What is a net-zero carbon economy and how can Harrogate achieve it

The crucial aim of Harrogate achieving a net-zero carbon economy by 2038 has been brought into sharper focus this month with the launch of the district's first Climate Action Festival.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 9:20 am
Is Harrogate doing enough to tackle climate change? Campaigners say not.

But what is a net-zero carbon economy and how can Harrogate achieve it?

Put simply, net-zero means the district's economy will no longer be adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

So, are we moving fast enough towards this aim?

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Stephen Scales of campaign group Zero Carbon Harrogate says not.

"Locally we do need to move much faster in our carbon reduction. The urgency to decarbonise cannot be stressed enough," he said.

"Global temperatures have already risen to over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and the chances of staying below 1.5°C are getting slimmer.

"The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C in simple terms is a doubling of the economic and human suffering as well as biodiversity loss."

Retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient and cutting car use are just two things Mr Scales says can be done to counter the devastating impacts of rising global temperatures.

The past decade was the warmest on record and governments agree urgent collective action is needed.

That is why the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow at the end of the month is being seen as the most crucial yet if climate change is to be brought under control.

Most countries will set out their plans to reduce emissions, with the UK government this week announcing another big push towards electric vehicles, more tree planting and £5,000 grants for homeowners to replace their gas boilers with low-carbon heat pumps.

Action is being taken locally too - although there are clearly questions over the urgency at which it is being taken - with residents, businesses and local authorities all having a role to play.

Councillor Phil Ireland, cabinet member for carbon reduction and sustainability at Harrogate Borough Council, said: "Achieving net-zero and meeting our local carbon budget must involve the efforts of local authorities, businesses, industry, individual consumers and national government.

"2038 is sooner than the national target set by the Climate Change Act and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - both 2050 - and I believe our challenging target date reflects the urgency of the issue and is achievable with everyone working together."

Major council projects such as Harrogate's £10.9m Gateway scheme and North Yorkshire's £116m Bus Service Improvement Plan are all indicators of the direction of travel local leaders believe we must take.

There are also other active travel schemes including Harrogate's first Low Traffic Neighbourhood on Beech Grove with cutting short car journeys being a key aim for the town's congested roads.

These projects of course require a delicate balancing act to support the local economy - and Zero Carbon Harrogate's Mr Scales believes more people are now "starting to grasp the benefits of making the changes we need to go carbon net-zero."

He said: "I'm hopeful for the transition to a low carbon economy, as so many people now understand what is at stake.

"The Harrogate district is dynamic and forward thinking so I hope we will continue to seek to lead here."

A council pledge to plant thousands of trees covering more than 40 acres and an aim to get 10,000 electric on the roads by 2023 are two other areas of how Harrogate hopes to achieve carbon net-zero.

But still there are concerns that the district will miss its key targets without more decisive action.

A spokesperson for the Harrogate and District Green Party said: "Harrogate’s position as a social and economic hub should put it in a fantastic place to lead the way in developing a new green economy.

"The Green Party believes that transformative change is possible, that positive actions will build momentum as beneficial progress is recognised, and that the vision of a green circular economy is developed, supported and shared.

"We fear that without political change, a lack of imagination, and poor consultation, we will see further procrastination and deliberation by local government and business decision-makers."

Harrogate Borough Council will next month launch a public consultation on its revised carbon reduction strategy, while progress on North Yorkshire County Council's carbon reduction plan is to be discussed by councillors on Thursday.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter