At the local elections on May 5th 2022, Cumbrians will be voting for the councillors who will decide the priorities and policies of the two new Unitary Authorities for Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness.

This is a historical moment for Cumbria and a unique opportunity to put action on climate change at the very heart of local government. Whilst directly responsible for only around 2-5% of local carbon emissions, local authorities can have a big influence on over more than 30% of local emissions through their policies, partnerships and funding streams.

Action on climate change can bring many benefits to individuals, communities and businesses eg cleaner air, more active travel, warmer, drier homes, lower bills, more choice of local food, less road congestion and much more.

We urge people voting and the candidates who are standing to ensure the critical issue of climate change and the benefits of acting on it are acknowledged and prioritised.

How climate change affects Cumbria

We are already experiencing the effects of climate change in Cumbria. As carbon emissions continue to rise, we will see:

  • more and more extreme weather events such as storms, high winds and floods
  • sea level rise combined with storm surges leading to more coastal flooding.
  • hotter, drier summers with increased risk of heatwaves and wildfires.
  • damage to landscapes, habitats, buildings, infrastructure and the Cumbrian economy.
  • interruptions to food and water supplies.

The key sources of carbon emissions in Cumbria

A report on the Carbon Baseline of Cumbria by Small World Consulting identifies that in 2019 Cumbria emitted greenhouse gases equivalent in impact on climate change to 7 million tonnes of CO2 from the following sources of greenhouse gas emissions:

  • the burning of coal, oil and gas in Cumbria (excluding from vehicles travelling on the M6 over which Cumbria has little influence)
  • the electricity used in Cumbria (whether the power is generated in Cumbria or elsewhere).
  • the food we eat and the stuff we buy (regardless of where the goods have been produced).
  • resident and visitor travel to and from and in and around Cumbria (excluding international visitor travel).
  • the impact on emissions from different forms of land use, which may be positive or negative.

What the new Unitary Authorities need to do

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in achieving Cumbria’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2037. The new Unitary Authorities need to show strong and ambitious leadership on climate change.

The Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership, which comprises around 80 Cumbrian organisations working together to plan the pathway to net zero including the existing local authorities, has already adopted 2037 as the science-based target for net zero.

The new Unitary Authorities should do the same and set out net zero action plans with clear deliverables, targets and resources – both for their own operations and for the geographical area they cover.

For their own operations, they should:

  • Consider the carbon impact of ALL decisions made by the authority and align all policies, services, functions and funding with the net zero carbon by 2037 target.
  • Ensure the right resources are available in the authority – both staffing and skills
  • Ensure there is a Cabinet position with responsibility for delivering climate action.
  • Ensure local authority buildings are low carbon
  • Ensure council vehicles use low carbon fuel
  • Minimise, reuse and recycle waste.
  • Act to reduce the carbon emissions from transport used by local authority service users.
  • Reduce staff commuting.
  • Manage local authority owned land to reduce carbon emissions, help to sequester carbon through peatbog restoration and tree planting and also benefit wildlife.
  • Influence supply chains by requiring contractors and suppliers to take action to reduce carbon emissions
  • Ensure pensions and other investments are climate friendly
  • Ensure understanding of climate change and solutions is embedded through the whole authority with ‘carbon literate’ employees and elected members
  • Where carbon emissions are irreducible, identify options
  • Be accountable – report on operational carbon emissions annually

For their area of influence, they should:

  • Communicate, engage and consult with local communities and young people on priorities for action on climate change, through initiatives like citizens juries and people’s panels
  • Use their powers in relation to planning to ensure that developments are net zero.
  • Use their powers over infrastructure development to enable people to ditch motorised vehicles in favour of safe walking and cycling
  • Influence the availability of public transport
  • Encourage electric vehicle use and increase publicly available EV charging infrastructure
  • Ensure street lighting is low energy and wildlife friendly
  • Improve domestic and commercial waste reuse and recycling services
  • Ensure that people are supported through the transition from high carbon to low carbon jobs with help for training and skills development
  • Fund local climate groups to help get energy saving messages across to friends and neighbours
  • Champion community owned renewable energy generation
  • Embed climate change and biodiversity in school curriculums and encourage practical climate action by young people
  • Support local sustainability groups which are building community resilience
  • Be transparent – report on carbon emissions for the area annually.

Further reading and references: