Sign the Open Letter: Demand Climate Leadership in BathNES
We would like to welcome the new cabinet to the challenges ahead and its recommitment to the core policy of Climate and Nature Emergency and the Renewal Programme with a “green recovery”.
In February 2020, the Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel made the following recommendation:
“The word ‘emergency’ suggests a different pace to ‘business as usual’ – we must merit the word emergency in the pace of our work.”
Cllrs Dine Romero and Joanna Wright rose to that call. In only two years, Cllr Wright managed to achieve what every administration has failed to do, for over forty years, by living up to the promise to tackle pollution, traffic congestion, and making our streets liveable for all residents. We’ve watched her tireless, selfless, dedication to the people of BathNES. Inspiring us as she’s empowered the officers, and transformed their thinking, to make them amongst the most capable and innovative in the country. For that we offer her our heartfelt thanks and, while we are troubled by their departures, we take heart in the remarkable legacy, delivering on your promises to “giving people a bigger say” and “improve people’s lives”.
Now it falls on the new administration to build on these foundations that call for urgent, strong, leadership.
You will all recall the sight and passion of the Youth Climate Strikes and marches; and those unforgettable images of Milsom Street packed with children, families, residents, and business owners. All demanding nothing less than the kind of leadership demonstrated over the past two years. COVID-19 may have temporarily halted those peaceful calls for action, but it has also brought home the message, and urgency, of the Climate and Nature Emergency to more people. Businesses, families, and residents given a shocking, fleeting, glimpse of what lies ahead for them and their children if we pretend “business as usual” is an option.
This is a Climate and Nature Emergency
As you know, the 2019 district emissions reports presented the Council with the two priority areas it would need to tackle. To keep within the limit of 2°C of global heating, the emissions cut pathway required a 72% reduction of greenhouse gas (CO2e) emissions by 2030: The bulk of the district’s annual emissions are:
- Transport: 29% - 216,100 tCO2e (or 43.2 million trees covering 61% of BathNES)
- Energy: 66% - 507,800 tCO2e (or 101.6 million trees covering 144% the area of BathNES)
- Homes: 38% - 293,600 tCO2e (or 58.7 million trees covering 83% of BathNES)
- Non-domestic buildings: 28% - 214,200 tCO2e (or 42.8 million trees covering 61% of BathNES)
This required enormous changes including:
- Transport: Annually, until 2050: a 25% reduction in car use [those with greenhouse gas emissions]
(or 10.8 million trees in 2020 trees covering 15% of BathNES, 8.1 million in 2021 covering 12% of BathNES, etc.)
For context: the emissions on the route to the University, assuming a 4km return trip of the 4,000 cars during school terms, would require 81,100 trees that survived at least thirty years.
- Energy Efficiency: By 2030: the retrofitting of insulation in some 66,473 homes, 5,090 PassivHaus new builds, 40% of heating systems replaced, and 76% of domestic cooking being electric.
- Energy Supply: By 2030: Solar photovoltaic installed on 50% of homes and 0.62km2 on commercial roofs and ground mounted sites.
In addition, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) Joint Local Transport Plan 4, states that, a full twenty years earlier than the stretch goal above:
“Our Joint Local Transport Plan aim is to ensure transport is carbon neutral by 2030”.
You will also be aware that our MP, Wera Hobhouse, has co-sponsored a cross party call, the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill, for robust action to limit heating to 1.5°C and Stephen Williams has committed to this should he win the WECA election.
Now, almost two years since the council declared a climate emergency, those figures have changed. Ignoring any cumulative effects of emissions over the past two years, this suggests that car use, for instance, now requires a 27% reduction annually (11.7 million trees), and if action begins in 2023 the figure jumps to 34% per year (14.1 million trees).
We recognize and applaud the Council’s ambition to plant 100,000 trees by 2023 as a much-needed action, which could potentially sequester 500 tCO2 per year. However, it’s a vital additional measure and in no way a substitute for action elsewhere. Trees only start sequestering significant amounts of carbon in their “youth”, usually between 20 and 50 years – the saplings will have little impact for two decades.
Tree planting is an investment, a pension premium, for the future, reparations to the children whose future we have jeopardised with our inaction, it is not an excuse for us to continue “business as usual”.
This is a Public Health Emergency
Life expectancy in the poorest areas of BathNES is eight years less than in the highest income areas; air pollution, noise, lack of active physical activity, all compound this.
This is a Social Justice Emergency
Previous generations made great sacrifices for us to enjoy the privileged lives we have now, and yet we’re refusing to accept a few inconveniences for the less fortunate or the children whose world we’ve wrecked.
- The emissions of the highest income households over those of the lowest is doubled for household fuels, ten times more for aviation, and seven times more for car emissions
- 38% of the population are under 25 and most don’t have cars; 16% are under 17 and have no independent means of transport.
- The very poorest live in some of the hardest to heat homes, have the lowest car ownership, and live in areas with some of the worst traffic pollution.
- Our infrastructure discriminates against those on lower incomes and our political engagement favours the more privileged, higher earners, too much.
Climate Action is Social Justice
You can prepare for the future. Changing people’s lives today may be uncomfortable, but the benefits will be experienced by today’s children and young.
You can continue the legacy of doing, not for yourself, but for others, and deliver for residents and improve people’s lives. Or you can ally with the tiny minority - driven by self-interest, fear of change, and insecurity – cower at the task in hand and make people’s future worse.
And, so, our call to you.
We are concerned that this new administration is looking to delay, or even reverse, the hard-won progress of the past two years. There seems to be a profound misunderstanding of the scale of the task at hand and the critical part that transport and removing combustion engine cars plays in climate action, public health, and social justice.
The UK Government has set the stage for November’s COP26, legislating even bolder emissions cuts, 78% by 2035 over 1990 levels. This brings the 2°C targets forward by 15 years, which BathNES will be expected to comply with.
Even before this, you are set to overshoot 2050 targets. And from councillors’ comments on social media over the past few weeks, the intention to delay vital action until after the next election seems real.
We do not have time for delay, wishful thinking, or the hollow rhetoric of 2030 ambitions.
We call on this administration to demonstrate decisive, unwavering, and immediate action to drastically cut emissions by fully supporting active non-car-based travel schemes. This will show that you really are doing everything you can to address the climate emergency, to improve public health, and to help make our communities socially just.