their duty to contribute to the delivery of climate change targets.

Officers have been in discussion with Environmental Standards Scotland and COSLA to be transparent about the challenges of delivering climate change targets, such as resources, funding, and access to stocked supply chains. The carbon budget will also be at Full Council on 22 February 2023.

The Sustainability and Climate Change team will continue to monitor any further developments from this report through the Sustainable Scotland Network.

Aberdeenshire Council Biodiversity Duty Reporting 2021 to 2023

Councillors discussed a range of biodiversity reporting, including the council’s pollinator action plan.

Every three years, Aberdeenshire Council reports to the Scottish Government on its works in relation to the ‘public sector biodiversity duty’. The biodiversity duty was introduced in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and states ‘It is the duty of every public body and office-holder, in exercising any functions, to further the conservation of biodiversity so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions.’

The proposed response highlighted the success of...

  • A Greenspace Project that is now being adopted as a mainstream approach to the management of our open spaces;
  • The adoption of the 2022-2027 Aberdeenshire Council Pollinator Action Plan;
  • The Countryside Ranger Service and NESBReC continuing to be hugely important for environmental education and recording in the region;
  • The 2023 Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan includes strong policies, supplementary guidance and planning advice for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment and biodiversity; and
  • Turning the significant negative of extensive storm damage to our woodland into a positive with re-planting and active management to ensure the woodlands maximise biodiversity benefit and are also resilient to the effects of extreme weather and climate change

Councillors and officers noted that the Scottish Government’s Nature restoration funding was hugely important in allowing this work to take place and is relied upon in the form of a grant each year.

Councillors also noted that monitoring the sustainability of the biodiversity in Aberdeenshire’s soils should be looked into and that a fantastic job has been done on the pollinator action plan.

At least 10% of council-managed public greenspace needs to be enhanced and managed for pollinators and biodiversity, so councillors understood the importance of communicating with communities about the importance of the action plan.

Local Heat & Energy Efficiency Draft Strategy

A draft of the council’s Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy (LHEES) was put to the committee for comment. The aim of an LHEES is to set out a long-term plan for how each local authority will decarbonise the heat supply in buildings and improve their energy efficiency across the entire local authority area.

As part of the legislative requirement to produce an LHEES, the council will gather opinions on whether it has captured the appropriate priorities and direction for Aberdeenshire.

Councillors were keen to emphasise that a fibre-first approach was important because insulating homes and properties would result in higher energy efficiency savings.

Views will soon be gathered via Engage Aberdeenshire once the survey goes live.

Further viewing and reading

The full Sustainability Committee held on 21 February 2023, and its associate documents, can be viewed via the council’s Committees and Meetings pages.