Roughly two years ago, Wiltshire Council declared a climate emergency and called for Wiltshire to become carbon neutral by 2030. On Friday, 19 February, 200 of us joined an all-day Zoom to begin for the first time to discuss, as a community, the specifics of how this might be achieved.
Thanks are owed to Devizes MP, Danny Kruger, for hosting the Wiltshire Climate Summit – possibly the first of its kind, the first to literally bring home to us how our present choices, as a community and as individuals, will shape our future.
Through the morning, we heard from a wide range of local businesses, experts and concerned citizens – including environmental groups and youth groups – as well as representatives of Wiltshire’s largest organizations, the county council and the Army, about what can be done, locally and nationally, to combat climate change. The afternoon gave us a series of break-out rooms to further open out discussion of topics touched on by the morning’s panellists.
We were not spared a hard-hitting review of the extent of the threat we face, from voices as diverse as Emma Dawnay – radical economist and Green Party member – and Lt. Gen. Nugee, of the MOD.
The distinct and terrifying security threat posed by unchecked climate change is perhaps too little emphasized. General Nugee, though he focused on the Army’s own detailed and imaginative aims for reaching zero carbon in its property and operations, began with a sobering acknowledgement of the threat posed by climate change to global security, while Danny Kruger, in his introduction, remarked on the very real possibility that by 2050, we could have displaced 50 million people in Africa.
To bring these huge concerns to a local level, Emma Dawnay, in a brilliantly concise series of slides, took us from the agreed global ‘carbon budget’ that now remains right down to what that would mean for Wiltshire – how many cars, and how many flights per individual? And how many new roads, tunnels, incinerators?
And are we making the choices that will mean most to us all?
– But Danny Kruger had promised us bright ideas, and we had an exhilarating range of those.
Minette Batten, Wiltshire farmer and President of the National Farmers’ Union described innovative land-use to sequester carbon and increase biodiversity, and smart production methods that aim for carbon neutral food by 2040.
Eighteen-year-old Joe Brindle, leader of the Teach the Future Campaign (whose presentation was perhaps the best received of all), called for a new deal in schools, so that teachers are trained to convey the full facts of the changing climate, and pupils leave school with the right skills and knowledge to find secure, future-fit work in the green economy.
Richard Clewer, of Wiltshire Council, described the difficulties and limitations of action by the council, asking in particular for the funnelling of more finance by central government. If the Green Homes Grant is failing, as it seems – couldn’t local councils save it?
Wiltshire farmer Tim Wade raised the unasked question of how much Johnson’s Ten Point Plan – and this transition to Net Zero – will cost. ‘Who will pay?’ he asked.
But immediately afterwards, Louisa Davison of Citizens’ Climate Lobby UK supplied a large part of the answer.
With Climate Income, the policy advocated by CCL UK, fossil fuel companies themselves will start to do so, via a steadily rising fee returned in equal shares to all of us citizens. It’s been estimated that this policy alone will lower emissions by 40% in just 12 years – at no cost to government or tax-payer.
Juliet Davenport, head of successful green energy supplier Good Energy pointed out that unless people believe in government regulation, ‘It won’t happen.’ Her company’s answer is to appoint a Future Board – 6 secondary school students to attend board meetings and learn the influencing skills used by businesses themselves to make their voices heard.
Graham Martin of Sustainable Devizes shared his hopes that the spectacular success of Love Devizes in organizing the volunteer response to the Lockdown will inform the emerging Sustainability Alliance, bringing churches, local groups and businesses together in a respected, structured relationship with councils. He’ll be asking Danny for funding for professional facilitation of what could be a pilot scheme for other local communities.
Jemma Batten of Black Sheep told how, following a frightening report on habitat loss ten years ago, she began to ask farmers themselves for their ideas on landscape conservation – which resulted in such happy and fruitful partnerships between farmers, environmental groups and public that Wiltshire itself has seen great strides in species recovery, soil regeneration and wildlife corridors, while this model has spread not just around England, but abroad, with Jemma reporting for this talk from Kenya.
And to end this section, Evangeline Rowe, a young environmental science student from the Wiltshire Climate Alliance Youth Group called for us to work towards creation of a Circular Economy – limiting extraction and, in particular, cutting down the waste our current consumption is so prone to, in order to give back to the earth what we take from it, and sustain a liveable future.
Before the lunch break, we had a short talk from Andrew Griffiths, MP, the PM’s Business Envoy for the Net Zero target. His remarks on the need to build ‘place-based economies’ aligned neatly with the day’s many stories of the creativity of local initiatives, However, the Q &A session that followed began with a query about the coal mine in Cumbria, which received a rather nettled response.
This initiated a period of lively activity among the general participants which followed through the afternoon, among break-out sessions on Local Policy, Global Policy, Business, and Food and Farming, until a final reflection panel, and closing remarks from former Devizes MP Claire Perry O’Neil.
Danny Kruger’s office has now sent out a recording of both sessions of the event, and you are urged to check it out. The chat log is in itself an inspiring reflection of the extent and level of climate awareness among Wiltshire residents.
It is to be hoped that in the lead-up to COP 26, with all that this could mean for the future, and for Britain’s role in helping to secure it, Wiltshire’s Climate Summit will prove to be a model for other communities around the country – and just the beginning of a galvanizing spirit of commitment, innovation and determination.
To hear a recording of the Wiltshire Climate Summit click here.
Many thanks to Judy Hindley (of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby UK) for the report