A council has upped its targets for becoming carbon neutral with a programme of "high ambitions" estimated to cost more than £121m.

Council leaders have agreed a goal for the county to be carbon neutral by 2045 - five years ahead of the national target - in a "landmark" second climate emergency response plan, CERP2.

Climate champion Councillor Mark Wilkes said this "achievable with the right help from Government" as he called for funding and legislative backing.

The plans were presented to Durham County Council cabinet on Wednesday (June 15).

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Cllr Wilkes, cabinet member for climate change, said it was an innovative milestone: "This revised plan gives us the opportunity to make a clear and unambiguous statement about this council's high ambitions for carbon reduction.

"We have taken that opportunity by once again increasing the target we set ourselves.

"Being green is now essential to our finances, essential for our security, essential for our environment, and a critical priority for the joint administration."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Mark Wilkes, Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Mark Wilkes, Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

The new tougher targets are for the council to be carbon neutral by 2030 - alongside the original goal of reducing emissions by 80% - and for the whole county to be carbon neutral by 2045, before the previous 2050 target.

Cllr Wilkes said: "County Durham will play its part, because we must, and because it is clear that the issues we are dealing with are not only at a glocal scale.

"They are local and they are with us now," he said, referring to protecting communities from rising energy costs and coping with extreme weather like Storm Arwen.

He said he was proud the council was "at the forefront of work nationally in this area" and had "committed more funding to tackle climate change in one year" than in the previous 13 years.

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He said the 2022 to 2024 plan would help tackle fuel poverty, improve efficiency and independence, cut costs, save money and protect services with measures like electric vehicles, solar panels and battery banks.

It outlines 127 actions and 10 key priorities including decarbonisation, new development, transport, electricity, business, waste, land, food production, natural environment and education.

Cllr Wilkes added: "Importantly, each section includes an ask of Government.

"Government has provided a strategic direction in the area of climate change, backed by international commitments from events like COP25.

"And it must now follow this up with funding and legislative backing so that we can all deliver on our ambitions."

Read more: Durham Council - 'bang for our buck' on ecological emergency

Head of environment Oliver Sherratt said: "There is an important stepping up of our emissions targets.

"Tackling climate change is one of the major challenges of our time, with the benefits not being restricted to environment but extending to issues such as fuel poverty, public health and fostering a green economy."

He said there had been "substantial" progress under the council's first climate emergency response plan (CERP).

He said the council had reduced its carbon emissions by 58% at the end of 2021, and agreed with more than 40 other bodies to tackle climate change in the county.

Projects included the £8m Annfield Plain zero carbon depot due for completion next month, decarbonisation at Abbey Leisure Centre, energy efficiency improvements, air source heat pumps, solar power, planting 44,000 trees, installing 153 electric vehicle charging sockets and giving advice and grants to businesses.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Susan McDonnell. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Susan McDonnell. Picture: Northern Echo.

Cllr Susan McDonnell said: "This is a landmark report in the history of this council.

"The plan we have here is both thorough and comprehensive but we also need to bring our communities along with us."

Cllr John Shuttleworth referred to disruptive weather from climate change: "It's vital we work with partners to ensure we have the infrastructure to contend with this and, most importantly, we do all we can to support communities and give them tools to cope."

Cllr Richard Bell said the estimated costs of over £121m meant "we will require external funding and also advances in technology in some areas to be able to fully meet these costs", with a "significant challenge" to bring ageing housing and schools up to date.

He added: "There are a number of asks from central Government, principally working with the electricity companies, the powergrids, to ensure a robust and reliable supply."

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