Sheffield City Council’s Climate Summit could be a milestone for climate action in the city
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, and Sheffield City Council’s recent Climate Summit could mark a milestone in the journey to a sustainable future for the city. SCA (Sheffield Climate Alliance) welcomes the Council’s intention to take decisive steps as we undertake the immense challenge of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2030.
In late 2019, Sheffield City 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 climate action. Arup acknowledges that reaching zero carbon emissions by 2030 will be a challenge, so it is 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 might face on our collective path to zero carbon.
Councillors Mark Jones and Terry Fox both emphasised that the people that contribute least to climate change feel its effects most strongly. Indeed, the poorest communities in our city, and globally, are impacted by issues such as 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 as well as environmental issues- the two should not, and cannot, be addressed independently. Existing problems, exacerbated by the pandemic, such as racial inequality and low pay, should be at the heart of all climate action.
Kate Josephs, Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council, commented that the Council hopes to train all staff and elected members in carbon literacy, a crucial step in rooting all decision-making in awareness of climate change. Kate also emphasised that, having attended the recent launch of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission, she was struck by the potential of Northern cities to make a huge impact. Similarly, Emma Bridge, Chief Executive of Community Energy England, highlighted the importance of ‘people-powered futures’.
Continuing the current trajectory of Sheffield’s carbon emissions, we would see only a 23% reduction by 2030, according to Arup. It is therefore urgent that we make changes in key sectors identified by the report: housing, energy, commercial and industrial buildings, and transport. In the words of Cllr Mark Jones, ‘Sheffield must act, Sheffield will deliver.’ 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.
SCA welcomes the report and its recommendations. Jenny Carpenter, from SCA, said: “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.” Geoff Cox, one of SCA’s Directors of the Board, said: “The level of interest in attending [the Climate Summit] 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 forward, 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. Considering housing accounts for a third of carbon emissions in Sheffield, this could vastly improve the lives of many citizens through job creation and improvement to living standards. There is cross-party support for this and, with the local council 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. Buses are hugely important 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 vital changes.
Finally, as lockdown eases, SCA is excited to be moving closer towards 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. Community empowerment will continue to be at the forefront of everything we do, a position we hope is echoed by Sheffield City Council.
Image copyright: Sheffield City Council.