In 2015, council leaders in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and many other major UK cities pledged to run entirely on green energy by 2050. But the idea of going “carbon-neutral” (producing no fossil fuels) wasn’t new to the people of Newcastle.

As the Independent reported, Newcastle-upon-Tyne had already pledged to go carbon-neutral, with the target date of 2025, way back in 2002. In late November of that year, Newcastle unveiled “an ambitious, far-reaching plan to become one of the greenest and cleanest cities in Europe.”

15 years later, and with over six years to go, could the city still reach its original target?

Newcastle has made significant progress

Unsurprisingly considering its early adoption of the carbon neutral target, Newcastle has implemented some effective policies to reduce emissions over the years. The city’s Energy Masterplan sets out a 2010 agreement between the Newcastle city council (NCC) and the New and Renewable Energy Centre (Narec), the organisation which was called upon to “help drive forward the delivery of renewable/low carbon energy schemes and affordable energy in the city”.

The masterplan is more a list of goals and objectives than actual policy, but the city has earned its green stripes. In 2010, Newcastle topped Forum for the Future’s table of the twenty greenest cities in the UK for the second year running. Projects that helped the city reach this rank in 2010 included an electric car charging hub with almost 600 charging points, and an “urban bees programme”. Electric car charging points can now be found in multiple locations around Newcastle. The city is estimated to have 1.45 cars per charger—one of the best charger ratios in the country.

Despite this, there are still significant areas where the city could improve.

How Newcastle, and the whole country, could do more to fight emissions 

The prevalence of electric car charging stations, and a host of other green initiatives relating to recycling, may have put Newcastle on the right track, but the city still has a long way to go to become truly carbon neutral.

Part of the responsibility falls on the private sector. Businesses with fleets of vehicles that drive around or pass through Newcastle could use fleet management software to practice eco-driving. This involves calculating and taking optimal routes to reduce fuel usage, and monitoring driver performance for efficiency. There’s also the matter of switching to renewable fuels, something that many large businesses—including Google, M&S and IKEA—have committed to doing. These measures would go a long way to help Newcastle reach carbon neutrality.

Aside from these, the best bet for any town to reduce carbon emissions is for the government to implement bans. The national government has the right idea, pledging to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. That might help Newcastle reduce its emissions by 2050, but it won’t make much difference between now and the original goal of 2025. Even after the 2040 ban, it will still take years for all petrol and diesel cars to be off the road.

To truly have a shot at becoming carbon neutral, Newcastle needs to take more drastic action. Radical options like an outright city centre vehicle ban might be most effective. Oslo, Hamburg, and Copenhagen have already taken steps to curb or outlaw vehicle usage, electric-powered or otherwise. With a measure like this in place, vehicle emissions can quite realistically be reduced to zero.

The elephant in the room (city?) here is, of course, home and business energy consumption. True carbon neutral status would have to mean a major shift to renewable energy from Newcastle’s energy suppliers. It’s up for debate as to whether the local government could actually enforce this. The same is true of a city vehicle ban. Newcastle could be carbon neutral by 2050, if not 2025, but it might have to do it as part of a broader effort with towns and countries up and down the country, and support from the national government in Westminster.