3.1 Geography and Economy
Devon has distinctive characteristics that provide the context for planning for net-zero emissions. Devon is the third largest English county, is generally rural in character and has over 200 miles of shoreline split between two coasts. Devon also has major urban centres, the largest of which – Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter – account for almost half of its population.
Devon is recognised for landscapes of national importance. Thirty-five percent of Devon’s land area is within Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are also two World Heritage Sites (the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape and Jurassic Coast) as well as the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and Exmoor’s International Dark Skies Reserve.
The County’s biological and geological diversity is illustrated by the presence of over 200 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), 2,100 County Wildlife Sites and 360 County Geological Sites. However, Devon’s habitats have become increasingly fragmented and are vulnerable to development pressures and the effects of climate change. More information about the health of Devon’s environment is available in Devon’s State of Environment Report.
Figure 3.1 illustrates the Gross Value Added (GVA) economic profile for the Devon, Plymouth and Torbay area compared to that of the UK. GVA is a measure of the increase in the value of the economy due to the production of goods and services. Devon has a slightly higher economic contribution from agriculture, construction, real estate and substantially more from the public sector than the UK as a whole.
This diversity in geography and economic structure means that the challenges of reaching net-zero will vary between different parts of the County. For example, a net-zero future will look different in Plymouth compared to that of villages in Torridge or a coastal town in the South Hams. The challenges of decarbonisation vary and so do the opportunities, but all areas of Devon need to fully contribute, respecting their individual identities, to creating a resilient, net-zero carbon Devon where people and nature can thrive.
3.2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions
3.2.1 Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Figure 3.2 shows Devon’s production greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2019, which is the latest available data, and the data used throughout this Plan. ‘Production’ means these data reflect the GHG emissions that arise from activity within the boundary of Devon. These totalled 7.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). This measure reflects the effect of a basket of six GHGs on global warming, converted into equivalent units of carbon dioxide so that they can be reported on a comparable basis. The most substantial emitters are Buildings (39%), On Road Transportation (30%) and Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (17%).
Aviation and marine emissions (estimated to be 3% and 0.3% respectively of the total) are not included in Figure 3.2 as data availability and quality is poor. Further details on the methodology used to produce this figure can be found here.
The local authorities’ geographical emissions vary depending on whether the location is predominately rural or urban. For example, Exeter, Plymouth and Torbay have lower transport emissions than more rural areas because urban residents tend to be closer to amenities and therefore can walk, cycle and use public transport for a higher proportion of journeys. Urban areas tend to be on the gas grid whereas dwellings in rural areas are more likely to rely on oil, and gas is a lower carbon fuel. Furthermore, rural areas have higher emissions from agriculture, which are the result of food production for local populations, including those in urban areas and national markets. These differences can be seen in Figure 3.3.
3.2.2 We are Not Starting from Scratch
Between 1990 and 2019, the UK’s production GHG emissions have reduced by 44% as a result of national policies to encourage decarbonisation2 and the transition of the UK’s economy away from domestic manufacturing towards the service sectors.
Figures over this duration are not available for Devon but it can be assumed that similar reductions have occurred locally. Between 2010 and 2019, Devon’s production GHG emissions reduced by 22%.3
3.2.3 Consumption Greenhouse Gas Emissions
International trade means that many of the GHG emissions associated with life in Devon are not emitted locally but instead occur elsewhere. For example, purchasing a mobile phone that is manufactured abroad using materials collected from across the globe and then transported to Devon causes 55kg CO2e.4 But only the emissions associated with the distribution activity within Devon appear in Devon’s production GHG emissions figure.
When emissions are calculated on a consumption basis, the emissions occurring elsewhere are included and the emissions associated with goods and services produced locally but exported are excluded.
Monitoring emissions associated with goods and services that are imported to Devon can currently only be done by apportioning the UK estimates for imported emissions using a factor such as GVA. On this basis, the 2019 emissions arising overseas that are attributable to the people of Devon were 4.9Mt CO2 e.5 Add this to the 7.6Mt CO2e production emissions makes Devon’s consumption GHG emissions 12.5Mt CO2e, of which overseas emissions account for 39%. Devon’s true consumption GHG emissions will be lower than this because the partnership has not been able to remove the emissions associated with Devon’s exports. Nonetheless, calculated on this basis Devon’s consumption GHG emissions have reduced by 18% since 2010.
Emissions reported in the remainder of this Plan are production emissions because that is the internationally-agreed approach, but the partners want to see Devon act on overseas emissions, too.
1 Mitchell A. et al. (2020) Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report – Devon, Plymouth, Torbay 2019.
Centre for Energy and Environment, University of Exeter. Available at:
2 BEIS, (2021), Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990 to 2019. Available
3 Lash, D. et al. (2020) Net Zero Devon, Plymouth and Torbay. Centre for Energy and the
Environment, University of Exeter. Available at:
4 Restart Project (2015) Mobiles: The Global Carbon Footprint. Available at:
5 Based on apportioning the UK imported consumption emissions in 2019 of 369 Mt CO2e by
Devon’s GVA share. UK total GVA of £1819.8 billion in 2017 and Devon’s GVA of £24.2 billion
in 2018. UK imported consumption emissions data is at: DEFRA (2022) Carbon footprint of the
UK and England to 2019. Available at: Carbon footprint for the UK and England to 2019 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)