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Sheffield Council’s Climate Summit could be a milestone

A zero-carbon Sheffield by 2030 is an immense challenge which needs bold decisions now, so it’s essential we approach it with positivity, energy and optimism, says Sheffield Climate Alliance’s Emily Lewis.

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Benjamin Elliott (Unsplash)

The climate crisis necessitates a strong and decisive response from our elected representatives and local decision makers. There is only so much we can do as individuals without structural support. In that spirit, Sheffield City Council’s recent Climate Summit could be a milestone in the journey to a sustainable future for the city.

Sheffield Climate Alliance (SCA), the organisation I’m part of, welcomes the Council’s intention to take decisive steps as we undertake the immense challenge of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2030 – and we also continue to be a ‘critical friend’ to our local politicians.

In late 2019, the Council declared a Climate Emergency. While there has undeniably been a delay in acting on this, the newly-released Arup report, commissioned by the Council, sets out clear recommendations for action. Arup acknowledges that reaching zero carbon emissions by 2030 will be a challenge, so it’s essential that we approach it with positivity, energy and optimism. The Council’s Climate Summit aimed to ‘actively listen’ to Sheffield residents and learn more about the potential barriers that marginalised communities in particular might face on our collective path to zero carbon.

During the event, councillors Mark Jones and Terry Fox both stated that the people who contribute least to climate change feel its effects most strongly. Indeed, the poorest communities in our city, and globally, are impacted by issues like poor air quality, lack of jobs and housing that does not meet environmental standards. The Council needs to seize the opportunity to tackle these pressing social issues alongside environmental issues, because the two should not, and cannot, be addressed independently. Existing problems, exacerbated by the pandemic, such as racial inequality and low pay, must be at the heart of all climate action.

Continuing the current trajectory of Sheffield’s carbon emissions, we would see only a 23% reduction by 2030, according to Arup. It’s therefore urgent that we make changes in key sectors identified by the report: housing, energy, commercial and industrial buildings, and transport.

Recommendations include increasing travel on foot or by bike, switching to renewable energy sources and improving insulation on domestic and commercial buildings. The social benefits of net zero emissions will encompass improved health and wellbeing, skills development and job opportunities, and ownership, pride and identity.

Jenny Carpenter of SCA told me: "The big challenge is to achieve people's buy-in to the vision and imagination to achieve a greener, cleaner, healthier, fairer and happier city."

SCA Director Geoff Cox added: “The level of interest in attending [the Climate Summit event] shows just how hungry the city is to start to make progress. It feels like the long wait since the zero carbon commitment in 2019 is finally over.”

Going forwards, Sheffield Climate Alliance continues to hold the Council accountable for achieving the zero emissions goal that they have pledged. We wrote to all councillors last week, urging them to adopt a series of retrofitting measures. Housing accounts for a third of all carbon emissions in Sheffield and this approach could also vastly improve the lives of many citizens through job creation and improvements to living standards. There is cross-party support for it and, with the local elections coming up in May, we hope to make it a key issue for candidates.

Through our Better Buses campaign, we are pushing for public ownership of Sheffield’s transport system. We have written an open letter to Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, on the issue. Buses are vital for getting to work, linking our communities, accessing the services we need and for delivering a sustainable region. The report states that transport was a key area for Sheffield City Council to make bold steps in, so we, as citizens, need to hold them accountable for making these critical changes.

As lockdown eases, SCA is excited to be moving closer towards publically launching our National Lottery-funded project, which aims to engage people across South Yorkshire in creative and inspiring climate events and action. We are working in collaboration with many partner organisations across the region. Community empowerment will continue to be at the forefront of everything we do – a position we hope is echoed by Sheffield City Council.

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