Housing developers should use local carbon offsetting projects, such as energy efficiency programmes and renewable energy installations, to ensure new developments are carbon neutral.
These are the findings of the Centre for Sustainable Energy, who were commissioned by four West England local authorities to write a report about carbon offsetting.
Carbon offsets operate within a council’s planning policy and require a reduction in carbon emissions beyond what is specified by building regulations.
The offset payments fund carbon saving projects elsewhere, e.g. a programme of insulation to existing council buildings, to make up for the carbon savings not achieved within developments.
Carbon offsets are collected through Section 106 legal agreements attached to planning consents, and off-site carbon abatement is assumed to take place over a 30-year period.
The report was written partly in response to an earlier study for the West of England Joint Spatial Plan by Currie & Brown in which the authors argued that zero carbon development cannot be achieved on-site through specifications to the building fabric and the incorporation of renewable energy.
Instead for developments to be carbon neutral, some off-site carbon abatement is required through a carbon offset scheme.
Dan Stone lead author on CSE’s report. ‘Our research sets out how a carbon offset regime could operate,’ he said. ‘It looks at the risks and benefits of using carbon offsetting, the price that developers should be charged per tonne of carbon to achieve carbon abatement offsite, the type of measures that might be eligible, and how a carbon offset fund might be managed.
‘Our report concludes that carbon offsetting is possible within current planning legislation and guidance. It has been used successfully elsewhere and can enable innovation, and it appears feasible given the institutional capacities of the West of England authorities.
‘The primary risk is in setting the carbon price too low or high. Getting this wrong can have unintended outcomes for example downgrading the carbon savings achieved on site through building design, dampening delivery or increasing housing costs.’