Lancashire Climate Change Summit: What the county will have to do differently to tackle the crisis

Lancashire will have to learn to live with the “baked in” consequences of climate change – as well as playing its part in the worldwide effort to limit future global warming.

Thursday, 17th March 2022, 10:00 pm
Updated Friday, 18th March 2022, 1:16 am

That was one of many stark messages to come out of the county’s inaugural climate summit.

Dozens of delegates descended on County Hall for the long-planned event last week – and none of them could have been left in any doubt about the scale of the challenge.

Often-trumpeted target dates by which Lancashire should aim to be carbon neutral were thrown into sharp relief by the county’s current trajectory, which suggests that the region risks missing by a wide margin even what is regarded the least ambitious of green goals.

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Delegates discussed the impact of the global climate crisis on Lancashire - and what the county can do to help tackle it and live with it

However, attendees were also offered hope that Lancashire innovation and ingenuity – along with the potential offered by its natural resources – could yet put the county on a more sustainable path.

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How far can Lancashire go to cutting out carbon by 2030?

Lancashire County Council agreed almost 18 months ago to develop a plan for “transitioning the Lancashire economy away from carbon by 2030”- two decades ahead of the government target date for the nation as a whole to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

Many district councils – including Preston, Chorley and South Ribble – have also pledged to be carbon neutral by the earlier date.

Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for environment and climate change Shaun Turner says that the threat posed by inaction in the face of climate change is too great to contemplate

However, graphs presented at the summit project that if it continues at its current “business as usual” rate, Lancashire will still be emitting more than 6,000 kilotonnes (KT) of carbon dioxide in 2050, down from just over 8,000KT last year.

Against that forecast, the near-vertical drop needed to reach net zero by the end of this decade appeared – in pictorial form at least – to be a distant prospect.

The conference heard that the 2030 ambition was “extremely challenging”, because of transport and industrial emissions, which collectively account for two thirds of the county’s CO2 output.

The county council’s cabinet member for environment and climate change, Shaun Turner, said that 2030 had been Lancashire’s “finger-in-the-air” target for carbon neutrality.

Mind the gap - Lancashire is currently on course to miss a range of potential carbon reduction goals (image: Lancashire County Council)

However, he told delegates that a new government staging post to net zero announced last year – a 78 percent reduction in 1990 levels of CO2 emission by 2035 – had been assessed from a Lancashire perspective as part of a series of climate studies recently undertaken by the authority.

County Cllr Turner said that that aim could be achieved with “very strong action taken across all sectors”, but warned it would require “a hell of a lot of work”.

“We’re going go have to show real commitment as a combined Lancashire team, knowing that the rest of the world will have to come on board with this – because one of the common things you hear from [the] public is: ‘Well why should we do anything when the rest of the world needs to do a lot more?’”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the summit, he said that the event was intended to open up a debate about “what’s going to be achievable” – adding that ever-shifting technology meant that it was currently difficult to set an “absolute nailed-on date” for reaching net zero in Lancashire.

County Hall hosted Lancashire's first climate change summit

However, one domain in which the technology is long-established, but the local will appears to have “plateaued”, is that of household recycling. The Lancashire-wide average currently sits at just 46 percent – and a third of all domestic waste still ends up in landfill, something which County Cllr Turner said creates a “horror movie” procession of bin lorries to the county’s waste disposal centres.

Chairing the gathering, the Environment Agency’s area director for Lancashire and Cumbria, Keith Ashcroft, said that it was important to acknowledge that even if the world “went net zero tomorrow”, there were unavoidable changes to the climate that were now “baked in”.

His colleague, Environment Agency flood and coastal risk manager Andy Brown said that such an inescapable fact meant that it was now necessary to both “mitigate and adapt” in the face of the kind of weather events with which Lancashire was now being confronted – including two named storms in the space of week just last month.

“We will face more extremes, more frequently – not at some point in the future, [but] today, now. Not somewhere else, but right here.

“It’s now inevitable that things will get worse – the degree of worseness is [going to be] determined by our effectiveness on mitigation. But effectiveness on adaptation will determine how we live with that reality,” Mr. Brown said.

