OPINION: It’s been a momentous few weeks for the environment - Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones
On a national and international level we have seen COP26 in Glasgow. On a local and regional level we have seen the launch of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Coalition’s Action Plan.
Our area was at the forefront of the latter event with the chief executive and the leader of our local council speaking alongside internationally-renowned climate change experts and major regional political figures like the mayors of West and South Yorkshire. This demonstrates the recognition of our local leadership on climate issues.
I am an optimist but I thought getting the world to agree any deal at COP26 was a challenge. With different interests and cultures, different levels of industrial development and different levels of individual and national wealth between hundreds of countries the difficulties of reaching unanimity are immense. And, although the early commitment on fossil fuels was diluted, the ‘phasing down’ of coal use was still a massive step forward from previous treaties where commitments on fossil fuels were noticeable only by their absence.
There were successes which might have been missed in the last minute wranglings over coal. For instance 90 per cent of the world’s economy is now committed to net zero carbon emissions compared to 30 per cent when the UK took the presidency of COP. Countries covering 90 per cent of the globe’s forests committed to end deforestation by 2030 including Brazil where the larger part of our world’s forests are.
There were many other commitments about decarbonising world transport which is the fastest growing emitter of greenhouse gases and supporting the developing world financially to reach net zero. I know that some question why we in the UK bother when China, the US and India are the major contributors to carbon in our atmosphere. I know that those people believe we could wreck our economy and jeopardise job growth in the pursuit of a net zero future. I think the answer lies in a small paragraph in the action plan launched in Leeds by the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Coalition.
The paragraph addressed the costs of reaching net zero and was headed bluntly: “Can we afford this?”. Estimates by the UK committee on climate change suggest that to reach net zero we need to invest one per cent of our GDP every year. Those same estimates say that the annual cost of dealing with the effects of the climate change we are seeking to prevent could be five times higher. There is cost whichever path is chosen.
In addition, decarbonising our region’s energy could save £2.4bn a year from our collective energy bill – that’s not nationwide, that’s just in Yorkshire and the Humber. Decarbonising energy supply is big business. The costs of commercially producing renewable energy have dropped considerably over the last decade. This sector is also at the cutting edge of technology development. There are brilliant new cutting-edge businesses in our region, growing fast and projected to continue. In sectors such as wind turbine manufacture, hydrogen electrolysis, carbon capture and others there is global leadership from Yorkshire.
When you think that our economy has grown 78 per cent since 1990 whilst carbon emissions have been cut by 44 per cent and that we are decarbonising faster than any other G7 country, the evidence tells me that we can deliver economic growth alongside environmental change. In fact, I believe continued action on carbon emissions is a critical ingredient in maintaining our economic growth. The Yorkshire and Humber Action Plan is a ground-breaking document. It gives us 50 action points to move our region in the direction we need to go. These action points include individual, community, local government, national government and private sector responsibilities – this battle is, indeed, one for us all.
The Climate Change Action Plan is available at https://yorksandhumberclimate.org.uk/climate-action-plan or a copy can be sent to anyone who cannot access it online if they contact 01423 529614.