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09/07/2020

Climate crisis compliance accountability needed

Words: Laura Edgar
Rural public transport / iStock

Planning decision-makers should be held to account when it comes to compliance with the climate change duty, according to a new report. 

This includes local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate.

Countryside charity CPRE wants to see a “radical rethink” of the role of the countryside in tackling the climate emergency. The countryside should be at the forefront of climate action so that rural communities “do not bear the brunt of the climate emergency”. 

Greener, Better, Faster: Countryside Solutions to the Climate Emergency and for a Green Recovery sets out the countryside’s role in achieving a net-zero society, for which the UK government has set the target date of 2050. 

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Whatever breathing space we had to tackle the climate emergency has already been used up. But some of the best ways to reduce our emissions also make our countryside more resilient, so let’s harness the awesome power of our countryside and rural communities to tackle the climate emergency head-on. That means properly investing in rural public transport, delivering renewables sensitively and investing in nature-based solutions like peatland restoration and hedgerows.” 

As well as accountability for decision-makers, it also recommends that the government does the following:

Planning and building

  • Optimise the recycling of land that’s already been used for buildings by adopting a truly ‘brownfield first’ policy.
  • Radically tighten up building regulations to ensure that new buildings meet zero-carbon standards. Existing buildings should also meet zero-carbon standards in terms of heat and space.

Transport 

  • Introduce a legally binding national carbon budget and reduction pathway to 2045 for the transport sector. Projects that do not contribute towards it should not go ahead.
  • Follow a clear hierarchy for all future transport investment, with money to be spent first on active travel options such as footpaths and cycle lanes, then provision of public transport, and finally car travel.
  • Create a ring-fenced rural transport fund to support public transport services for rural communities that need to be better connected. 

Energy

  • Immediately disincentivise all exploration and development for coal, oil and gas, and apply a strict energy hierarchy to future supply, prioritising demand reduction and energy efficiency and then renewables.
  • Invest in a new generation of renewables, done in a way that benefits the rural economy, is supported by local communities, benefits wildlife, and minimises impacts on landscape, tranquillity and cultural heritage.
  • Empower local communities to shape their energy future, both financially and through the introduction of participative approaches to planning for rural energy schemes.

Food and farming

  • Introduce an action plan for the land use sector to rapidly re-wet and restore peatland, expand woodland and agroforestry, drive uptake of agroecological practices to boost soil health and drive down emissions from inefficient use of synthetic nutrients.
  • Commit to implementing an ambitious national food strategy to alter food demand to support improved health and sustainable low-carbon land use.
  • Urgently resource and commission a comprehensive national evidence base of land capability including properties of soils, land and other natural assets.

The report was launched at a virtual panel discussion yesterday (9 July) – who said what?

Luke Pollard MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“Britain’s not just facing one emergency at the moment, I think we’re being buffeted by three simultaneous challenges and crises. The climate emergency that you’ve set out clearly, the coronavirus and the hurricane of economic disruption that’s following it. And then the uncertainty and probable disruption that’s going to follow with Brexit. If any one of those challenges were to be faced by any government, that would be a considerable drain on the ability to deliver, but all three hitting us at the same time basically means that there can be no going back to business as usual. We need a complete paradigm shift in the way that government approaches these issues. And, a different approach to the way that government actually operates.

“We need to strip away this cross-party contention, we need to do the right thing for our communities. And that means being bolder about it. And in particular, making sure that the boldness is in the action, not just in the topspin put on the sound bites, because we have the adoption of a sound bites and victory of PR and media over the substance, and we won’t be achieving that change that we need to, we’ll continue with a carbon-intensive sector, will continue with our natural landscape being eroded and destroyed. And that’s why we have that urgency of action.”

Baroness Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party

“I know what it’s like cycling in rural areas, and it can be very, very frightening cycling on roads. So how do we think about making sure that cycling isn’t something that people do to get around in cities? We also really need to think about the countryside, and as your report makes clear, building new roads is not the answer. We need to think about roads being for people. And that’s a shift that we’re starting to see in cities but we need to see it right across the country and so you know, we have to ensure that people can cycle around villages, can even walk around villages.”

Freddie Northcott, youth climate activist

“As this report shows, solutions exist and have been tested and shown to work. They are simply not adopted on a wider scale owing to the lack of central funding and planning for such. The CPRE report makes this explicitly clear and I quote – “Unfortunately, there is inadequate funding for such landscape scale enhancement projects that are vital in tackling the climate emergency’.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has given this country and this government a golden ticket to reset our systems. To think about the way in which we do things and change them for the better... We need to be more ambitious, we need to decarbonise more quickly. Next year in 2050, and this will become only more difficult at the later stages. The struggle we face is immense. And there is no way to hide that. What is crazy to me is that the quicker we do things, the easier they will be.”

Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“I think there’s a lot of negativity being spread. Because actually, we are taking climate change seriously we are taking net zero seriously. We've actually legislated for that. The first economy in the G7 to do that and I was one of the backbenchers absolutely wishing for that.

“This government, and the prime minister’s commitment to green resilient levelling up as we move forward, across the country and that includes obviously not just urban areas, but those really important rural and coastal areas and putting them at the heart of our rebalancing... I hope that you all recognise the 40 million pound green recovery challenge fund we launched last week, the prime minister announced it. Luke shaking his head, but it’s been warmly welcomed and it sets us on a good track for protecting 2,000 jobs, you must think that’s a good idea. 2,000 jobs and creating another 3,000 because without a shadow of a doubt, we do need an army, a green army of ecologists, environmentalists, soil scientists, all of those people that will help us move forward on this green trajectory to deliver the things we need to deliver, whether it’s nature recovery networks, bio net gain or indeed if we want to speed up planning."

The report can be found here on the CPRE website (pdf).


Read more: 

Regenerate the countryside to regenerate the economy, says CPRE


Image credit | iStock

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