Oxford’s Path to a Greener Future

Oxford is taking the lead in the battle against climate change,  having won many awards for its efforts in building a greener, more sustainable future, including the ENDs Report, which named Oxford England’s Greenest City. Moreover, it was recognised by the National MJ Awards, the biggest awards ceremony in the country for teams and individuals in local government, winning the ‘Leadership in Responding to the Climate Emergency’ award. Furthermore, the City Council won the ‘Climate Response’ category at the annual LGC awards for the Energy Superhub Oxford, a green initiative that has led to a massive increase in the uptake of Electric Vehicles in Oxford. In the Climate Emergency UK’s assessment of all UK councils on their actions towards net zero between 2019 and 2013, Oxford City Council scored 55% compared with an industry average of 29% for district councils. All the evidence suggests that Oxford has been going above and beyond in their climate change mitigation policies.

…All the evidence suggests that Oxford has been going above and beyond in their climate change mitigation policies…

In early 2019, Oxford Council declared a climate emergence, and in the same year, Oxford held a Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, which outlined how Oxford City Council would work towards reaching net zero sooner than 2050, the UK-wide goal. This was the first initiative of its kind in the UK. Since then, Oxford City Council has undertaken a variety of net zero carbon schemes and initiatives, including launching the Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership, a collaboration of larger employers and organisations across Oxford working together towards the joint ambition of achieving net zero carbon emissions as a city by 2040. To achieve this, Oxford has embarked on a series of initiatives designed to cut down on its carbon emissions.

Some of Oxford’s best initiatives have been in the realm of transportation. The Oxford City Council has stated that its plan is ‘to reduce the need to travel, discourage individual private vehicle journeys, and make walking, cycling, public, and shared transport the natural first choice’. Initiatives include the Zero Emissions Zone Pilot, Energy Superhub Oxford, and future plans for electric buses, with Oxford considered by many to be a pioneer in this area.

…Oxford is considered by many to be a pioneer in the area of green transportation…

Energy Superhub Oxford- Europe’s most powerful charging hub:

Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) is recognised as Europe’s most powerful electric charging hub. It provides Oxford with electric vehicle charging facilities and ‘the UK’s first transmission-connected battery’. Its an initiative designed to meet the rising demand for power without overburdening the local electricity distribution network. According to Oxford Council, its already achieved significant results, facilitating the charging of 32,000 vehicles over the course of the year, and contributing to reducing Oxford’s CO2 emissions by around 730 tonnes. Furthermore, it has encouraged the uptake of Electric Vehicles in the region. According to the DVLA, 50.8% of newly registered vehicles in Oxfordshire were electric in June 2023, the highest uptake figure in the whole of the UK. This suggests that with ESO providing consumers with the option of clean energy infrastructure, residents can make greener choices. Therefore, ESO is playing an essential role in Oxford’s path to net zero.

The Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ) Pilot:

The UK’s first Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ) was trialled in Oxford in February 2022. The ZEZ is an area where zero-emission vehicles (such as fully electric motorcycles, cars, and vans) can be used without incurring a charge, but where other vehicles are charged if they are driven in the zone between 7am and 7pm, unless they have a 100% discount or exemption. The charge varies, depending on the quantity of emissions released by the vehicle in question, varying from £2 to £10. The ZEZ was agreed on by residents and the local council to encourage motorists to adopt low- and zero-emission vehicles, reduce traffic and transport pollution, and improve health in the city centre. The zone currently extends across several streets in the centre of the city, including New Road, Cornmarket Street, and Shoe Lane, although a wider zone is expected to be announced soon, based on the findings of the pilot scheme. Oxford has won awards for this initiative, for example, at the 20th UK National Transport Awards show on the 5th of October this year, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council won the ‘Exemplary Contribution to Net Zero’ award for their collaboration on the Oxford ZEZ, and last year, the two councils won the clean air award for their work.

