After a weekend when tens of thousands of people marched in towns and cities around Yorkshire, it’s clear that policy makers must stop the ‘blah blah blah’ on climate action. COP26 marks the start of a new global race for net zero and here in Yorkshire we need a sensible plan for a fair transition so that everyone in our communities benefits.
We need to move fast to make up for a decade of inaction by the Tories
Last year, I wrote about the lack of investment from the government over the past decade in ensuring that we here in Yorkshire maintain our standing as global leaders in clean technology innovation. From carbon capture and storage, to tree planting and moorland management, successive Conservative governments have failed to put their money where their mouth is. Whatever the history, events over the past few days are best viewed as an opportunity to reset the destination of our communities here, towards a greener, cleaner, and fairer future.
This is a challenge that is stimulating innovation and competition between countries, regions, cities and companies. With trillions of pounds now going into new clean technologies and environmental projects, it is a new paradigm that gives all of us here in Yorkshire hope that we can and will make the necessary changes to ensure our economy can sustain human existence for many generations to come.
Metropolitan mayors and councils must lead the transition
Key to that is the development of a net zero transition plan by our councils and metropolitan mayors. These plans must not only set targets for 2030 and 2050, but also set out in detail how they will enable residents, businesses and community organisations to make small shifts in what we buy, what we eat, how we travel and, in the case of business, how we operate and what we supply.
We are already seeing progress towards this with last month’s publication by the mayor of West Yorkshire of a climate and environment action plan. With ambitious targets on transport, a financial commitment to restoring our biodiversity through ‘fund for nature’, as well as added pace to existing plans for hydrogen networks, electric vehicles and park and ride schemes, there is a lot to like about these proposals.
More is expected shortly from the South Yorkshire mayor as well as from the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission which was established earlier this year. But as these plans develop, what all policy makers need to articulate more clearly are the small incremental and practical steps that will be taken as we transition towards these more ambitious goals.
Small steps to achieve net zero
Naturally, the cars, washing machines and boilers that depend on oil and gas must all be replaced. However, what policy makers must also reflect in their planning is the fact that most of us in Yorkshire don’t have the luxury to just start ripping out what we already have, and that businesses here cannot re-skill and repurpose staff overnight. We need our local and regional policymakers to recognise that this is going to be a long and messy transition.
From now to the mid-2030s, all of us must be given the chance to exchange our cars for something better when they are at the end of their useful life or beyond repair. In some cases that will be to an electric or more efficient alternative such as a bicycle or a clean form of mass transit.
We must also have the right financial support and information to enable us to switch our household heating and appliances to better alternatives. In some cases, this will involve renewable energy and heat pumps. In others, we will be able to repurpose boilers to run on hydrogen. In all cases, support must be given to those on the lowest incomes.
Policymakers must take a lead
For all of these solutions to work, we need our council leaders and mayors to play a major role.
First, they must spend wisely on new technology and new infrastructure, starting by doing the simple things well. There is a huge carbon-reduction dividend to be gained by simply upgrading the lighting, wall insulation and windows across thousands of village halls, sports clubs, faith centres and other community and commercial buildings across our region. Each of these improvements would also save money on the energy bills of those organisations, freeing up funds to enable them to deliver much more to their local communities.
Second, our leaders need to learn from the many mistakes that have been made over the past decade, from high-profile and disastrous cladding installations, to the less-well-known but equally scandalous installation of thousands of poorly performing boilers. It’s high time that policymakers here in Yorkshire came together to provide a platform that means companies are only supplying and fitting the most efficient and appropriate technology for each household.
Adapting to our new climate and reversing climate change
Lastly, and perhaps most critically, our policymakers must put in place the things that enable us to adapt to a world that is 1.5 degrees warmer. Here in Yorkshire, that means not only improving our homes and buildings, but also investing in our natural environment and resilient affordable shared transport services.
We need to reduce the amount of tarmac and instead create more tree cover, better natural flood management, and routes where we can walk or access shared transport solutions safely. It is plain and simple common sense to recognise that we cannot rely to the same extent on cars, even if they are electric, in a world of floods, storms, heatwaves and electric grid blackouts.
Even if we didn’t know it before then, events in Glasgow this past week have made it very clear that the whole world is going to need to respond and adapt to climate change.
To achieve all of this, we need a plan. Governments have set their targets; it’s now time for our policymakers here in Yorkshire to put in place simple and sensible steps that take into account the practical challenges of household budgets, supply chains, our skillsets and our natural landscape.