By Michael Emly, Our Lady of Kirkstall parish, Leeds
On 17th July, I attended a lengthy session on climate change called the Leeds Big Climate Conversation. Leeds City Council has declared a climate emergency and this session was the launch of a 3 month consultation across the city about what action people felt should be taken so the Council can draw up a detailed plan. See https://news.leeds.gov.uk/big-leeds-climate-conversation-begins/
Many of the big players in Leeds were there, the auditorium was crowded (arounnd 200 people) and the evening began with a number of speakers as follows:
• Keeley Donovan from Look North had recorded a video speaking about the effects of climate change in this area: more extreme weather here like the rain that caused the recent Lincolnshire floods and an impact on food production e.g. ruined potato crops (from either flood or drought or both).
• Andy Challinor, professor of food sustainability at the University of Leeds, then spoke about the impact worldwide on crop yields, which will decline significantly by 2030. The effects will worsen throughout the century and by the end of the century will impact on food security in the UK. He cited the shortage of broccoli and salad in Spring 2018 as an example. He said we need to feel this in our hearts, not just know the science.
• Lisa Mulherin is the Council’s lead councillor on climate change, transport and sustainability (hope I’ve got that right!). She said that the Council are planning to take action. Public transport needs to be improved – but the Council is hampered in some of the things it would like to do by not having the legal powers. She encourages everybody to have their say through the online questionnaire which is at http://www.leeds.gov.uk/climateconversation
• Andy Gouldson is chair of the Leeds Climate Commission which has been advising the Council. He spoke about the carbon roadmap. Some progress has already been made and the trend will achieve a 56% reduction in CO2 by 2030 but we need to achieve at least 80% by that date. How to close that gap? Half can be done within the framework of existing technology and economics. Some more is technically viable but difficult to achieve. The remainder is only viable with innovation. The Council needs feedback on what and how to deliver this reduction: the slogan must be: “by us, with us, not to us”.
• Richard Flint is CEO of Yorkshire Water and said this is an energy intensive industry but they plan to achieve net zero CO2 by 2030. A large anaerobic digestion plant is opening at Knostrup, they are planting 1 million trees and restoring peatland to act as a carbon sink.
• Tim Jones from Our Future Leeds spoke about this grassroots organisation and setting up a climate hub.
• Rizwan Nawaz from Madina Town Movement had very little time but explained how the organisation is trying to engage with the Muslim community about climate change with an approach based on Quranic principles.
We then split into 3 themed workshops and I attended the one on food. As time was tight much of this was a presentation outlining how 16-25% of CO2 emissions arise from food.
• Cereals have a lot of emissions and a lot of waste
• Meat generates a lot of emissions but less waste
• Vegetables also have a lot of emissions and a lot of waste.
• Britain is ranked 3rd internationally in the amount of CO2 generated by food waste – and 69% of this is generated at home, at an average cost of £540 per year (not sure if that is per family or per individual). So we can save money AND save the planet!
• We need to:
o Consume less meat and dairy
o Consume more locally sourced food
o Throw less away.
• There is something called the Blue Dot Diet which has been drawn up by nutritionists as an aid to cutting CO2.
We then moved back into a plenary session with questions (pre-submitted) put to a panel of “experts” that included all the above speakers plus some others. Key messages are:
• The Council and national government need to implement change – but after conversations with communities affected so they take people with them
• Invest in quality of life, not in things/consumerism
• Leeds needs more powers devolved so it can implement e.g. standards for house building
• We need to reach out and talk with people who are currently not on board. Faith communities are well placed to host events for their neighbourhood, but also conversations in places of work. Need to make people aware of air pollution, crop residues etc. which are also pushing our society towards the right actions. And use the pester power of children!
• There are models abroad e.g. Australia of restructuring economies in the right direction
• China is moving rapidly towards solar power and reforestation. And the UK has a duty to move quickly as we are the no.1 generators of CO2 if you take historic emissions into account as well.
• This is an opportunity to reshape our city in a positive way that benefits us all.
The meeting was closed by Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, who said that the Council has adopted sustainable development goals and declared a climate emergency but needs also to address issues of social justice.
The 3 pillars of sustainable development are:
• Inclusive development
• Healthy living
• Tackling climate change.
These last reminded me of living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor! (aka the LiveSimply award scheme run by CAFOD
It was an exhilarating experience to be in a room with so many others who are committed to seeing change occur.