Observer Column 11 November 2022
Saving the planet
Hasn't it been a depressing start to COP27? More apocalyptic warnings from the UN and no sign of the Indian or Chinese leaders. Under the media and political rhetoric, a clear reminder to all of us, again, that the world is running out of time if we want to sustain life as we know it.
Hastings is a small town in a small country, so it would be easy to see this as a problem others need to solve. But we know that's not how change happens, and so at Monday's Cabinet meeting we discussed how a district council can make a real difference in tackling the climate emergency.
It was good to be reminded that Brazil has voted for protecting the Amazon and that young people all over the world see this as a threat that those in power have to deal with now, not in 20 years' time. So how are we doing, since we declared a climate emergency in Hastings three years ago, one of the first councils in the country to do so?
Our new strategy and action plan lists the many changes already made (from electrifying our vehicles and buying green energy to bringing our parks service back into the council) and shows that Council emissions have reduced by almost half as a result.
So now we have to reduce by the same again to hit our zero carbon target by 2030. And at the same time encourage the whole town to do the same. This at a time that many residents are more worried about the cost of living than climate change. The solution is in our buildings, which account for most of our carbon use. It seems obvious that if all buildings were efficient, insulated and powered by sustainable wind, solar and ground source energy, not only would we dramatically reduce our emissions, but also dramatically reduce our costs. We have started with solar on all council buildings and are now extending this to business and community organisation roofs. Next we must find a way of retrofitting homes.
If going green also saves money, most people will want to do it as fast as possible. Of course, retrofitting thousands of homes needs national funding, and this will come eventually. But it also needs local skills, and so our investment in a Green Technology Training Centre at East Sussex College, due to open next year, is the kind of bold step all councils can take. Won't it be great if all the work installing solar panels and even mending electric cars is done by a local work force, not by national companies making massive profits from government contracts?
This is a big topic, and deserves greater public debate. So in 2023 we will set up a new forum where all those who care passionately about tackling the climate emergency can share ideas, skills and energy, supporting the council and all those other local public and private sector organisations to work at a pace that gives us all hope, and of course adds to the pressure on our government, and all governments, to get this right.
In the meantime, please send me your suggestions of quick wins and longer term goals for Hastings.
Council Leader's column