Climate Change and Air Quality Strategy

Last updated: 30 September 2021

3. Our Approach

Reducing emissions to air and adapting to climate change is a complex task. Nearly every aspect of modern life has a link to climate change and air quality. This means our response must look at a wide range of approaches to reduce emissions.

We have an important role to play in getting Buckinghamshire as a whole to reach net-zero by 2050 and ensuring that concentrations of air pollutants are at safe levels. We are also directly responsible for ensuring our own emissions are reduced to net-zero no later than 2050.

Whilst we have control of the activities which lead to our direct emissions, we do not have this same ability with all carbon emissions from across Buckinghamshire. In some circumstances we may have greater influence due to a financial relationship or regulatory function. In other areas we may be able to enable or influence change in other ways. As is shown later in the Evidence Base, the emissions we have direct control over are a very small proportion of the total emissions in Buckinghamshire, whereas those we may influence and enable change in are much larger.

Our approach to reducing emissions is reflective of the degree of control or influence we can have over the emission sources. We have looked at how this applies in different situation and have identified four level within which we can take action as explained below.

  1. Direct Control: this is where we are in direct control of the source of emissions, such as the buildings we operate. This is where we have the greatest level of control, but this also represents a small proportion of emissions in Buckinghamshire. In these areas, we can directly take steps to reduce emissions.
  2. Financial or Regulatory Role: this is where we have either a financial relationship with a source of emissions, such as with our suppliers, or a regulatory role, such as our role in the planning system. Here we do not directly control the sources of emissions, but we can use these relationships to support emission reductions from those who do have control. This is lower degree of influence, but over more emission sources than we directly control.
  3. Enabling Change: this is where we can take steps that enable others to reduce their emissions, but outside of a formal financial or regulatory role with the emissions source. This can include providing electric vehicle charging points or providing cycle and walking routes, which help residents to reduce their emissions by enabling them to take a lower emission form of transportation.
  4. Inform and Influence: we recognise that there are many sources of emissions in Buckinghamshire where we have fewer options to control or influence them. This can include measures individual households can take to reduce their emissions, for example by improving the energy efficiency of their home. In these circumstances, we can still support residents to access reliable information on what steps are available to them to reduce emissions and highlight benefits of doing so.

Our approach to achieving net-zero emissions and improving air quality therefore reflects the degree to which the council can control or influence a source of emissions.

Recognising these spheres of influence and how we can respond, we can summarise our approach as follows:

  • Where we have direct control, we will take action to reduce emissions.
  • Where we have financial or regulatory influence, we will look to use these abilities to reduce emissions.
  • Where we can enable others to reduce emissions, we will support that change.
  • In other circumstances, we shall seek to inform and influence those who do have control over emissions, with the aim of reducing them.

Previous and current progress

Though the council has existed in its current form since April 2020, we benefit from the work undertaken at the 5 predecessor councils. Over the last 10 years, work undertaken by those organisations reduced carbon emissions from 15,117 tonnes per year in 2009 to 8,983 in 2018 – a 41% decrease.

There is no single action which is accountable for this reduction, but important steps we have taken include:

  • Upgraded over 22,000 street lights to highly efficient LEDs
  • Installed solar panels at 15 of our sites to produce zero carbon electricity
  • Improved the energy efficiency of our buildings, such as through LED lighting upgrades, insulation and improvements to our heating system, to reduce emissions by over 4,000 tonnes / year and energy savings close to £1 million a year.

This strategy therefore looks to build on this good practice and experience and continue to reduce our emissions in the future.

We also continue to support emissions reductions from across Buckinghamshire in the way we deliver services, for example by:

  • Increasing the availability of public electric vehicle charging points in Buckinghamshire.
  • Investing in sustainable transport infrastructure, such as the Waddesdon Greenway.
  • Working with schools to develop School Travel Plans and provide cycle training for pupils.
  • Working with Bucks Business First to support local businesses, for example through the Low Carbon Workspaces programme.


We have allocated £5 million to a specific Climate Change Fund which will help us to deliver further reductions in emissions, for example by improving the energy efficiency of our estate, installing more renewable generation and embarking on a programme of large scale tree planting.

A £5 million Climate Change Fund has been established to support continued emissions reductions, including funding tree planting, energy efficiency and renewable generation projects.

We also continue to identify external sources of funding and develop bids for these, for example from Defra’s Air Quality Grant to help improve air quality, support for electric vehicle charging infrastructure from OLEV, and funding from BEIS to support decarbonisation in the public sector.

Developing this Strategy

We recognise the complex and interconnected nature of activities that impact climate change and air quality and have reflected this in our development approach by engaging widely. This document has been developed by staff from across the council and with input from a wide range of specialisms. We have engaged with community groups, councillors, community boards and the Transport, Environment and Climate Change Select Committee who have provided scrutiny of an early draft and helped to shape our overall approach.

We cannot act alone and have already seen a groundswell of interest and action in tackling these issues – we received 1,400 of responses to our resident and organisation engagement surveys with over 90% of respondents saying that climate change and air quality are important to them.

Responding to COVID-19

The effectiveness of working together could not be better exemplified than by the collective response to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 – there were significant decreases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the lockdown period with the BBC reporting a 17% drop in daily GHG emissions. This is largely due to a reduction in transport movements and there have also been reports of lower emissions of oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. However, as the lockdown eases, transport movements have risen, and it is possible that the energy used by people working at home is greater than the energy required when they are working in commercial spaces (offices etc). Therefore, any transport emissions savings could be cancelled out (negated) by increased domestic property emissions.

Buildings now have a lower person capacity due to social distancing measures. This has meant that opportunities to reduce the amount of space or buildings an organisation occupies may no longer exist. We will be in a position to determine the extent to we can rationalise our operational estate once working practices post-pandemic have normalised. It will also give us the opportunity to consider our approach to accounting for emissions related to home working.


Adapting to climate change and poor air quality means putting in place measures to minimise or overcome the impacts now and in the future. Specific examples of climate change adaptation measures can include: installing better flood defences or storing rainwater to overcome periods of little or no rainfall in the summer.

Many adaptation measures also help mitigate climate change and poor air quality – trees absorb/screen air pollutants and sequester carbon, but also absorb water, slow the flow and reduce the amount of water going to the ground (as their leaves intercept raindrops and water evaporates from the leaves); and their roots bind the soil preventing it from being washed away and allow for better penetration of the water through the soil – thereby preventing flooding. Trees, and green roofs and walls, also cool the air – this helps reduce the amount of energy required for cooling buildings thereby saving the emissions associated with producing the energy. Green roofs and walls also act as an additional layer of insulation on a building and this helps reduce the amount of energy required to heat or cool it. There are ancillary benefits from plant-based (green) measures as well, such as: improving biodiversity, food production (for example fruit trees, and roof allotments), improving stormwater quality, and being a barrier to noise and electro-magnetic radiation.

Another example of a mitigation and adaptation measure would be implementing systems that store rainwater, such as household water butts. The stored water can be used for watering gardens etc in periods of drought. This means that you don’t have to use drinking water for the same purpose and as producing drinking water uses energy etc you’ve reduced the emissions associated with watering gardens.

Given the link between mitigation and adaptation measures, this strategy doesn’t list actions as being specifically one or the other type of measure. We have referenced blue and green infrastructure measures in the actions which refer to any initiatives involving water (blue) or plants (green) and these can generally be considered as both mitigation and adaptation measures.