Polly Billington UK100
Polly Billington UK100
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Built Environment
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Outreach & Collaboration
Polly Billington writes about the launch of our new network looking at rural issues.

Climate change affects everyone, everywhere, and rural towns and villages can be more vulnerable to its impacts, such as extreme weather. UK100 has always been an inclusive organisation, but it is no secret that most of our 96 members have represented metropolitan places. This edition of our newsletter is focused on the launch of our Countryside Climate Network, spotlighting the role that more rural councils play in creating climate solutions. With the launch of the Countryside Climate Network we are making an activel decision to ensure that the rural voices are part of discussion about climate action.

Countryside councils are well placed to tackle climate change and meet the needs and ambitions of their communities for economic recovery and better health and wellbeing. They have to innovate, since many climate solutions have so far been designed for more urban settings, and they are elected, giving them democratic legitimacy to deliver lasting change. The network is here to enable our members to share their experiences of what works and to provide a platform from which they can highlight their successes, as well as the challenges they face.

This isn’t about a competition between rural areas and urban areas. The whole country needs to move swiftly towards a net zero future and so all our members, rural and urban, will want to collaborate and support each other in meeting that national priority.

I am delighted that we have 21 founding members of the Countryside Climate Network, brought together under the leadership of Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. I am incredibly grateful to him for the energy he has injected into this new network. Fifteen of the members are entirely new to UK100, which brings our total membership well over 100, a long-standing goal of mine. Given the horrendous impact of Covid-19 and the amount of focus councils have rightly devoted to it, the fact that we have achieved this milestone in the middle of a global pandemic highlights how seriously climate change is being taken by councils across the whole country.

There is a myth that the countryside is somehow peripheral to the economy and to climate change, but that is not the case. Devastating floods and droughts cause acute hardship for rural communities and threaten our food supply chain. Per capita carbon emissions are actually higher in rural areas compared to urban areas because of inefficient insulation and high-carbon fuel sources in the housing stock, a lack of options for lower carbon travel and land-use emissions. But the countryside is also home to a huge amount of innovation.

With COP26 being postponed to November next year, the network has time to build its profile and impact. But that doesn’t mean our members aren’t taking action right now. In this newsletter you will read about some wonderful examples of climate action in rural areas. In Swaffham Prior in Cambridgeshire, the whole village is undergoing a transition from oil-fired heating to ground-source heat pumps. Just outside Canterbury, planning permission has been granted for a green hydrogen plant, powered by offshore wind, the hydrogen will be used to power the next generation bus fleet. In Cornwall, every council decision is considered in relation to its impact on climate change as well as other so called ‘planetary boundaries’.
I hope you enjoy learning about these examples. If you want to find out more about the Countryside Climate Network, please visit our website or get in touch with Karen, our Countryside Climate Network Coordinator karen.barrass@uk100.org. You can see more information about the launch on our Twitter and LinkedIn.