Net zero is a global challenge, but one that needs to be delivered region by region - Emma Hardy MP & Bruce Charlesworth

Net zero is a global challenge, but one that needs to be delivered country by country, region by region and city by city. Like all difficult challenges, we know that nobody is going to deliver net zero for us. That is why a year ago we took the plunge, and why today, we are delighted to see the achievements of Oh Yes! Net Zero in Hull.
Emma Hardy is the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle. PIC: Simon HulmeEmma Hardy is the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle. PIC: Simon Hulme
Emma Hardy is the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle. PIC: Simon Hulme

Oh Yes! Net Zero is a trailblazing initiative uniting the private, public and education sectors to drive down carbon emissions in Hull and lead the UK to a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future. Even after one year, progress has been immense.

As we all know, reaching net zero is vital for all communities across the UK, but none more so than Hull and the Humber. The region produces 12 million tonnes of CO2 every year, making it the largest emitting industrial cluster nationwide. Put simply: unless Hull and the Humber reach net zero, the UK will not reach net zero.

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Here in Hull, we have the furthest to go, but also the most to gain. The net zero transition offers economic opportunities, with the green industries of the future serving as potential catalysts with the innovation and determination that has made our region an industrial powerhouse. However, achieving net zero won’t happen overnight, and to succeed, we need a coordinated and collaborative effort from across society.

The challenge Hull faces in reaching net zero is unique - because of our industrial heritage, but also because we are now a city of SMEs, with approximately 83 per cent of businesses employing fewer than 10 people. It’s not that SMEs aren’t committed to addressing climate change. We’ve yet to come across a Hull business that doesn’t want to be more sustainable.

But when you consider the other pressures currently facing small businesses – from keeping the lights on to paying staff – we know that conquering the complexities of net zero just isn’t a top priority.

Similarly, the sheer scale of delivering net zero can feel overwhelming, government policy too complex and the time involved too significant. That is where Oh Yes! Net Zero comes in.

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Its founding members comprise big brains, from the University of Hull, broad shoulders in Hull-born Reckitt, now one of the UK’s largest multinationals, progressive policy makers in Hull City Council and skilled investment drivers like Future Humber.

Together their pledge is to support those that are committed to the cause but would struggle to reach net zero on their own.

The initiative equips businesses with tools and knowledge to navigate net zero policy and empowers them to take necessary steps – like committing to share their net zero plans publicly, encouraging friends and family to join the movement and sharing their learnings with other members.

So far, over 150 local organisations have signed up, engaging 46,500 direct employees. 80 per cent of members are SMEs, which are gaining access to expert advice, workshops and a space to collaborate, including at an anniversary event in Hull today, with both other businesses and leading global experts.

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And the numbers so far speak loudly. About 70 per cent of respondents in a member survey already have a carbon reduction plan in place, with targets to put them into practice. 16,000 school pupils in Hull have been given access to a ‘Climate Changemakers’ programme, and five members have together invested £150m in climate change initiatives.

We look forward to building on this progress and call for more businesses to join the movement. More people should urge their employers or push themselves to commit to saving energy through concerted effort.

Momentum can begin anywhere, including in our homes, where we can use LED bulbs and lower heating, unplug devices when not in use and wash clothes only when needed.

To the extent that Oh Yes! Net Zero can inspire small steps at an increasingly larger scale, its significance cannot be overstated. We’re also delighted that the initiative has cross-party political support too. Last week in Westminster we kicked off the anniversary celebrations with Labour’s Shadow Climate Change Minister, the Conservative former COP26 President and the Liberal Democrat leader for Hull City Council.

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For us, what Oh Yes! Net Zero shows is what we can achieve when the private sector, public sector, and our community work together. It’s exciting to consider where it will be next year – and we are beyond proud that Hull can be a blueprint for other cities around the world. You should be too.

Oh Yes! Net Zero also ultimately confirms what has always been said about Hull – it is a city of doers, not talkers – and that is why this is just the start of how Hull is helping the UK meet its climate ambitions.

Emma Hardy is the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle and Bruce Charlesworth is the Reckitt Chief Medical Officer and Hull Campus lead.