'We need to work together' to achieve net zero by 2050

Cop 26 opened in Glasgow on Monday.

'With COP26 taking place in Glasgow this week, the crucial focus on tackling climate change has never been more conspicuous'. - Credit: PA images

With COP26 taking place in Glasgow this week, the crucial focus on tackling climate change has never been more conspicuous.

As with every issue there are a range of views and opinions: those that say we are not doing enough through to those that say we shouldn’t be wasting time and money doing anything at all.

Cllr Ryan Fuller is leader of HDC.

Cllr Ryan Fuller is leader of HDC. - Credit: HDC

As ever, it comes down to balancing the different opinions and making informed and appropriate choices. Though even if some people remain sceptical about the net zero agenda, I would ask why wouldn’t we want to protect and enhance our local environment and seek to reduce our impact and emissions – as long as it’s done in a considered and pragmatic way.

The UK has led the way in delivering clean growth and reducing emissions. However, this does not, and should not, come at the expense of economic growth. The UK has grown its economy by 75 per cent while cutting emissions by 43 per cent since 1990.

Achieving net zero by 2050 will only be possible if Government, local authorities, individuals and businesses work together. The Government recognises the role that local councils such as HDC can play in driving progress towards these national climate change commitments.

Equipped with expert knowledge of their communities and areas, local councils are well placed to help deliver net zero.

The Government says that net zero by 2050 is feasible and that zero emissions by 2030 is almost certainly impossible, disruptive, not required by the science, economically unfeasible and risks undermining consensus.

I’m not going to weigh in on that national debate; but similar discussions are happening locally with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority pushing for all councils to adopt a 2030 target.

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A couple of neighbouring councils publicly embraced this before privately admitting that it wasn’t feasible. I took a different approach on behalf of HDC, stating that we were in full support of the wider agenda but that 2030 was impossible, and that I wouldn’t sign up to things I knew we couldn’t deliver.

Of course, where we can go further and faster in areas such as recycling rates, doubling nature and improving biodiversity, all areas where we are already ahead of targets, we will do so, but I’d far rather be upfront about what is and is not achievable than irresponsibly commit to things that I know not to be possible.

Surely it’s better to actually deliver tangible actions rather than warm words that don’t lead to anything.

One very relevant example of this is our waste fleet. Sending diesel bin lorries around Huntingdonshire is terrible in terms of emissions but the right technology doesn’t currently exist to do anything else.

In urban areas electric bin lorries are being trialled but the currently available models don’t have the necessary range to cover Huntingdonshire’s large rural geography.

Electric bin lorries cost twice as much and can probably cover less than half the range. Double the number of vehicles needed to cover the same area at twice the cost, and double the number of staff, and we start to get into the realms of £25-£30m on replacing the waste fleet alone!

Then look across the rest of the services the council delivers and you’ll see why it isn’t as straightforward as some like to suggest.

That’s why I’m clear that as vital as the net zero agenda is, it cannot, and does not need to, come at the expense of economic prosperity and everything else we need to deliver to ensure that Huntingdonshire continues to thrive.

HDC has an excellent and longstanding record of improving our environment and reducing our impact – a record that speaks for itself and ably demonstrates our ‘actions not words’ approach to this important issue.