He told attendees that 780,000 households in Lancashire were currently at risk of flooding and said that the county needed to turn its intention to how to deal with issues such as bridges that were built for a different era and which might now be increasing flood risk.

However, Mr. Brown added that even where adaptation to deal with climate change was possible, it was not always desirable – telling the audience of a computer modelling exercise which recently suggested building a flood defence the height of an articulated lorry through the centre of an unnamed town.

“Would you want that?” he asked.

The summit also heard that a revolution in how Lancashire heats its homes is coming down the track – but that it will be dictated by national policies, some of which are yet to be determined. The future role of hydrogen in decarbonising dwellings is less certain than it is for industry – with decisions over its use in domestic properties unlikely to be made until the middle of this decade.

In order to fully understand how hydrogen power might work in a household setting, the government is planning to trial a ‘hydrogen village’. All of the regional gas networks were invited to suggest locations where around 2,000 properties could operate purely on hydrogen for two years – and the North West is in the running as a potential site for the experiment.

Helen Boyle, head of regional development for the Cadent gas distribution network, said that the consumer had to be put “at the heart of this transition”, because it was they who would have to live with it.

“This isn’t really about [whether] the engineering work[s] – we think the engineering will work, it’s more about the people involved in this,” Ms. Boyle said.

She also said that the question was not one of “gas versus electricity” – which could lead to “inertia” and act as a barrier to private investment – but rather the need for both industries to work together to plan the necessary infrastructure for the future.

That future will be one in which all of Lancashire’s homes will need either to be fitted with a hydrogen-ready boiler or convert to an electric heat pump if net zero ambitions are to be realised. The audience heard that the cost of installing heat pumps just across the 5,000 council housing properties in Blackpool would be £165m.

Steve Cox, distribution system operation director for Electricity North West, said that if a 2050 carbon neutral date were pursued, the UK would need to fit the equivalent of one-and-a-half heat pumps or hydrogen boilers every minute of every day for the next 28 years. If the target were brought forward to 2038, that rate would have to increase to 2.7 installations every second, around the clock, between now and then.

“That is a frightening number, but it’s also a massive commercial opportunity for jobs in the region, prosperity and business,” Mr. Cox said.

He told delegates that while there were some “no regrets” actions that could be taken now – such as better insulating homes – business would engage fully with the challenge of changing heating systems once it had been given the “clarity” it needed about the direction of travel.

Meanwhile, the summit heard that there was no shortage of businesses based here in Lancashire that were keen to be at the forefront of the carbon-cutting journey on which the world was embarking – including a Bamber Bridge-based company which has developed a market-ready hydrogen boiler.

A Local Government Association report concluded that, per head of population, Lancashire has the greatest potential to create low-carbon jobs.

Miranda Barker, chair of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, showcased firms in all corners of the county that were working on products that gave Lancashire the potential to lead the way on low-carbon technologies. However, she stressed the need to help firms bridge the gap between “innovation [and] commercialisation” – and ensure that locally-developed solutions do not end up being produced elsewhere.

“It’s [about] using our advanced manufacturing heritage to create those technologies and also support them all the way through to where they are literally being manufactured in our county, creating jobs and giving us export potential,” Ms. Barker said.

She added that it was important for public sector organisations to set environmental baselines for the companies they work with in order to encourage firms to decarbonise their own operations. Lancashire County Council last year agreed that it would require any companies seeking more than £5m worth of work with the authority to publish a carbon reduction plan.

Delivering the opening keynote speech at the conference, Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, warned that managing climate change in Lancashire “will be no simpler than anywhere else, but added that it also provided “an opportunity for Lancashire to lead”.

In her concluding remarks, some three hours later, she added that the county had really “got off the starting blocks in this race that we all need to win”.

‘LANCASHIRE SHOULD LOOK TO NATURE TO TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE’

The first Lancashire climate change summit was warned not to overlook the power of the natural world in the search for climate change solutions – including via the capturing of carbon and within flood defences.

Delegates heard that there was huge potential for investment in nature-based projects in Lancashire, which Jack Spees, chief executive of the Ribble Rivers Trust, said gave the lie to dismissive suggestions from some within local government that such schemes were just “jobs for you tree-huggers”.

