In 2007, Professor David King, then chief scientific advisor to the UK government stated.
Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?
Year after year, opportunities have been lost and now we see extreme weather events increasing dramatically in our own temperate land. On July 25th, we were sweltering in record temperatures and just a week later, torrential rain brought floods and the threat of a catastrophic dam collapse that still hangs over Whaley Bridge.
Dangerous climate change is here and we need to take action personally and at all levels of government to protect our communities from the worst effects. That's why many local authorities across the country have declared climate emergencies and are working on practical actions to reduce emissions in their areas and why I will be proposing a climate emergency motion at the next full council meeting in High Peak. .
In July, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Green Councillors in Stroud, where I heard about the actions that have already made Stroudu District Council's own operations carbon neutral and the plans in place to make the Stroud district carbon neutral by 2030. Stroud has a long history of radical action, starting with the Levellers in the 17th century, on which Stroud’s Green-dominated Council can build. The first Green councillor was elected there (and was at the conference), Ecotricity, the world’s first green electricity company, is based there, and Extinction Rebellion originated there .
As you walk through Stroud you can see the patches of wildflowers, the solar panels, public recycling bins and many independent shops selling organic and locally produced food. Stroud’s success is certainly something to aspire to, though some of its successes would be difficult to replicate in High Peak.
Stroud District Councillor Simon Pickering ended his presentation to the conference with a useful reminder of the areas where we need to take action in order to combat climate change and biodiversity loss:
A complete shift to very low or zero carbon electricity generation
Smarter and more flexible management of electricity demand, including storage
Huge reductions in energy demand by improving the energy efficiency of all building
Decarbonisation of heating
Dramatic steps to cut the carbon emissions from transport
Ensuring new build developments achieve their full low carbon potential
A dramatic reduction in emissions from agriculture and food production
A huge reduction in the generation of waste and a radical cut in emissions from waste
A dramatic increase in the capture of carbon
Restoring nature through wilding
The next day David Flint, Convener of the Green Party’s Climate Emergency Policy Working GroupD, added some background information on the climate emergency and some detail on what Councils can do about it. He underlined what an emergency really means:
You stop what you are doing and deal with an emergency such as a house fire, you don’t go on as usual and hope the emergency will go away.
In the past year, emissions increased, due to growth in some countries, such as China, to the difficulty of changing systems and behaviour, and to the policies of leaders such as Trump and Bolisario in Brazil. We are on course for a 5⁰C increase in global temperatures, and an increase of 3⁰C even if every country does what it has promised so far. The Green party is examining its own policies to see how they need to be changed in order to support an increase of the only 1.5⁰C advised by the IPCC.
This all seems daunting, and the required changes will be expensive, with central government funding needed along with funding from the private sector. However, a glance at the Green Party policies as they now stand shows that a lot of money can be saved as well as new sources of income developed in the effort to improve the UK’s environmental performance. There are many things we need to stop dong as well as new things we must do.
David Fint suggested some actions that Local Authorities can take regarding transport and buildings.
Promote cycling and walking by building cycle lanes and creating Low Traffic Neighbourhoods
Reduce use of private cars by improving and regulating public transport, encouraging car clubs and taxing emissions and parking spaces.
Electrify vehicles used for local authority services, including the authorities' own fleets and contractors' vehicles.
Provide electric vehicle charging points.
Restrict future taxi licensing to electric vehicles.
Organise street-scale retrofit projects
For new builds, require Passivhaus or equivalent efficiency standard.
For heating, favour solar and geothermal heat and heat pumps
Combined heat and power, heat networks and heat stores
We have found that this list is just a start. There are many useful sources of information about large and small things local Councils can do. And Councils all over the country are already taking action, including rewilding of verges, generation of renewable electricity and building Passivhaus standard Council houses .High Peak may not have the same history as Stroud - and it has much higher than average carbon emissions due to the number of quarries in the area. But we are watching closely what is happening and considering how it can be applied to help High Peak reach carbon neutrality.