You may think that climate change is a problem for politicians and heads of state to solve at an international level. But now of the international and national agreements on climate change mean anything without positive action being taken by local people, businesses and organisations.
The issues around climate change have been acknowledged at the highest political level and there is a clear commitment to act through the:
- Kyoto Protocol
- Eurocities Declaration on Climate Change
- EU Commission's Covenant of Mayors on Climate Change
As well as identifying targets for each country these agreements place significant responsibility for achieving these targets at a local level.
How is the UK responding?
The Government is already targeting large organisations and significant energy users through a range of national initiatives. However it recognises that local councils and their partners are well placed to lead their communities to act at a local level.
How are we responding in Gateshead?
We have made many environmental achievements over the past few years through our Local Agenda 21 Strategy.
We have helped more people heat their homes in an affordable and efficient way.
How? Through the work of Gateshead Warm Zone, we have:
- installed over 22,500 insulation measures
- reduced the cost of energy for 3,000 residents by a combined £2m a year
- saved 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, improving the energy efficiency of homes in Gateshead by over 30% with a target of 50% efficiency improvement by 2011.
We have enabled residents and business to recycle their waste more easily leading to less carbon emissions and a reduction in use of landfill sites.
How? By setting up recycling schemes and establishing a Joint Waste Management Partnership with South Tyneside and Sunderland Councils to tackle waste issues over the next 20 years with the aim of significantly reducing waste and increasing recycling.
We have improved the local natural environment through conservation.
How? The council bought 18 hectares of land at Lamesley Pastures. By reinstalling the seasonal flooding of meadows there, a valuable breeding habitat for waders and wildfowl has been created. The project is important to local people, incoming birdwatchers and is a special conservation and recreation site. This project is also reducing down–stream flood risk in the Team Valley Trading Estate by providing flood storage in the new habitat.
We have involved local people in projects to protect and enhance the countryside.
How? Through the Next to Nature programme, we have encouraged local urban communities to make the most of the countryside on their doorstep. Seven nature reserves have been established through the co-ordinated efforts of local schools and new 'friends-of' groups as well as Gateshead Countryside Volunteers. They provide green oases and link green areas for transitory wildlife and reduce the need for residents to travel to enjoy the health benefits of the countryside. Urban cooling is also provided by this type of green space.
So what more should we be doing?
Although it is clear that we have been taking action locally, the evidence, including recent events, tells us that we all need to do more. Government has set local councils and their partners some challenging targets that can only be achieved if everyone does their bit.
Through local leadership we will take action and work with business and communities to reduce carbon emissions in Gateshead and protect our communities from the detrimental effects of climate change as well as encouraging others to play their part too.
Only by changing attitudes and approaches can we avoid future adverse climate change and prepare for changes that are inevitable and save money by using less energy in the process.