I am very proud that in 2019, Newcastle was the first city in the world to see a local government, a hospital trust and a university all declare a Climate Emergency and make Net Zero commitments. The city council’s commitment is to achieve Net Zero status by 2030, a full 20 years ahead of the UK government’s legal commitment. In this drive for civic partnership and collective responsibility we are by no means alone. I’m delighted to see that at the last count, around 300 local authorities have taken similar bold steps.
For those that have yet to declare a Climate Emergency and set a Net Zero target, I urgently ask you to do so. One of the reasons often stated for not declaring a Climate Emergency is that people are unwilling to commit due to the lack of a clear roadmap to Net Zero emissions. But setting an ambition does not require you to have all of the answers, just the resolve and willingness to work towards a new and improved future.
Sixty years ago, the Space Race gave the world an ambitious goal to aim for. When it began, nobody knew how to land a man on the moon, but we knew that we had some of the technology and knowledge at our disposal. But most importantly, we believed that we had the collective will and ingenuity that would take us all the way.
We choose to fight climate change in this decade not just because we must; because the consequences of not, for both ourselves and generations to come, are too terrible to contemplate; but because a Net Zero goal is a monumental opportunity, one we are unwilling to postpone, that will serve to measure the best of our energies and skills, and one that we intend to grasp with both hands.
The race to Net Zero is the 21st century’s equivalent of the Space Race. The same principles apply with the Net Zero challenge. However, it will not be a race characterized by rivalry and the pure pursuit of achievement and knowledge. Nor is it likely to see any unifying moment when we will all be able to celebrate the achievement of our objective. Yet the end goal is undeniably more profoundly important and more urgently needed to guarantee our wellbeing both now and for future generations.
The challenge is clear; we must address all emissions from all sectors and drive our emission profile down to Net Zero. How we do that is far from clear. The wholesale decarbonisation of a city, let alone a country, has never been done before and the challenge is enormous but necessary.
Newcastle is a city of knowledge, progress, and action. We were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, the first waves of modern invention; but in the same breath, we were the vanguard of carbonising the world’s economy through coal. The eyes of the world look to this challenge and we aim not only to play our part, but to lead on decarbonising the globe - recognising our moral obligation.
Along the way we may discover – like the Space Race – that the technologies and innovations bring unexpected benefits. In transitioning to Net Zero, there is a great prize. We can create a city and country with a strong and inclusive economy built by the rapidly expanding green collar industries, and benefit from the prosperity and thousands of new jobs these industries may bring. This will generate new demands for investment and skilled personnel. Our city, our region and the UK as a whole can benefit greatly from this green growth. In a city that was once the Roman frontier and then the beating heart of the Industrial Revolution, we aim to become part of the leading edge of a global green wave.
A place where individuals can live healthier lives, in a cleaner environment, with less fuel poverty and air pollution, greater inclusiveness and equality, more green space and improved biodiversity. And with increased attention and action on climate change, we must ensure that our communities are ready for the impacts of a changing climate.
As leaders of local councils, we must be responsible for communicating this exciting and positive Net Zero vision, and embracing and facilitating the opportunities that the transition to Net Zero can bring. We know that to achieve our aims we must have support at a national level, and that is why it is important that working through organisations like UK100 we can make the collective asks of Government for the backing we need.
In December 2020, we signed up to UK100’s Net Zero Pledge and the UN Race to Zero global campaign. The Race to Zero is a fitting name for the campaign, as we are undoubtedly in a race against time to prevent more lasting damage from the changing climate. But by no means is this a race against each other. In Newcastle there are just over 3,600 days until we must achieve our Net Zero 2030 commitment. It is incredibly important that local authorities collaborate rather than compete. And this same principle is even more important internationally, in our interactions and cooperation as nation states.
We must draw on our world leading expertise and resources to be the example of a post carbon industrial country that has mitigated its own emissions, adapted to climate change and prepared for a rapidly changing economy, whilst advocating that others do so too.
We have a chance at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November this year to show to the world that we take our commitment seriously and are taking bold steps forward in delivering our Net Zero actions.
Virtue signalling won’t get us anywhere. Only demonstrable action and progress matters. We must be ambitious and use COP26 to drive forward action across all parts of our organisations, through our partnerships and community groups, in our schools and universities, and across the public and private sector.
In being ambitious, all local authorities should take a collaborative and cooperative approach. I encourage you to ask yourself three questions:
- Firstly, how can we work better with other councils to influence positive Net Zero outcomes and promote necessary changes to achieve these outcomes?
- Secondly, how can we share the findings of our research and trials in a collective forum to enable other local authorities to avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes, and to improve their own project outcomes?
- Finally, how can we use our unique position as civic leaders to lead the transition to Net Zero across all parts of society?
Since our Climate Emergency declaration, we have been working with partners to develop a strategic plan, including key priority actions to address our city-wide emissions, and to set out our collective vision and roadmap for the Net Zero transition. The resulting ‘Net Zero Newcastle – 2030 Action Plan’ outlines more than 100 Priority Actions across three key themes: Energy; Transport; and Adaptation and Sustainability.
In the spirit of collaboration, the template for the plan is available here and Newcastle invites you to use any element to assist your own climate work.
While the first steps towards Net Zero are some of the hardest, together we can build momentum towards delivering the future we all want to see. I look forward to seeing you at COP26 in November and hearing about the great progress you have made on your climate journeys.
We need to make a giant leap together.