Opinion: ‘It’s a pathetic target and will do little to tackle climate change’

Councillor Nick Sandford, Lib Dem group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 22nd August 2021, 6:15 pm
Gloabl warming is the reason for warmer temperatures

Just over a week ago, the world received the latest stark wake-up call from the the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In their latest Climate Assessment Report, they state:

‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

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‘Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred. . .

‘Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades’.

This is a column about Peterborough.

But all countries and all cities, including Peterborough, have to take urgent action, not just to reduce carbon emissions, but also to adapt to the climate change which is already happening.

We don’t need the IPCC to tell us about the burning forests across Europe and North America; the insanely high temperatures and (in other areas) the more melting ice caps, floods and more frequent hurricanes etc.

We have only a few years to take action to avert disaster.

So what is Peterborough doing?

The council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and said they wanted to get the council and the whole city to net zero carbon by 2030.

That’s great and it’s 20 years ahead of the UK Government’s net zero target of 2050, but it requires big changes and serious action if we are to have any chance of meeting the target.

Unfortunately, progress so far has been painfully slow... and we only have nine years left to reach the target.

Transport is Peterborough’s biggest source of carbon emissions, but we still see our transport capital schemes heavily focussed on road building and road widening.

We have a really good cycleway network in parts of Peterborough, but only around eight per cent of people regularly make journeys by cycle.

We can’t possibly reduce Peterborough’s carbon emissions to zero by 2030, so we need to take lots of carbon out of the atmosphere.

Trees are really good at that and deliver lots of other benefits too for local people.

Yet we are seeing street trees cut down all over city, with inadequate replacement, including very old and much-valued oak trees, such as the one in Ringwood, South Bretton.

I’m really grateful to Paul Bristow MP for backing thousands of local residents in their campaign to save that particular tree.

But we need to plant tens of thousands more every year and yet our tree strategy says we should only plant 400 a year to bring about an increase in tree canopy cover on council land from 20 per cent to 22 per cent.

It’s a pathetic target and will do little to tackle climate change.

We need to do much, much more, not just to help the climate, but also to tackle the catastrophic decline in wildlife that is happening at the same time.

And it’s not just about trees.

We need more wild flowers, more peatland restoration, more wild areas and more water features in our parks and greenspaces, to give but a few examples.

People in Peterborough and in other cities know that we must tackle climate change.

But they are looking to our city council and to senior politicians and senior officers to show leadership, set ambitious targets and start delivering on them.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money; sometimes it’s about simple changes in behaviour and in other cases (like tree planting) generous grant aid from Government and charitable bodies is available.

Finally, I must say something about the tragic news that is emerging from Afghanistan.

Many people in Peterborough will either have served in our armed forces there or known friends and relatives who have and in some cases will have suffered loss of life or injury.

By pulling out prematurely under American direction, we really have let down the population of that country.

It may well now be too late to retrieve the situation, but we really must learn from the experience to ensure that it does not happen again.