…Oxford has won awards such as the ‘Exemplary Contribution to Net Zero’ award for their Zero Emissions Zone initiative…

New Traffic Filters:

In November 2022, Oxford Council’s Cabinet approved six trial traffic filters on main traffic routes in Oxford to reduce traffic levels in the city. During the times of operation, private cars without a permit are prohibited from driving through the traffic filters. All other vehicles are always allowed. According to the Council, ‘the traffic filters make walking and cycling safer and more attractive, make bus journeys quicker and more reliable, enable new and improved bus routes, support investment in modern buses, help tackle climate change, reduce local air pollution, and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities’.

Encouraging Cycling:

Oxford is well-known for being a cycling city, and this is something the Council has tried to further promote, providing 133 new cycle racks in June this year, delivering 266 additional parking spaces for cyclists across the city. The cycle racks have been installed in a wide variety of locations across the city, including Beaumont Street, Divinity Road, and Queen Street. Oxford has the second highest prevalence for cycling at least once a week in the country (39% of residents) and the second highest rate of residents cycling to work (25% of residents). Oxford City Council states that it wants to encourage more cycling and walking, or ‘active travel’ journeys across the city to help people get the recommended level of daily exercise, reduce congestion on the roads, and cut pollution in the centre of the city.

Oxford has the second-highest prevalence for cycling in the country

Tangible Results:

Levels of air pollution across Oxford reduced during 2022, with air pollution (NO2) levels across Oxford falling by 8.3%, according to official data from Oxford City Council, with a 24% drop when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Oxford City’s Council’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 15% compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a reduction from 7,425 tonnes between 2019 and 2020, to 6,314 tonnes between 2021 and 2022. This marks a decrease of 26.3% in emissions since 2017, and an overall reduction of 54% since 2014. Whilst they still have a lot further to go, this suggests the measures that they have undertaken are working. To achieve Oxford City Council’s target of becoming net zero by 2030, the Council needs to achieve more than an average 10% annual reduction in emissions every year until 2030.

Is Oxford University Holding Oxford Back?

According to a new study by Utility Bidder based on data from 2021 to 2022, Oxford is the third highest CO2 emitter of all the UK Universities. Their calculations reveal that Oxford University emits an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of carbon for every 1,000 students, the third highest of any institution. It is outranked only by Imperial College London and Cranfield University. However, the University has shown a desire to change its ways. Under the Environmental Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, Oxford University has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035, reducing emissions by more than a quarter of a million tonnes every year. To achieve these goals, the University has established the Oxford Sustainability Fund, with an income of over £5m a year, and a revolving capital investment fund of £50m. The University’s carbon emissions have been on a downwards trend since 2010, partly driven by the installation of over 2,000 solar panels, combined heat and power (CHP), and ground source heat pumps.

Future Plans:

Extending the ZEZ:

Proposals are being developed to extend the ZEZ to a wider area in the city centre.

New Electric Vehicle Charging Points:

Work has started to install electric vehicle charging points at Seacourt Park & Ride. The work will see the installation of five new charging points, each with two bays. They will provide charging for up to 10 vehicles simultaneously. The chargers will join a network of 132 public chargers across Oxford, enabling drivers to charge their vehicles while visiting the city, or local residents to charge overnight.

Retrofitting Campaign:

Oxford City Council has launched a new resource as part of a campaign to encourage residents to find out more about retrofitting their homes. Retrofitting is the process of making changes to your property, such as installing heat pumps, solar panels, loft insulation, wall insulation, and more, all of which help reduce your energy consumption and carbon emissions. This is aimed to combat the fact that 60% of Oxford’s total carbon emissions come from buildings.

New Plans for Electric Buses:

Between 2022 and 2023, the Council received funding for 159 new electric buses via the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme to help authorities introduce new buses and infrastructure. The buses are currently beginning to appear on the streets of Oxford, so make sure to keep an eye out!

Photo by Ben Seymour on Unsplash