We have known about the challenges of climate change for a long time. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future, defined sustainable development as one that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It championed a future designed within ecological limits.
A year later, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed, followed in 1992 by the Rio Earth Summit. Over the three decades since, many organisations, local authorities, companies, and civil society organisations have charted ambition, demonstrated leadership, and taken action to tackle climate change.
However, 50% of all emissions have occurred since the IPCC was formed, during 30 years of failure to act by national Governments within the conference of the parties (COP) process.
The IPCC has this year published its sixth assessment report. It concludes that we are off track to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
While the IPCC confirms there is still time, our window of opportunity is rapidly closing, with the available carbon budget due to be exhausted by 2030.
A challenge became an emergency and now a reality as extreme weather events take their toll across the world. Rapid and immediate emission reductions must be achieved at least 50% by 2030.
There is a strong role for local government. At North Kesteven, our community strategy and corporate plan are aligned to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, inspiring local action to deliver a global to-do list.
A green thread runs through our corporate planning and service delivery processes, the ambition being to ensure every pound we spend, service we deliver and project we promote works to achieve climate action. The green thread is a value, an active conversation, an organisational, team and personal commitment to live within planetary boundaries and champion the needs of future generations. We aspire to achieve net zero for the organisation and the North Kesteven district by 2030.
Together with our partners in Lincoln and West Lindsey, we have adopted a local plan compatible with our net zero ambition. It states new development should ‘be fit for a zero-carbon future, contribute to the transition to a net zero society and be responsive to a changing climate…only such development is welcome in Central Lincolnshire’.
The plan establishes design principles for efficient buildings over and above existing building regulations requirements. The policy framework covers the orientation, form, and fabric of buildings. Heat supply should be zero carbon with no connection to the gas network or use of oil or bottled gas. Development should generate enough energy from renewable sources to meet total energy demand.
The plan includes policies related to embodied carbon, water efficiency and sustainable water management. It also creates the policy framework for transition to renewable energy generation in central Lincolnshire, for the protection of existing carbon sinks, such as peat soils, and for carbon sequestration through nature-based solutions. We have a significant investment programme in social housing and through our housing company, building to Passivhaus standards, embraced within our own CO2-sy Homes Standard.
We have a £27m investment programme to retrofit 900 of our worst performing properties and are advancing plans for decarbonisation of our leisure estate and other services. We are finalising a prospectus demonstrating what it will take to achieve net zero in North Kesteven by 2030, embracing key sectors of the local economy, land management, energy transition, and transport systems.
With leadership, ambition and a ‘green thread’ approach to delivery, we can make a difference and achieve a net zero future. But we must act now. And national Governments must play their part, re-energising their commitment to UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and strengthening global and regional governance to make it happen.
In his book Five Times Faster, Simon Sharpe, who supported the UK presidency of COP26, argues a new approach to economics is needed. We cannot deliver net zero by employing the fossil fuel-driven economic models that accelerate climate breakdown. We need a regenerative, investment-led approach to accelerate economic transition.
The opportunity to achieve the sustainable development goals and build a net zero future should be the energising principle for governance at all levels for the remainder of this decade. If it is, then the Brundtland ambition to safeguard the interests of future generations might finally become a reality.
Ian Fytche is chief executive of North Kesteven DC
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