Dr Julia Meaton: What does Paris climate deal mean for Yorkshire?

Activists stage a 'die -in' during a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower during the climate change summit.

Activists stage a 'die -in' during a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower during the climate change summit.

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THE Paris Climate Talks (COP21) reached their conclusion at the weekend, but what does this mean for the planet and for Yorkshire?

The agreement has been largely welcomed with the majority of government representatives claiming that it will frame future progress towards a sustainable world.

The conference has already made history for the largest number of world leaders to meet in one place in one day, and it has witnessed the emergence of new coalitions working together to apply pressure for an effective deal.

The headline outcome to limit warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5C is largely applauded, although representatives from the low-lying islands argue that this should have been more strongly worded so that 1.5C was the target.

The crunch issues on how to share responsibility and how to finance mitigation and adaptive measures have been agreed, although the transparency and efficacy of the agreement is still in doubt.

The main criticism concerns the way some of it is drafted which allows some subjectivity in its interpretation, meaning that the binding agreements in the framework are somewhat permeable. It might herald a new era of aspiration, but it still leaves room for governments to renege on the delivery of the deal.

In the UK, we might want to beware of this. David Cameron said in Paris “we should ask what will we say to our grandchildren if we fail” and “instead of making excuses tomorrow, let’s take action today”.

A quick look at his Government’s recent policy decisions fly in the face of this rhetoric. He has systematically cut funding to initiatives that are widely believed to have a core role in shifting us away from a fossil fuel economy.

For example, his Government has removed support for a potentially world leading carbon capture and storage project, removed subsidies for solar farms, support for onshore wind farms, tax relief for community energy schemes, axed the green deal home efficiency scheme and regulations requiring carbon neutral new builds and announced plans to sell off the Green Investment Bank. Actions speak louder than words.

It seems likely that in the UK at least, the politicians are behind the curve. The high profile of business and civil society in Paris suggest that if we want to achieve the targets, it will mean we take on the responsibility throughout society, making the changes bottom up, rather than waiting for our recalcitrant politicians to get their act together.

Any progress towards the 2C goal needs strong governance and accountability, and if central Government fails to take the lead, then perhaps progress can be achieved from regional and local initiatives?

In Yorkshire, we are well placed to do that. There is growing awareness throughout the region of the reality and the impacts of climate change, with recent flood events in our neighbouring counties showing just how close to home those impacts can be.

In 2011, local authorities here came together to identify low carbon and renewable energy capacity and in 2013 the Retrofit Yorkshire & Humber Conference explored methods of improving energy efficiency of housing and businesses.

This year a coalition of the TUC and Northern industries produced a report identifying the potential to be the leading low carbon industrial zone in Europe, claiming there was ‘a golden opportunity to build a clean energy powerhouse in the North of England’.

Local initiatives are happening throughout the county. Last month saw the University of Huddersfield host a conference on a Low Carbon Kirklees, and in Leeds a Zero Carbon Yorkshire project is being developed by representatives from all parts of the community including government officers, faith representatives, academics, business people, climate activists and community groups.

These initiatives need to be embraced and supported so that they can be successful and lead us to a truly sustainable and prosperous future.

Businesses and civil society have the vision, ideas and energy to find sustainable solutions; the Paris agreement provides the targets and global infrastructure that can frame, shape and drive them - the only question is how much our Government will help.

For Yorkshire to be a sustainable ‘Northern Powerhouse’, our Government needs to rethink some of their recent decisions and come up with new, visionary, future thinking policies that will enhance and support the sustainable entrepreneurship capacity of the North.

Francoise Hollande said on Saturday that the Paris Climate deal was ‘an opportunity to change the world’. Those of us in Yorkshire hope that it will be an opportunity for the North to play a leading role in that change, while simultaneously improving the fortunes and lives of people in our county.

Dr Julia Meaton is a senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Sustainable & Resilient Communities.

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