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A Magazine for Sheffield

Sheffield Climate Report - December: December 2019

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Following pressure from the international school strike movement, Extinction Rebellion and other long-established campaign groups such as Sheffield Climate Alliance, Sheffield City Council declared a climate emergency on 6 February.

Nobody quite knows what a climate emergency response entails, so this regular report will look back on recent happenings to try and figure it out.

6 November

Roads around a number of schools may soon be closed to traffic during morning and afternoon pick-up times. Reserving the space for children and pedestrians is intended to reduce air pollution and improve road safety.

7 November

Sheffield is hit by the worst flooding since 2007. Recently completed flood defences hold out and we avoid major damage, though Rotherham and Doncaster are not so fortunate. Much like homes trapping excessive heat or train tracks buckling during summer months, this episode serves as a reminder that much of our current infrastructure is not suited to weather conditions that will likely become more extreme in future.

The eternal challenge of environmental campaigning has been inspiring proactive action to prevent extreme health and financial impacts in the future. It's been said that the £20 million spent on flood defences since 2007 has more than paid for itself by avoiding damages just this year. Even if this is an exaggeration, avoided damages over a number of years make clear these are sensible investments.

Unfortunately political inertia means only after preventable tragedies have struck do we gain the impetus to take action. Climate emergency could and should be an opportunity to change this.

13 November

The Yorkshire Post report that in the last month less than half of Northern's trains were on time. With this chronic unreliability it's little wonder many people prefer sitting in their own cars in stationary traffic to waiting on cold platforms or sharing personal space with their fellow passengers on overcrowded services.

Subsidising fossil fuel production overseas costs each UK taxpayer more than £7 a year

15 November

Central government is blessing Sheffield with funding for cleaner buses - on the services that haven't been reduced or cancelled.

19 November

News that spending on trees and forestry has declined in recent years despite the government promising to plant more trees. It is a tale as old as time. Targets are no substitutes for policies. The following is a clear demonstration of our priorities:

"The figures equate to less than £1 per person in England and less than £2 per person across the UK, compared with annual spending of about £90 per person on roads, £150pp on fossil fuel subsidies and £135pp in foregone tax from the nine-year freeze on fuel duty. Subsidising fossil fuel production overseas costs each UK taxpayer more than £7 a year, according to estimates from Friends of the Earth."

20 November

On the same day it's announced that beavers will be reintroduced to two National Trust sites in the south of England, local environmental groups call for more nature-based flood management. Different approaches are needed in different areas, though this could mean tree planting, species re-introductions and designating land for flood plains. Not all solutions require concrete.

26 November

The Citizens' Jury in Leeds reports with recommendations of what their city can do to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. A fine example of leadership at a local level while national efforts continue to underwhelm.

28 November

Channel 4 hosted the first Leaders' Debate on Climate Change. While the biggest issue of our time being discussed at significant length on prime-time television represents a small outbreak of sanity, the debate itself was frankly quite dull.

The consensus on the measures that are needed was too cosy for comfort and there was little systemic explanation of why exactly we are in this mess. Most viewers would come away with the impression that climate policy is something that is going to be done to them and with little understanding of how any of the things proposed would make their lives better.

Upon her arrival in Madrid for the latest UN COP summit, Greta Thunberg says the school strikes have achieved nothing

While the melting ice blocks standing in for the absent Conservative and Brexit Party leaders were popular on Twitter, their silence rather let our government off the hook. In July this year the Committee on Climate Change noted that of the '25 headline policy actions' recommended a year ago, only one had been implemented in full. The UK is currently off track to hit even an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, never mind net-zero.

29 November

The final Youth Strike 4 Climate of the year coincided with UCU action, the march and rally drawing around 2,000 people. Not quite as many as September's march, but still impressive for what was a bitterly cold day. This is not something that will be going away.

5 December

The British Heart Foundation reveals that breathing Sheffield's air is equivalent to smoking 85 cigarettes a year.

Greenpeace research shows UK banks support expansion of coal around the world with funding of £25 billion (this activity has even increased in recent years). HSBC was the worst offender of the UK banks. They're keen to greenwash in Sheffield with their community bike rides and cycle-to-work schemes as proof of a commitment to sustainability while this damaging activity continues abroad. Out of sight, out of mind.

6 December

Upon her arrival in Madrid for the latest UN COP summit, Greta Thunberg says the school strikes have achieved nothing. This comes a week after it's revealed global carbon emissions reached an all-time high in 2018 and are set to grow again in 2019. While feeling positive about the groundswell of activism in the past year, it's hard to disagree with her sentiment.

13 December

Friday the 13 delivered on its promise.

In relative terms 2019 has been a very promising year for what could be vaguely called the climate movement

15 December

City Taxis' fleet will be going electric by 2025. One surprising example of a forward-looking business, a glimmer of genuinely positive news.

16 December

COP 25 in Madrid ends in failure. The long and short of these negotiations has always been that rich nations and fossil fuel exporters are indifferent to the needless suffering of the world's poor. The novelty of our predicament is that in the 21st century this too-long accepted murder may turn into a murder-suicide. Merry Christmas everyone!

22 December

Amid further disruption, rumours persist than Northern will be stripped of their rail franchise and effectively brought back into public control. Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram call for "clarity".

Many stories of ordinary courage, generosity and shared purpose came from towns and villages surrounding Sheffield during the recent floods, demonstrating how emergency situations can bring out the best in people. Climate emergency could be a chance for such a spirit to be the new normal, however for the time being business-as-usual persists.

In relative terms 2019 has been a very promising year for what could be vaguely called the climate movement, but in absolute terms the challenge remains enormous and probably grows graver by the day. We concerned can have a rest now and go again in 2020. No time to waste.

If you would like a little less conversation and a lot more action please, check out Sheffield Climate Alliance's series of upcoming events here or come along to Sheffield XR weekly meetings at Union Street Cafe. Let's enjoy the ride together.

Jake Helliwell

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