In February 2019, Wiltshire Council formally acknowledged the Climate Emergency, and pledged to act to make Wiltshire Net Zero by 2030. We were there to encourage the right outcome, and we are keeping a close eye on their progress, via our involvement with Wiltshire Climate Alliance.
The article below gives our view of this vote and what it means for the people of Wiltshire.
Wiltshire’s Climate Emergency
On 26 February 2019, Wiltshire Council voted to acknowledge that we face a Climate Emergency. Readers may be interested to know why they did this, and what it means for people in Wiltshire.
Wiltshire Council is already committed to tackle climate change. Its Core Strategy states climate change is ‘by far the greatest threat to our natural environment, social well being and economic future’. There is overwhelming evidence that man-made climate change is already impacting our planet. As a result of increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, the Earth has already warmed by 1°C compared to pre-industrial levels. That may not sound much, but it is causing polar ice and glaciers to melt at an alarming rate, and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, storms, wildfires and flooding.
Without massive and urgent action, temperature increases will exceed 2°C by 2050 – risking a runaway effect which will cause huge disruption to human civilisation and nature. The ‘emergency’ part of Wiltshire’s policy recognises the analysis by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that, within only 12 years, the worldwide rise in greenhouse gas emissions must be put in steep decline, to have a chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. That means far-reaching action now, not in 12 years’ time.
So what does this policy mean for Wiltshire? It commits Wiltshire to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, through policies like increasing renewable energy, converting public vehicles to non-fossil fuel propulsion, encouraging sustainable agriculture, reducing emissions from waste, and increasing public awareness campaigns. Clearly Wiltshire cannot achieve this on its own, so it will need to lobby government to change national legislation, for example to enable far higher levels of insulation of new buildings, and to reverse current policies which effectively ban onshore wind turbines while permitting extraction of fossil fuels by fracking.
A key piece of national legislation which would have a massive impact is a carbon tax – such as Canada recently adopted. This would mean the true cost of carbon emissions is included in prices – significantly increasing the price of fossil fuel products and services, like air travel. This policy can be fiscally neutral, meaning prices of low carbon products would reduce, and it places the burden on those who can most afford it – as rich people produce far higher levels of carbon emissions than lower income people.
The government also needs to rapidly accelerate renewable energy. We already produce a third of our electricity from renewables, and it is entirely feasible for this to be 100%, although this will require unprecedented investment (and will incidentally create thousands of new jobs as well).
To honour Wiltshire Council’s intent in declaring a Climate Emergency, Wiltshire residents will need to be ready to embrace new policies coming from central government that are aimed at reducing the country’s emissions, even if those policies result in personal inconvenience and costs.
While we need government at all levels, local and national, to act on climate change, we can all do more to reduce our own carbon emissions. The average carbon dioxide emissions per head in the UK is around 10 tonnes a year, and this needs to reduce to 2 tonnes by 2030 if we are to have a chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. That is a daunting challenge, but here are five fairly easy ways you could make a real difference to your own carbon footprint right now:
- Take fewer flights. This is the biggest single thing you can do. One long haul return flight emits more CO2per passenger than driving an average car for a whole year.
- Drive less. Driving 10,000 miles a year creates around 2 tonnes of CO2. Cutting out shorter journeys has a disproportionate effect, as these are the least fuel efficient – so try walking, cycling or taking public transport instead, or sharing journeys.
- Eat less meat. A vegan diet produces less carbon than a meat based diet, due to the methane emissions from cattle. While not everyone may want to become vegan, cutting your meat and dairy consumption by half could reduce your carbon footprint by around 10%.
- Make your home more energy efficient.Insulation is extremely cost effective, paying back in just a few years. Installing an energy efficient boiler and other domestic appliances will make a big difference as well. LED replacement light bulbs give great light, last much longer, and save lots of electricity. And how about putting on a sweater and turning your heating down a bit?
- Switch to a green electricity supplier. This could reduce your carbon footprint by around 15%, depending on your usage. Switching to a green supplier means you are increasing demand for renewables and reducing the need for fossil fuel electricity generation.
You can calculate your own carbon footprint, and work out how changes you could make would reduce it, using online tools like WWF’s Footprint Calculator (footprint.wwf.org.uk).
Climate change is real, and might seem just too big a challenge for the world. But that’s not an excuse for ignoring it. The more we show by our actions that we care, and tell our politicians that we want them to act on it, the more likely it is we can do something about climate change before it is too late. Huge and rapid change can happen, and history shows that when a new way of thinking takes hold, things can move fast. Wiltshire Council’s Climate Emergency declaration is a great first step.
Other energy work
Corsham Climate Alliance is proud to have been involved in the creation of Bath and West Community Energy (BWCE) , one of the UK’s leading community energy companies. BWCE installed 50kW of solar on Corsham School, and 250kW solar at Hartham Park, amongst many other local projects. In the past, we’ve done projects on home insulation, energy efficiency and saving energy by switching off street lights late at night, in conjunction with Wiltshire Council. At the moment we don’t have any active energy projects but are open to ideas!