Maya Evans is leading Hastings Borough Council’s efforts on tackling climate change. Here she explains what she hopes can be achieved locally for the borough to become carbon neutral by 2030. She concedes however that the council may have high ambitions but as things stand its powers to achieve those ambitions are limited.
I am often asked, why, during this time of Covid-crisis, should we be worried about climate change?
Covid-19 is hugely relevant to climate change. Both are human-made crises, both have devastating impacts. Now is a key moment to reflect and react to the fact that pre Covid-19, what we considered ‘normal’ was actually a crisis.
- It wasn’t normal for Australia to be partially shutdown due to bush fires raging for several months;
- It wasn’t normal for Europe in 2019 to see both the hottest temperatures on record during the summer and the wettest weather on record over winter;
- It isn’t normal for the ice sheets in the Antarctic to decrease in mass by 127 billion tons of ice per year since 1996; It isn’t normal for sea levels to rise by eight inches in just a century;
- It isn’t normal for one in six species to be currently facing extinction.
The list of global abnormalities go on and on, the planet is most definitely now paying the price for as industrialised, capitalist society.
There’s no arguing that Coronavirus has been a tragic crisis, regrettable in every way, however, it has been an opportunity to press the pause button and for people to reflect on the consequences of man-made disasters, and to appreciate that humans are a global family – what people do on one side of the planet will impact everyone – everywhere.
The other imperative lesson which has been immediate, is that it’s better to act sooner rather than later when facing a crisis. And that delays can literally be fatal.
On the March 23rd, climate change was naturally far from people’s minds. But it was a significant date for the people of Hastings.
It was the day that Hastings Borough Council (HBC) agreed a climate change strategy and action plan. The report was the culmination of a year’s work – launched when the council agreed to adopt an emergency climate change strategy.
It was a direct response to that IPCC report, which recommended urgent action to stop global temperatures increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, after which we will pass into irreversible climate chaos.
The foundations of the report are embedded in research and evidence carried out by consultants AECOM, who provided us with useful data. One example: of the carbon emitted in this town, 46 per cent comes from gas, 26 per cent electricity, 26 per cent petroleum (mainly from transport) and two per cent from other sources. The report’s findings help us work out where our carbon is emitted, and by how much.
The data around emissions from homes indicates some of our biggest hurdles. Around half of carbon emissions – 49 per cent – come from existing homes, with 73 per cent coming from gas, and 25 per cent from electricity.
…We deliberately designed it to be a live document, which will be regularly updated…
There are certain things that HBC can do to target homes – for example by applying for specific funding for home insulation and more energy-efficient boilers. We can also try to generate our own renewable energy – though as you’re probably aware, the town has limited spaces and there’s already some resistance around placing things like solar panels in eyeshot of listed buildings and protected land.
We are currently reviewing our Local Plan, which will finally give us the ability to install on-shore wind, which could potentially unlock access to a huge renewable energy source.
It’s an impossible order for Hastings to produce all of its own energy by 2030, therefore it’s essential for the national grid to be greened. But this is one of the many frustrating aspects which are beyond our control; only the Government has the power to do that and so far they are not showing the political will.
…our aim is ambitious but our resources and powers are minimal…
The action plan and strategy have set out our initial vision, and taken the first steps towards our ultimate goal of net zero carbon by 2030.
We deliberately designed it to be a live document, which will be regularly updated to keep up with Government policy and technological advances. We also invite members of the community to contact us with feedback or suggestions. The plan also sets out working with the community, stakeholders and partners – we appreciate it will take everyone if we are to reach our goal.
Hastings Borough Council agreed a report on climate change with a strategy and action plan at a special council meeting in March.
The climate emergency strategy and action plan was developed to support the Climate Emergency motion HBC declared during 2019.
The vision is to make Hastings carbon neutral by 2030
The strategy and action plan covers the borough of Hastings. To meet the target of carbon neutrality by 2030, the impact needs to ripple across the wider region.
The plan aligns with regional policy and responds to analysis and evidence developed by consultants commissioned by HBC to help in delivering a ‘robust action plan’ that will impact the town’s carbon emissions.
The research demonstrates that the town has reduced carbon emissions by 39 per cent since 2005, much of this due to the decarbonisation of the national grid and increasing energy efficiency in buildings.
To sum up, our aim is ambitious but our resources and powers are minimal.
At present it is not a statutory requirement for a council to address climate change and we are not receiving any additional government funding. However, the council is genuinely committed to tackling the looming crisis, and is using all available resources at its disposal.
Covid-19 has proven the Government can change overnight, funding can be diverted, and industries can transition at relative ease. Climate change must be treated with the same urgency as Covid-19.
Forget lockdown, we’re heading for meltdown: severe weather, crop failures, some predict mass extinction – the Government needs to learn the lessons of this present crisis and act sooner rather than later.
The ‘new normal’ will be difficult when it comes to things like social distancing, mass unemployment, economic depression and the restrictions on movement. However the ‘new normal’ is also a chance to acknowledge the failures of our pre-Covid ‘normal’, and to utilise the practices of urgency we have seen in the last few months.
Now is undoubtably the moment for society, the economy and industry to transition to a more just system whereby people and planet are prioritised over profit.