Flooding misery will be Yorkshire’s new normal without urgent climate action: Simon Bowens

A collapsed bridge following heavy rainfall on Grinton moors, North Yorkshire on July 31, 2019.  Picture: SWNS
A collapsed bridge following heavy rainfall on Grinton moors, North Yorkshire on July 31, 2019. Picture: SWNS
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Yorkshire’s turbulent and destructive weather over the last week shows that our communities are on the frontline of climate chaos and why North Yorkshire’s brilliant commitment to reach net zero climate emissions by 2030 must only be the beginning.

Let’s digest the events of last week. Trains were suspended after the landslip between Dent and Ribblehead. In just four hours, Malham Tarn had almost a month’s worth of rain. That’s frightening.

Flooding in Swaledale.  Picture: SWNS

Flooding in Swaledale. Picture: SWNS

Drystone walls collapsing against the water cascading along Swaledale have brought untold disruption to communities and businesses. And residents of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire faced the prospect of over a million tonnes of water inundating their town as the Toddbrook dam teetered on the brink of collapse.

Read more: Shocking photos show damage to Tour de France bridge in the Yorkshire Dales

The North Yorkshire fire and rescue service – heroes, all – deployed swift-water rescue teams and high-volume pumping appliances to flooded homes and businesses, as well as cars in mid-flood. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for those people.

Read more: ‘I lost everything in an hour’

Flooding on the road between Grinton and Leyburn.  Picture: SWNS

Flooding on the road between Grinton and Leyburn. Picture: SWNS

And finally, the Road World Championship organisers will have to assess whether to change the cycling route. Grinton Moor bridge just isn’t there anymore. It’s hard to see how the now impassable road can be restored in time for the race in September. Cycling disruption, including the freak hailstones and landslides that affected the Tour de France last week may seem trivial, but this is a new normal in which there aren’t areas of life magically immune to the impacts of a chaotic climate.

Read more: Sheds and oil tanks float down roads as Yorkshire hit by flooding

If you think these events in our region in the last few days are dislocated from climate chaos then recall the 2007 floods in South Yorkshire and Hull, the Boxing Day floods in 2015, last year’s flash flooding in Sheffield and appreciate that this is becoming a pattern. These events will likely result in increased insurance premiums for us all, even those who still take a climate denying position.

And that’s at 1.2 degrees of global warming. Business as usual will take us to 3-4 degrees of warming – making the world of 2050 almost unrecognisable. We can call this unsettled and unseasonal weather, or we can name it truly: the beginning. Yes, weather changes, but climate is destabilising, and God’s Own County isn’t immune.

What’s to be done? Declarations are one thing; doing something, another. This is why it is deeply significant that as England’s biggest county, North Yorkshire has agreed to become net zero by 2030. No laurel-resting though, they should now work with partners and communities to develop carbon reduction pathways – with clear actions to put climate change front and centre across all sectors. They must also use the funding opportunities currently available, and demand extended funding powers from central government to climate-proof the county.

As people, we can also play our part.

A clear, climate-proofed vision for Yorkshire means we will build a better future. Looking at this last week it’s easy to feel frightened, but action leads to hope, and collective improvements. No individual or community can solve climate change but a village-by-village, town-by-town approach will build political imperative so that climate-proofed change happens at a national level, too.

Friends of the Earth say the government should adopt a Climate Action Plan to radically slash greenhouse gas emissions and in doing so build a greener, fairer society. If that’s not a win-win I don’t know what is.

We should invest in brilliant and cheap public transport, cycling and walking everywhere. New petrol and diesel cars shouldn’t even be for sale within the decade.

It is time to start aiming for 100 per cent clean energy from the wind, sun and sea. Electricity can’t come from dirty fuels anymore and fracking should be banned. With infrastructure, we should start making climate change a deal-breaker in all spending decisions. That means projects that fuel climate change, like airport expansion, can’t go ahead – in a climate emergency, we would not be building a new and destructive link road to Leeds Bradford Airport. We love to talk about the weather, but the conversation must move to climate chaos, and what we’re doing about it, now that the consequences of ignoring the problem for too long are undeniably here.

By here, I don’t mean in the abstract, or the low-lying Pacific islands and coastal populations, I mean Yorkshire. Council motions committing to a zero-carbon future are a good start but kickstarting a truly transformed Yorkshire that leads the way in responding to climate change can be another reason to be proud of our county.

Simon Bowens is a Friends of the Earth campaigner for Yorkshire.