The UK taking on the presidency of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) climate change summit in 2020 and has pushed the climate change issue even further up the agenda.
Hannah Bartram, chief operating officer of ADEPT, talks about ADEPT’s recent conference and how the issues around the environment are shaping activity for ADEPT members at all levels.
With more than half of the UK’s councils declaring climate emergencies, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport’s (ADEPT) autumn conference was – unsurprisingly – dominated by climate change. This builds on ADEPT’s commitment for action and follows on from Preparing for a Changing Climate: Good Practice Guidance for Local Government (www.adeptnet.org.uk/climategpg) and ADEPT’s Climate Change Policy Position (www.adeptnet.org.uk/climate-change-policy-position), both of which were published in June this year.
The conference focused on ADEPT’s top three priorities: funding, climate change, and infrastructure & communities. The theme of the conference was ‘Well-connected places in a changing world’ and the topic of climate change impacted heavily on discussions across digital connectivity, transport and growth.
We heard repeatedly that radical thinking is required if our future infrastructure is going to be resilient and contribute to net zero carbon – particularly inspiring was Natural Capital Committee Chair, Professor Dieter Helm, as he spoke about how we can have a green and prosperous future. He called for a baseline on natural capital assets as an essential starting point, from which practical and implementable steps can be taken. Undoubtedly, we are in a period of profound transition and significant adjustment is needed throughout our organisations, businesses and communities to make that future real.
What is clear, is that local authorities have a major role and responsibility in leading changes on the ground and that the declarations of climate emergencies are already shaping decision making. The target for net zero emission, whether that is 2050 or sooner, means the race is on.
The conference highlighted a number of ways in which the journey towards net-zero can be speeded up, including ramping up renewable energy production such as solar and wind. Another key point made was that planning for the future is not just about how we design new buildings, but how existing buildings, transport and technology must be adapted or phased out. Connecting habitats through green bridges and the importance of green infrastructure was also discussed, with the caveat that we can’t just plant our way out of the climate emergency.
The value of ‘green’ on health and wellbeing was another recurring theme of the conference. The Forth Valley Royal hospital was used as a great example of an ambitious and committed partnership that got the right people round the table from the start. Looking at how both people and wildlife could benefit, the hospital’s development was a shared vision to deliver an exceptional medical facility in a high-quality landscape setting.
What was evident from all the sessions, was that ADEPT members hold a common vision and commitment towards the environment, which is underpinned by evidence and shared messaging. Members spoke of the need for collaboration and working across sectors – it was agreed that the social, health and economic benefits of supporting the environment need to be communicated clearly to government and the public, and backed up by evidence.
Communicating effectively with the public was raised by many speakers: it is imperative that they understand what changes are needed and why. Our communities have a desire for action and this needs to be capitalised upon, so as place leaders, ADEPT members must clearly articulate what carbon neutrality is and provide a roadmap of how to get there. The burden on changing behaviour cannot just be placed on residents as consumers – it is a shared responsibility that must also include production.
ADEPT wants commitment and policy alignment with capital investment from government to enable effective decarbonisation, with more local control over decision making. The role of green infrastructure is also imperative – it must become as important as grey infrastructure and be introduced at an earlier phase of the planning process.
A smarter funding process is needed to make this happen. Streamlined and integrated funding streams focused on delivering outcomes, and all government departments working towards the same goals will help. Cross departmental support, aligned with Treasury, will help secure the necessary levels of funding and facilitate the change that ADEPT members are committed to achieving. Ultimately, members at the ADEPT conference were united in their belief that all growth must be clean growth, as we strive for a greener, more prosperous world.