Northumberland County Council is to declare a climate emergency, with a senior councillor saying that ‘nothing is more important than this issue’.
The authority is vowing to half its carbon footprint by 2025 as well as making the county carbon-neutral by 2030.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “Our climate emergency is a call to action to step up what we are already doing.
“We are pleased to see the council’s existing actions over the last few years have reduced emissions, but we still recognise that we do need to do more and act as community leaders for the whole county.
“We recognise that we are here as custodians of our great county and we want to pass it on in a better state than we found it in and minimise the impact of everything we do on the environment.”
Between 2010 and 2018, the council reduced its carbon emissions by a third, through a combination of using more efficient vehicles, installing new heating and lighting systems and buying climate-friendly supplies.
But the declaration of a climate emergency represents a ramping-up of these ambitions and the leadership is determined that there are concrete actions to help meet its targets.
One of the recommendations that is due to be signed off by the authority’s cabinet next Tuesday (June 11) is that it ‘produces a comprehensive and costed action plan for the next three years that clearly demonstrates the initial phase of delivery’.
Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for the environment, said: “Emergency is quite an emotive word and we considered it quite carefully.
“But while roads and potholes are really important, nothing is more important than this issue.”
An expanded steering group for climate change, with representatives of a number of different organisations, will need to ‘come up with practical examples quickly so we can feed into the budget-setting process in September’, Coun Sanderson added.
Areas being explored include:
Micro hydro-electricity generation, with initial feasibility tests being undertaken on the river Wansbeck (Morpeth) and the Wooler Water;
Small-scale wind generation, with the first phase exploring the scope to supply power to council depots in Blyth and Stakeford;
Solar carports installation, with the County Hall car park acting as the initial pilot;
Heat from mine water, with the former Bates colliery site in Blyth potentially providing a new, clean heat source for a district heating scheme.
On a more day-to-day level, the authority is already looking at initiatives to expand its household waste recycling, including glass and more plastics, create more footpaths and cycling tracks, and increase the number of electric vehicle charging points.
On a more strategic level, Coun Jackson pointed out that Northumberland is ‘ideally placed in terms of modern technology in the carbon reduction era’.
The county is already England’s second highest producer of hydroelectricity, second highest for onshore wind generation and sixth for the number of solar PV sites in the UK.
Blyth has established itself as a hub for offshore wind and ‘we intend Northumberland to be absolutely central to that industry not just nationally, but internationally,’ Coun Jackson said.
Last week, we reported that local activist group Climate Action Northumberland (CAN) had called on the county council to declare a climate emergency.
Through the steps to be rubber-stamped next week, the council is meeting this request as well as the other action points outlined by the group, which is to be involved in the authority’s plans going forward.
Coun Sanderson said: “I’m grateful to CAN for bringing this to our attention. We could have paid lip service to it, but we are taking it seriously.”
There’s no single definition for what a climate emergency is, but dozens of councils around the UK have declared one, with common targets including being carbon-neutral by 2030.
New Mayor Jamie Driscoll declared one in the North of Tyne area on his first day of office last month, which he described as a ‘benchmark so it’s not nice to have, it’s essential’.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service