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Can Sheffield achieve zero carbon by 2030?

With COP26 over, the focus of activists and campaigners returns to our city - and what its decision makers can do to reach the ambitious goal of zero carbon by 2030. Grassroots action is a huge part of the picture, says Shahed Ezaydi.

Climate protest november

For the last few weeks, all eyes have been on Glasgow for COP26. People across the world waited to see if world leaders could agree on tangible actions to reverse disastrous climate change. The Glasgow Climate Pact includes:

A plan to ‘phase down’ the use of coal - This is the first time coal has been explicitly mentioned in a COP agreement. Initially, the agreement stated signatories would “phase out” coal, but China and India would only agree to the term “phase down”.

More money to help poorer countries - A pledge to increase the money going to countries who need support in dealing with the effects of the climate crisis now. But a previous pledge for richer countries to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 wasn’t met.

An end to deforestation by 2030 - A commitment supported by nations covering around 85% of the world’s forests, including Brazil, Canada, Russia and Indonesia.

Cutting 30% of methane emissions by 2030 - Agreed by more than 100 countries, but not China, Russia and India.

Financial organisations to back clean technology - Some of the world’s biggest financial companies, controlling around $130 trillion, agreed to invest in clean technology and renewable energy sources, as well as directing money away from industries reliant on fossil fuels.

Some have praised the agreement, but many climate activists were critical of it - including Greta Thunberg, who described the conference as more “blah blah blah”, and activists from the Global South who travelled to Glasgow.

They argue that world leaders haven’t done anywhere near enough to slow the effects of the crisis; effects which are already a stark reality for many nations in the Global South. Tuvalu’s foreign minister recorded his speech standing knee-deep in water in a bid to highlight how his island nation is struggling against rising sea levels.

The local response

Local activists in Sheffield have also been critical of COP26, with one telling Now Then the conference had “actively excluded the voices of those who most needed raising up” and another describing it as ‘predictably awful.’ But even critics - both locally and globally - still put faith in the power of grassroots and community organising when it comes to delivering real climate justice.

As well as voicing frustrations with world leaders and the inaction of corporations, this tone of hope was present at the Global Day for Climate Justice protests which took place across the globe, including in Sheffield, on Saturday 6 November 2021.

Organised by the Sheffield Climate Campaign Umbrella Group (SCCUG), a coalition of local environmental groups, the action saw around 4,000 people take to our streets to hold those in power accountable for decades of inaction and demand climate justice for all.

Protesters gathered on Devonshire Green and soon after began their march to City Hall, led by youth climate strikers. With chants of “system change not climate change” and “planet over profit,” thousands moved through the Moor, Arundel Gate and up Fargate towards the City Hall, garnering a lot of positive attention - and the odd negative comment - from the public.

Climate protest november

One protester told Now Then their reasons for attending: “It’s so important that people show up for climate justice because it’s an emergency and we really don’t have long left to sort it all out. We have to do it for the younger generations who will bear the brunt of our mistakes.”

“The power of protest shouldn’t be underestimated,” another said. “The people have the power to make real change. We’ve been fighting for climate justice for years and we’ll stay out here fighting until world leaders take real action.”

A range of speakers stood up outside the City Hall, the most notable being local youth strikers. A young primary school girl gave a short and moving speech, finishing with, “Please, put the children first’, while another involved in the youth strike movement said the Global North is only just waking up to the realities of the climate crisis, and that younger generations should not be the ones responsible for coming up with the solutions.

Climate rally november

The climate crisis in Sheffield

In early 2019, Sheffield City Council (SCC) declared a climate emergency, the largest UK city at the time to make such a declaration. Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, followed suit in November 2019.

SCC has since agreed to bring forward its goal to reach net zero carbon from 2050 to 2030, whilst also pledging to put together a Citizen’s Assembly and a carbon budget for Sheffield. But so far little progress has been made towards this incredibly ambitious target.

At the beginning of this year, a report was published that had been in development for the best part of 2020 by Arup and Ricardo, produced in partnership with the Council alongside local organisations and campaign groups. ‘Pathways to Zero Carbon in Sheffield’ outlines the key areas of concern when it comes to emissions in Sheffield.

It offers more than 80 recommendations and “ten clear prioritised actions” that the Council can take to “enable city-wide action.”

According to the report, for Sheffield to be considered zero carbon there would need to be a 95% reduction in emissions. Many of these savings would need to come through locally generated renewable energy sources, including wind and solar.

Sheffield’s emissions are currently above 2,000 kilotons of CO2 a year and the report indicates that even though a 95% reduction may not be possible, the city should still be able to reduce its emissions by 85%, to 334 kilotons, by 2030 - a little over eight years from now.

Other areas where emissions could be drastically cut are through sustainable modes of transport, decarbonisation of vehicles and replacing gas boilers in homes and commercial settings, the report found.

What is Sheffield City Council doing now?

The Council is developing a 10 Point Plan setting out the framework for how it will work with people across the city to deliver on the actions needed to deal with the climate crisis.

The ten points are:

  1. Put climate at the centre of our decision-making.

  2. Be proactive in finding ways to resource the action that is needed.

  3. Take action to reduce carbon now.

  4. Work towards reducing Council emissions to net zero by 2030.

  5. Bring the city together to make the changes we need.

  6. Work with the city to develop delivery plans for the areas where change needs to happen.

  7. Work with and support people, businesses, and organisations to take the action that is needed.

  8. Work to build the skills and economy we need for the future.

  9. We will work to ensure we have the planning and infrastructure we need for the future.

  10. We will prepare the city to adapt for a changing climate.

In a Council press release, Councillor Douglas Johnson, Executive Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, said: “The 10 Point Plan is a crucial step in our commitment to ensuring Sheffield reaches net zero carbon.

“We want this journey to be a fair transition for every resident in the city and aim to make sure the changes made improve inequalities for Sheffielders and have a positive impact on the most vulnerable.”

In the past few weeks, several years after it was first announced, councillors finally agreed on a Clean Air Zone for Sheffield to be implemented by late 2022 to tackle high levels of pollution. But progress has been slow since SCC declared a climate emergency in 2019 and it hasn’t taken many other tangible actions to keep the city on course to achieve its ‘net zero by 2030’ target.

The climate justice movement in Sheffield has grown massively in recent years, and with the clock continuing to tick on the planet, grassroots and community action will continue to prove vital in demanding action on the crisis locally, and to hold those in power accountable for their lack of urgency.

As one placard held by a young woman at the protest said: There is still hope.

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