Speaking at the ADEPT Autumn conference, Paula Hewitt of Somerset County Council told directors of place services that with most councils having declared climate emergencies and a flurry of commitments to net zero, ‘the pressure is still on as to how we achieve it, who needs to be involved and how we will be judged’.
She asked: ‘So where do we start, or moreover, where do we end? From old buildings, satellite outposts, ancient offices and assets, to roads, bridges, drains and other infrastructure, how do we tackle such a mammoth task? How do we retrofit? Can we even retrofit? Building new has its own issues too.
‘And can we, collectively, use the best available techniques to cut our carbon across our highways and become more sustainable? From electric vehicle fleets to promoting recycling, encouraging walking and cycling to work, car sharing and public transport.
'From planting and environmentally sensitive approaches to harnessing and using renewable energy, there are ways to diminish our impact on the planet.’
She added: ‘The reality is that many of our communities are becoming more aware and more concerned to help. The grassroots swell of activity is essential. We need to capture this enthusiasm, this energy and this sense of urgency from the bottom up and work with our communities to help them and help us start to tackle the momentous challenges, both to decarbonise and adapt to our changing climate.’
Ms Hewitt also told directors that without ‘the safety net of European labour’ addressing the skills and labour gap will require drastic action, ‘and that means inspiring and energizing our young people'.
'We need to encourage our communities to upskill and retrain and to re-enter the workforce.’
Minister for climate change adaptation Jo Churchill told delegates: ‘Many of our environmental ambitions can only be delivered by working in close partnership with local leaders, who know their areas best. Both nationally and internationally, you know the importance of 2021 for climate change and the environment, with the UK having hosted the climate change conference in Glasgow.
‘As the minister for climate change adaptation, I also know the importance of local leaders in building resilience in their local areas. It’s vital that the UK adapts to the changing climate, along with reducing emissions, to save lives.
‘Many of you will be best placed to identify where the nature-based solutions like woodland, or concrete barriers, are needed. Local government, alongside the local leaders, and experts, and representatives of local communities, will play a fundamental role in delivering environmental action in their area.’
Baroness Brown, chair of the Climate Change Committee’s adaptation committee, said local authorities have an ‘absolutely crucial’ role in delivering net zero, but added: ‘It’s not just delivering net zero, it has to be a resilient net zero – it has to be adaptation and mitigation.’
She observed that the weather system that killed around 200 people in Belgium Germany could just as easily have hit the UK and that a similar event could occur next year.
‘It is really crucial that we adapt to the climate changes that are coming, even on the path to net zero. It is not enough to do mitigation.’