He accepted that the county was lacking “shovel-ready” projects – but was far from short of ideas for them.

“The issue that we have is that fear of investing in projects that may or may not [come] – will that money be wasted?. At the moment, I can tell you it will not.

In a joint presentation, Tom Burditt, chief executive of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said that looking after nature was too often seen as “a cost”, whereas it was actually “the solution to many of our problems”.

He told the summit of the importance of realising the carbon-locking potential of Lancashire’s peatland areas. A recent report suggested that the county could store an extra 200,000 tonnes of CO2 by 2045 across 70 square kilometres at a cost of around £300m.

“On the face of it, that looks a little bit scary – they look like quite big numbers,” Mr. Burditt said.

“But we are already doing a massive amount that I think will actually enable us to exceed those targets.”

CUTTING OUT THE NEED FOR THE CAR

Lancashire needs to embrace the culture of the “20-minute neighbourhood” – where services and jobs are within a short walk or bike ride of where people live – and develop communities where use of the car is not the “first option” for travel.

That was the message from Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport Charlie Edwards who told the inaugural Lancashire climate summit that active travel and public transport should be put at the heart of the planning agenda in the region.

He said that the county would also be pushing a three-pronged approach to reducing reliance on the car – based on an imperative to “avoid”, “shift” or “improve”.

“Avoid travel if you can [by] working from home, if possible. If you can’t avoid, then shift your mode [to] cycling instead, or walking or getting on public transport.

“If that’s not possible, then improve the car journey that you take in terms of [using] an electric car,” County Cllr Edwards explained.

The conference heard that the county is looking to increase the availability of electric charging points – of which there are currently 428 in Lancashire – including via the installation of new reduced-clutter charging infrastructure on terrace streets where it has hitherto been deemed impractical to put in place the necessary kit.

Delegates were also told that the county was keen to make bus travel “appealing..safe and accessible” – as well as an easy option – in order to encourage drivers to ditch their cars for at least some journeys.

To that end, the county council also laid out its vision for “mobility hubs” where timetables are aligned between bus and train services and where cycle and car-sharing schemes are also available in one convenient location.

County Cllr Edwards contrasted his own experience of growing up in well-connected London with the reality of travel for many people across Lancashire.

“I didn’t need to learn to drive until I was 24 or 25, because there were bus options and [the] tube. But for someone who lives in Lancashire, on your 17th birthday you’re given your L-plates and told you’ve got to get out and drive.

“That’s not a ritual because it’s a tradition, the reason why is because you need that connectivity.”

LANCASHIRE’S CARBON CONTRIBUTORS

34% – industry and commercial

33% – transport (of which cars = 66%, vans = 17%, HGVs = 15%, buses = 2% and trains = 1%)

27% – domestic properties

1% – agriculture

Source: Lancashire County Council

LANCASHIRE CLIMATE ACTION IN NUMBERS

152,000 – streetlights converted to energy-saving LED bulbs

755 – hectares of peatland restored

428 – public electric vehicle charging points installed (150 on the highway)

£325m – of new flood defence investment by 2027 to protect 34,000 properties

250 – jobs in nature-based climate change projects

Sources: Lancashire County Council, Environment Agency and Lancashire Wildlife Trust

LANCASHIRE’S CLIMATE CHANGE CONVERSATION

After the summit closed, some of the speakers gave their thoughts about the event – and the challenge that lies ahead ahead:

“We have got to believe it’s achievable – the threats otherwise are too great even to consider. We have got to pique the interest of the public and support them to transition their own homes…[and not get] blown off course.” County Cllr Shaun Turner, cabinet member for environment and climate change, Lancashire County Council

“There is a growing sense of local activity and an eagerness to do something – and I think the opportunity out of [the summit] was to bring that together so that we learn from each other.” Keith Ashcroft, area director for Lancashire and Cumbria, Environment Agency

“Lancashire is sadly all too familiar with climate impacts like floods and storms. We are building flood protection here, trialling innovative finance to deliver environment improvements and using regulation to support local businesses to make choices that keep them ahead of both the competition and the climate.” Emma Howard Boyd, chair, Environment Agency