Paris Climate Change Talks � the power is in our hands to make a difference

Paul Hamer is Chief Executive of WYG and Chair of the LEP’s Green Economy Panel. Here, he discusses the Paris Climate Change Talks and the Leeds City Region’s role in tackling this global challenge.

Over the past week, the media spotlight has been firmly fixed on climate change as world leaders gather to work towards a unanimous agreement on how best to tackle climate change. But how can the LEP and businesses make a global agreement a reality here in Leeds City Region?

The annual Paris Climate Change Talks, also known as COP 21, brings together Leaders of nearly 150 nations and 40,000 delegates from 195 countries with a united ambition to take action against climate change.

I wholeheartedly believe the need for action has never been greater.

But will this be the year that our world leaders commit to a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change? I firmly believe the secret to success lies in Leeds City Region.

What role can our great cities and city region’s play?

The UK government goes into these talks in a somewhat vulnerable position following the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review last week. Secretary of State Amber Rudd has recently confirmed the UK is not on target to deliver its target that 15% of the UK’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2020, or its carbon reduction budget for 2023 – 2027.

Commitment at the global scale and national scale is essential, but I believe it is going to be action within city regions and bespoke activity at a local level that will have the greatest impact on tackling this global challenge against carbon reduction.

In Leeds City Region, we are not just the largest of all core UK city regions in both output and population – we’re bigger in economic terms than nine EU countries. We have a dynamic SME base and we are also home to many energy-intensive industries. Strength from being located at the heart of the UK combined with such varied business assets mean we are uniquely placed to help take bold action now to create a sustainable, safe and growing economic environment for people to live and prosper.

So what can we do in Leeds City Region?

Firstly, let’s start at a very local level. Just last month six of our local authorities committed to a target of 100% energy from low carbon sources by 2050. This is no mean feat and something that should be applauded and replicated in other areas across the country. However, local authorities need further tools and support, from both the government and the private sector, to protect their local environment and develop preventative measures to combat the effects of climate change.

The vehicle for this partnership working is already delivering significant impact.

The LEP brings together the expertise and thinking of the private sector with the responsibility and accountability of the public sector.

I Chair the LEP’s Green Economy Panel, and we are currently refreshing our Strategic Economic Plan to take into consideration the emerging priorities on this vital agenda with an ambition to become a zero carbon energy generator.

We have identified four key priority areas where we believe we will have greatest impact in creating a more efficient City Region:

Energy efficiency – supporting our businesses and industries to develop new energy efficient technologies that will help save time, resources and energy.
Energy generation – supporting the development of a new energy generation plant and provide a test bed for game-changing innovative fuel technologies like hydrogen power.
Industrial decarbonisation – enabling business competitiveness and growth, particularly in energy intensive industries, through utilisation of resource smart technologies such as district heat networks.
Empowering people – helping the development of community energy projects, and initiatives to open up the energy supply market, giving people greater control over their energy bills.

We are already on with delivering this ambition as we seek to develop a district heat network in Leeds City Region. When fully constructed, the network will transport heat waste from the Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility through 50km of pipes to a wide variety of locations including Leeds City Centre, St. James’ District, the Southbank and Aire Valley. Businesses and residents that connect to the network will benefit from lower cost heat allowing them to invest more in their operations or raise them out of fuel poverty. The network will also save 50,000 tonnes of CO2 per year when it is completed.

Work to develop a heat network in Leeds is just the tip of the iceberg. The LEP is helping to develop a further eight networks across the City Region that will bring benefits to businesses and residents alike.

Economic and social benefits

By supporting the development of each of these key areas above, delivering the projects and programmes in the pipeline that will have the greatest impact on the growth of the City Region, we have the potential to substantially contribute to the economy, create jobs and apprenticeships, retain skills and talent in the region and reduce our carbon emissions which, in turn, will help us become a net contributor to the national economy.

But it is the socio-economic benefits that also stimulate our strategic approach to this agenda. We also need to ensure we create a resilient City Region, with the cleanest air and warmest homes possible for our businesses and residents to live and work.

So what next?

If we don’t act now, the UK and indeed the world will not be able to tackle the enormous challenges that climate change poses. Do we really want to leave behind a legacy of fuel poverty for our households and increasing energy costs for our businesses and residents? I certainly don’t want to look back in my retirement and wish we had done more to ensure the next generation do not face the same difficulties tackling climate change, high energy costs and sustainability issues we face today.

The responsibility lies with us all. In our own ways, we have a role to play in this global challenge. We have a pipeline of strategic activity launching in 2016 that will unlock much of the vast untapped potential on this major agenda. But importantly the public and private sectors must unite further in the Leeds City Region to play our part and throw our combined weight behind any such agreement reached this week at the Paris COP.

I wait with anticipation to see the outcome of the COP 21 talks and hope that for the benefit of generations to come, we stand united to tackle climate change.

To find out more about our work on the resource efficiency agenda click here. Or you can join the conversation on Twitter @LeedsCityRegion.