Decisive climate action must be taken by newly-elected councillors

Young couple hiking along footpath at the top of grassy cliff next to the sea.

Norfolk offers the perfect location for green tourism, says Chris Dady of the CPRE - Credit: Getty Images

Chris Dady of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says the forthcoming elections are important for green issues

Over the next couple of months we will be able to enjoy a lot of the freedoms previously denied to us as the lockdown eases.

Of course there have been very negative impacts on many people - lost loved ones and livelihoods to name just two. On the positive side we have a magic bullet vaccination programme which we hope will allow us to return to a more normal life for the rest of the year and beyond.

Many commentators feel that we could have acted earlier, and more definitively, in response to the emerging pandemic identified at the end of 2019. We do not know what the difference that would have made, but we can say it would have allowed us to manage the spread of the infection more effectively.

So if we take that learning to another issue that faces us all, one that will be far longer term and more devastating than Coronavirus, it is time we now took decisive action to deal with cli-mate change.

There are things we can do personally, as can businesses. Local and national government have to take real action, with new policies and actions not just words.

The UK is hosting this year’s major international climate conference COP26, and this is the opportunity to show that we really can be world leaders by taking action rather than just spouting rhetoric.

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The truly worrying statistic is the one that shows despite the dip in carbon emissions as a result of the pandemic, the levels of climate warming gases is now at record levels, and still rising, in our atmosphere.

This puts us on course for climate warming levels that will cause droughts, flooding, crop failures, extinction events, loss of life from weather events as well as driving record immigration towards Europe and the UK that will dwarf the issues we face today. It really will be that bleak, but with immediate action it may not ever get to those levels.

Action on climate change actually delivers many direct benefits to us in the short term.

Housing that is cheaper to run, more opportunities to improve our physical and mental health just by having access to natural open spaces, less crowded roads, lower energy costs, cleaner air and environment, plus less light pollution, are some examples of how policies to reduce carbon emissions will directly improve our lives.

Our focus is to make sure that Norfolk is not only protected, but also benefits, from the action required.

And Norfolk is very well placed to do this, with a rightful place on the UK map for tranquil countryside, the opportunity for green tourism, farming practices that can deliver carbon sequestration and biodiversity protection are ways we can prosper whilst protecting the environment.

The challenge is how we bring these changes about.

One thing we can do is to influence politicians. In the same way that we would in hindsight support candidates who put early action on dealing with the pandemic, it's my view that we should only vote for candidates who understand the issues and will take real action.

This means their manifesto promises will promote countryside solutions to the climate emergency, build a planning system that works for people, nature and the environment, deliver a comprehensive public transport network and look to address our plastic issue.

We all have the chance to influence our future in the upcoming Norfolk County Council elections on May 6. Norfolk County Council have the opportunity to make a real difference for our county but we need councillors who will work to protect Norfolk regardless of party politics.

Chris Dady, chairman of the Norfolk Council for the Protection of Rural England. Picture: ANTONY KEL

Chris Dady, chairman of the Norfolk Council for the Protection of Rural England - Credit: Archant

The manifestos created centrally gloss over the real climate change issues, so we need to ask searching questions before we can understand which councillors will best be able to serve Norfolk. There are specific areas where the county council can have a direct impact, for instance:

Housing - If we just look at the plan being developed for Greater Norwich the target is around 40,000 new houses, but the plan is looking to promote the building of 50,000 houses.

Not only will the additional new houses release an additional 1m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, but even more farmland and countryside will be lost.

Key questions are: Why do we need additional housing sites to be allocated over what is already a massive target? What does the candidate actually propose to do about increasing the numbers of social and affordable houses? (the county council has sold off land that could have been used for this housing), How do they propose to get all the new properties built to a standard that makes them water saving and carbon neutral? Why would they allow building on any new greenfield sites when brownfield is available?

Green spaces - every town needs a plan that has web of green spaces, protected for the long term.

These areas will support outdoor exercise, connectivity away from roads and wildlife.

For Norwich CPRE (Norfolk) has been running a campaign for this network of green spaces to be included in the new local plan, and these can be protected by green belt legislation, but politicians have ignored the call for this. We need to ask why has there not been a major allocation of green spaces and green corridors, protected for the long term, in our towns and city.

Town centres - The retail industry has suffered with many jobs lost due to a migration to online shopping, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

By taking a new approach to town centres jobs and businesses can be protected, by having new ambitious plans to convert many empty retail and office buildings into high quality housing including social and affordable homes.

We should know the candidates view on taking this approach that in turn reduces our impact on the climate significantly as well as breathing new life into our beleaguered towns.

Transport - Norfolk has fallen far behind in creating transport options - we have no trams, no bus-ways and no comprehensive plan for delivery of new services.

However, road building continues with controversial and extremely damaging schemes, increasing carbon emissions and wiping out biodiversity and even protected colonies of fauna. Candidates will need to lead on changing this approach, diverting funds to environmentally beneficial approaches, and we must ask how they plan to change direction.

Future strategy - we need to know how our candidates will secure a long term cross party strategy to protect Norfolk against the ravages of climate change and ensure the well being of all its residents.

Climate is not the only issue that will be discussed, but unless we take decisive action now everything else will suffer. We can use our knowledge of the response to the pandemic to understand the benefits of decisive action. Time has all but run out for a new approach to be taken.

Following this election we need to have a new approach, where decisive action is taken. Regardless of their party, if any candidate is not willing or capable of taking a robust approach, then any vote for them will be a vote wasted. And we cannot afford to let that happen.