OPINION: Seven steps Norfolk councils can take to aid our planet
- Credit: Equipmake
Cllr Denise Carlo of The Green Party says COP26 highlights some of the changes that need to be made
As world leaders in Glasgow haggle over the future of our planet, scientists warn of the dire need to halve carbon emissions within nine years.
In Norfolk, a climate change frontline, we will enter unchartered territory if emissions shoot past the Paris threshold of 1.5﮿C of warming. Sea level rise is already affecting our coast, the Broads and the Wash. Hotter temperatures would threaten our water supplies and food production.
Norfolk’s carbon emissions per person are higher than the average for England, mostly due to road transport which accounts for 40% of Norfolk’s overall emissions. Norfolk’s councils are cutting carbon emissions in their areas, but not as fast as the science demands. There are many ways in which our councils can act and here are just seven:
First, declare a climate and biodiversity emergency.
Publicly declaring an emergency is a political commitment to achieving net zero. Breckland, Norwich, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, and North Norfolk councils have signed up. We hope that Broadland, Great Yarmouth, South Norfolk and Norfolk County Council will reconsider their decisions not to sign.
Second, draw up climate action plans.
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As well as setting out a statement of intent on work required, action plans enable councils to engage with their communities whose buy-in is vital. Several councils have adopted environment strategies in place of climate action plans but they do not go far enough.
Third, kick the road building habit.
Transport infrastructure spending is biased towards road building and the 20% of journeys over 20 kms. This has created car dependency, more traffic and more emissions which stay in the atmosphere for centuries. Local authority data on carbon emissions showed large spikes for ‘A’ roads following the A11 dualling and the opening of Postwick Hub and the NDR. Councils should drop their support for A47 dualling and a Norwich Western Link.
Fourth, make the bus, walking and cycling the first choice for everyday activities.
As most journeys are short, we need to drive much less and bus, walk and cycle much more, whilst providing support for people with disabilities. Green transport improvements in Norwich city centre show that it is possible to reduce traffic and maintain access.
Electric vehicles have a role to play in decarbonising transport but they are not the whole solution. We do need to see zero emission bus fleets, but Norfolk doesn’t have a single electric bus at present. New homes and essential services must be designed around high quality public transport, including rail, not major roads.
Fifth, ensure that all homes are fit for the future.
We need to better insulate our existing housing stock, install heat pumps in place of gas or oil and also solar panels to generate renewable electricity. For new homes and commercial buildings, local authorities should set binding zero carbon standards and challenge housebuilders. It does not make financial sense to build places which require expensive upgrading later.
Sixth, green our urban areas.
Urban areas are heating up as greenery vanishes. We need to protect our green spaces and cloak Norwich and market towns with green roofs, walls, trees and grass. Greening our local environments will also reduce flooding and provide space for nature.
Seventh, provide consistent leadership.
Councils should be seen to take a consistent approach to cutting carbon by seizing the initiative on beneficial projects such as retrofitting homes and not backing carbon intensive projects such as airport growth and road schemes.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are no longer single issues but conditions which are affecting every aspect of our society, economy and environment. In many parts of the globe, they have become life and death. We call on our councils to step up to this immense challenge.