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Sheffield Climate Report - October: October

by Now Then Sheffield
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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.

2 October

At a Full Council meeting, the new cabinet member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change, Mark Jones, was asked what progress had been made in the six months that his predecessor had said it would take to create an action plan for decarbonisation. His refreshingly candid reply was that "we do not currently have a plan as such that I can bring to you today".

Pressure is building on all levels of government

In that moment, Council press releases stating that "Sheffield City Council has already been leading the way to becoming a low-carbon economy", as well as Jones' own statements expressing his confidence of "achieving a zero carbon economy by 2030" are revealed to be mere expressions of blind faith to reassure the gullible, rather than realistic assessments of Sheffield's progress.

There's an obvious tension between central government aiming for net zero by 2050 and the various towns and cities around the country whose greater ambition aims for around 2030. Naturally some cities will lead while others will be laggards, but given that all share transport networks and a national electricity grid it seems impossible that the gap between them reaching net zero will stretch to two decades.

How then should we interpret local 'climate emergency' declarations? They're performative actions to pressure central government, raise expectations and temporarily placate local activists. Pressure is building on all levels of government, expectations have been raised and fortunately placation doesn't seem to be working.

3 October

As if you couldn't have guessed, a new State of Nature report reveals the sorry state of Britain's wildlife. A quarter of mammals and 20% of plant species are at risk of extinction, with average species abundance declining by 13% since 1970. Solutions do exist. The Nature Friendly Farming Network is a group led by farmers who've been pushing for reforms, many of which would help both biodiversity and climate. However so long as a rich country like Britain remains relaxed about such managed declines it's hard to hold out much hope for nature elsewhere.

Further delays mean upgrades to the Hope Valley line linking Sheffield and Manchester have been put back three years. The work will increase capacity to allow more frequent services but will now not be completed until 2023. It's clearly not a priority for central government.

10 October

It's revealed that the hated Pacer trains will remain operational into 2020, despite previous promises that all would be replaced by the end of the year. It's also revealed that for much of the last year central government have been considering bringing Northern's franchise back into public control.

Over the last year conversations around ecological issues have adopted a far more urgent tone which is to be welcomed

16 October

Sheffield City Region launch an interactive Active Travel Map, inviting citizens to add comments about their experiences of the region's walking and cycling infrastructure.

18 October

Extinction Rebellion's fortnight long International Rebellion draws to a close. It's probably a decade too soon to judge the success of XR. This was certainly different to April's events: more rain, more aggressive policing and more arrests. Disruptive action on the London Underground unfortunately drew attention away from other stories, such as the great personal sacrifices made by protestors such as terminally ill Nick Hodgkinson who travelled from Leeds to take part. The authoritarian police response to peaceful protest was likely illegal. and was particularly hostile to disabled rebels. Some actions targeted institutions complicit in the destruction of a habitable planet. For all XR's flaws, it's hard to think that the existence of thousands of people willing to take such drastic action can be anything other than a good thing.

19 October

Autumn weather mostly holds out for the trial pedestrianisation of Division Street. Although the nature of a trial meant that no real redesign of the street scene was possible, it seemed to be a success. Questions remain over how the space could be better used, and feedback from local businesses and disabled visitors is needed in particular. Creating greener public spaces, a network of cycle routes, increasing coverage of public transport and, crucially, getting more people living in the city centre is the only way to develop streets that work for residents, visitors and businesses.

21 October

Travel South Yorkshire offer car commuters a month of free public transport in the run up to Christmas. Applications close after two days, as demand far exceeds the supply of 500 passes. Proof that everyone loves a freebie, or does public transport deserve greater investment?

Regardless of how farcical our predicament becomes, better worlds will always be possible

23 October

Protests take place at Sheffield University's Careers Fair against the presence of Exxon Mobil and BP. More offensive than the hypocrisy of publicly claiming to take climate change seriously and then hosting those companies on campus is the principle of an institution that exists to further scientific knowledge, welcoming companies that have funded decades-long campaigns to undermine public understanding of climate change. These same companies are facing an increasing number of lawsuits filed by children, cities, states and their own investors for their active sabotage of efforts to curb global warming. In some cases, litigants argue that funding of denial campaigns represents a fundamental human rights violation, given that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states children have the right to life, health, and peace - a future that looks increasingly doubtful.

25 October

The Campaign For Better Transport reveals that bus funding is now £400 million a year lower than a decade ago. Local authority funding has fallen by £163 million a year, and national funding has fallen by £234 million a year in real terms. With an ageing population and stagnant wages, reduced government support for the cheapest form of public transport surely does more harm than good. Lacking accessible transport, the elderly risk further social isolation and people of all ages who are unable to afford other transport options miss out on work and education opportunities.

29 October

Zac Goldsmith concedes that the voluntary approach to grouse moor owners' burning of peat bogs has failed to curb the harmful practice, and that the government is working on legislation to ban it.

Over the last year conversations around ecological issues have adopted a far more urgent tone which is to be welcomed. However we must remember that it's forty years of delay that has resulted in this emergency situation. In such circumstances it's fair to feel utterly dismayed that it's come to this while gaining some optimism from recent developments. Regardless of how farcical our predicament becomes, better worlds will always be possible.

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

Jake Helliwell

by Now Then Sheffield

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