Targets for sustainability

National and international targets act as drivers for sector and country based targets but quantitative time based targets can be difficult to understand and measure. A lack of an agreement from the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 highlighted the problems of setting necessary global targets.

Carbon emissions are commonly used as a measure of sustainability as they are more quantitative than other aspects. Ecological footprinting is a more comprehensive way to demonstrate sustainability but is significantly more difficult to quantify the constituent elements. An ecological footprint considers a wider set of issues influencing the planet's ecological system, such as the use of resources (water, minerals, wood etc.) extraction of materials, waste sent to landfill, biodiversity conservation, land use, flood risk, crime rates, health and wellbeing and education level (DEFRA, 2008) (WWF, 2008).

The EU, the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) have each established carbon emission targets in order to encourage reductions. The targets on different scales are:

EU emission targets
To reduce the EU’s overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. The intention is to scale up this reduction to as much as 30% under a new global climate change agreement if and when agreed.

Increasing the share of renewables in energy use to 20% by 2020 and to raise energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.

UK emission targets
Through the Kyoto Protocol, the UK is committed to reducing its greenhouse emissions by 12.5 per cent over the period 2008 – 2012 against 1990 emission levels.

Through the Climate Change Act, the UK Government is committed to:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 against a 1990 baseline;
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34% by 2020 against a 1990 baseline;
  • establish, via secondary legislation, carbon budgets on aggregate greenhouse gas emissions over five year periods.

In May 2009 the UK government set milestones alongside the budget of 2009 in order to assist with the 2020 and 2050 targets to be met. Levels of the first three carbon budgets were approved by Parliament and are now set in law as follows:

  • 2012 – 22% reduction from 1990 levels;
  • 2017 – 28% reduction from 1990 levels;
  • 2022 – 34% reduction from 1990 levels.

Welsh emission targets
WAG ‘will aim to achieve annual carbon reduction-equivalent emissions reductions of 3% per year by 2011 in areas of devolved competence. They will set out specific sectoral targets in relation to residential, public and transport areas. They will work with the heavy industry/power generation industries to reduce emissions in those sectors

The 3% target includes all greenhouse gases:

  • covers all ‘direct’ emissions (except those from heavy industry and power generation) and electricity consumption emissions;
  • the baseline is an average of emissions between 2006 – 2010.

These targets intends to set a minimum contribution to emission reductions over a ten-year period with predictions for sectors as follows:

  • Transport emissions to stabilise and then start to decline over ten years;
  • Residential build on the existing reduction continuing year on year over the next ten years.

Public sector will expect every part of the public sector in Wales to be working towards 3% annual reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions for which they are responsible.

School emission targets
At present targets specific to schools are limited and related to new build. For example, in the DCFS ‘Climate change and schools report’ of 2010 challenging standards for new build secondary school buildings are set requiring that carbon emissions standards are 60% lower than those required by Building Regulations 2002.

The Towards a Schools Carbon Management Plan was developed between 2004-2009 following the publication of ‘Every Child Matters’ Green paper in 2003. The management plan uses energy bills and costs relating to carbon emissions from a sample of schools to provide a benchmark for schools. Three target options, ranging from compliance to leadership were developed for English schools based on 2004 baseline levels.

Following ‘Towards a Schools Carbon Management Plan’   the Zero Carbon Task Force produced the ‘Road to Zero Carbon Final Report’ which reviewed the Building Schools for the Future programme. Some major difficulties and issues for existing targets were presented which are relevant for all schools with low carbon aspirations:

  • A series of step-changes towards zero carbon new schools should be introduced, beginning with a target of 10kgCO2/m2per annum for new schools from 2013, as suggested in the DCSF’s consultation on a carbon management strategy for schools. This corresponds to a reduction of approximately 80% on 2002 building standards, which is a further development from the DCSF’s current requirement to reduce emissions by 60% (DCFS, 2010);
  • DCSF has received completed carbon calculations for approximately 70 new schools. These indicate that, generally, the 60% reduction can be achieved at a cost of approximately £50/m2, although estimated costs at the design stage are wide ranging;
  • Where solutions are proposed, potential carbon savings are relatively modest – fabric insulation and ventilation heat recovery indicating estimated carbon savings of no greater than 5%;
  • Modelling has demonstrated that technically there is scope to reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency measures by up to 12-14kgCO2/m2 relative to the 2006 building regulations requirements, but some of these measures are not financially viable (including the highest levels of floor and roof insulation);
  • The payment mechanism for contractors providing school services through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) includes an interim operational target of 27kgCO2/m2 for core hours. This target is expected to be revised downwards as information becomes available on the actual performance of newly constructed schools that have received additional funding for low carbon measures.
This illustrates that as a result of future economic uncertainty it is a real challenge for WAG to devise feasible targets for the 21st Century School Programme. There is still optimism that rapidly developing renewable technologies and a more mature low carbon supply chain could help to reach targets. Following the Building Schools for the Future's experience, carbon targets set should be revised every year during the first two bands of the planned investment. After six years, targets could be reviewed at each investment point.


WLGA - CLILC Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru / Welsh Assembly Government