West Yorkshire has less than twenty years to deliver on the promise of a net-zero carbon economy before it is too late, says climate leaders.
A group of climate experts from across the public, private and third sectors in Yorkshire and the Humber have come together to release a 50-step plan on how to tackle climate in the region.
The action plan was released by Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission (YHCC) last week during COP26, the UN’s annual international climate change conference that was held in Glasgow for the first time at the beginning of the month.
The plan aims to be a positive, constructive, and actionable document that will inform and guide climate action in the years to come.
It offers fifty steps that local authorities should take to minimise damage to society and the environment in West Yorkshire due to the warming globe.
Since pre-industrial levels, the global average temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees, and if we continue to emit carbon at the current rate globally, the number is set to reach 1.5 degrees in 2030 or soon after.
This increase will have a profound effect around the world and life as we know it in Britain.
In Yorkshire, and indeed across the UK, not only will it get warmer, but because of the added moisture in the air, there will be more severe storms and flooding, as well as drought, loss of habitats and extinction, coastal erosion, and wildfires, just to name a few.
In Bradford, many postcodes are currently at medium flood risk. More floods to the area could mean decreased value in house prices, families being unable to sell their house or move, and millions of pounds needed in increased flood protection.
Bradford also boasts beautiful greenspace and woodland areas that could degenerate because of the warmer weather.
Since being sworn in as the first mayor of West Yorkshire’s Combined Authority which includes Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale, and Wakefield, Tracy Brabin has promised that the region will have net-zero carbon emissions by 2038, with significant progress being achieved by 2030. This is in line with science-based targets.
The National Grid defines net-zero carbon emissions as “the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Net-zero is reached when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.”
Creating a sense of shared responsibility, moving from targets, and planning to action, and putting climate and nature at the heart of all areas of decision making are three of the key recommendations from YHCC which also commits to undertake a raft of ambitious actions itself.
The YHCC, which covers all of Yorkshire and Humber, proposes the plan for a net-zero carbon economy should be expanded to include aviation and shipping emissions and that a five-yearly carbon budget should be introduced to track progress.
One of the reasons why aviation is currently not included in the net-zero carbon budget is because of the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport, which has come under major scrutiny by climate activists.
The £150m expansion was improved in February but was then put on hold following the Government’s orders.
On 6 April, the then Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick postponed deciding, giving no timescale as to when the decision will be made. Michael Gove has now taken over Mr Jenrick’s role following a cabinet reshuffle in September.
Research conducted by YHCC found that Yorkshire needs to invest 1% of the region’s overall income (GDP) each year to address climate change. Although, if this money isn’t invested, the impact incurred on the region’s overall income could be hit five times worse.
Andy Gouldson is the Director of the YHCC and is a Professor of Environmental Policy at the University of Leeds. He said: “As a Commission, we have brought together climate leaders from all sorts of organisations and groups, and we have worked extensively with stakeholders from across the region to develop this plan.
“It’s been a mammoth undertaking, but people must be involved in the process, and we are very happy with the outcome.
“We now have to start the really hard work, which for us as a Commission is to tackle a set of specific actions over the next two and a half years. We’re playing our part, but we need the region to step up and get behind the delivery of the plan.”
Included in the report’s fifty actions are calls for a fair and inclusive transition, the integration of climate and nature into the curriculum in schools, the development of jobs and skills, the promotion of green finance and investment and the inclusion of emissions from aviation and shipping in the region’s net-zero target.
While delivering a stark warning about the need to prepare for worsening impacts, it also offers hope that dealing with the connected climate and nature crises can help to transform Yorkshire and Humber into a happier, healthier, fairer, and more prosperous place to live and work.
Liz Barber, chief executive of Yorkshire Water and Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission, said: “This action plan is a significant first step for the Commission in guiding the region’s response to the climate and ecological emergency.
“Of paramount importance to this response is a commitment to achieve a just transition as we move to a green economy. Climate change impacts more on disadvantaged communities and we must make sure that our efforts reduce rather than exacerbate existing inequalities.”