Letter: Our zero carbon city vision will only fail if there is a lack of ambition
This letter sent to the Star was written by Rebecca Atkinson, Bellhagg Road, Walkley, S6
Sheffield City Council announced a climate emergency earlier in the year and its leaders, alongside opposition groups, agreed that we should be a carbon zero city carbon by 2030 at a council meeting in June. Meeting this target will be a large scale, city-wide undertaking, but it will also provide a huge opportunity to improve the well-being and health of Sheffielders. It is therefore important that we do not downplay the potential for benefit in our plan for a low carbon future.
Our zero carbon city vision will only fail if there is a lack of ambition, clarity, coordination with experts or engagement with the public. We need to transform the infrastructure of our city to make it active transport friendly. Our public transport has to be better connected and with routes that make outer city destinations accessible without travelling into the inner city first. We need to create a circular economy, (a reduce, reuse, recycle economy that is fuelled by renewable resources), in Sheffield, which will require engagement with SMEs and organisations with ideas for how to reduce waste and improve recycling in the commercial and domestic sectors. Car use could be further reduced with carpooling and cost-effective electric car hire schemes. SSC will have to engage with business and think-tanks to make this happen.
The council leadership has committed to planting 100,000 trees. It is welcome that there is now agreement that planting urban trees, not chopping them down, is an important tool to address the climate crisis. The council should now consult on the most favourable species to plant in different locations- for example, which species can reduce air pollution most effectively, which tree species will thrive in specific local conditions and finally, whether tree planting is the most sensible plan for an area, or if for example, wetland creation or peatland restoration is a better approach.
Locally at least, it is relatively simple to address the biodiversity crisis, which we now know is as grave as the climate crisis. Our inner city local green spaces could be managed for the benefit of pollinators such as honeybees, hoverflies and bumblebees which are under threat because of habitat loss and urbanisation. Local community groups are uniquely equipped to play a key role in insect habitat creation in the city and should be consulted. Council owned land could be rewilded, again requiring experts and detailed planning and engagement with local communities.
Solving these really big problems will require much more than one climate scrutiny meeting, which doesn’t seem to have any concrete objectives beyond a powerpoint presentation and a debate (which are agenda not objectives). Councillors I have spoken to aren’t clear about the aims of this meeting, and that is worrying. Whilst we should praise the council leadership for their ambitious local level climate committments, Cllr Tim Huggan -in Sheffield Telegraph Opposition fear hot air and powerpoints- is right to be sceptical about the effectiveness of this approach. It also seems to me that the strong leadership council model is not fit for purpose, when the purpose is to redesign a whole city’s infrastructure and its economy within 10 years. This is going to be complex and require the whole council’s cooperation. In the absence of a more collaborative committee style of local governance, it is imperative that the council get the citizens assembly right; representative, independent, well planned. When I was at Extinction Rebellion's air pollution awareness action outside Sheffield station on Clean Air day, the most important message was on a patch pinned to one of the group members' clothing. It said “Beyond Politics”. Let’s make sure our climate citizens’ assembly really is.