Regions will be key to mitigating the worst impacts of the climate crisis - Tracy Brabin

I don’t know about you, but doesn’t it feel as if it’s been raining constantly for weeks? And that this Christmas was more wet and windy than white? Storms have battered our region and we’ve seen flooding in areas such as Brighouse and Kirkstall, affecting homes, businesses and transport infrastructure.

This underlines the not-so-festive fact that our climate is changing and we need to take urgent action. And in West Yorkshire, we’re already doing so, proving that some of the solutions to the world’s greatest challenges can be homegrown.

Following the last United Nation’s COP summit, held in Dubai, there has been much debate around the long-term impact of the agreements reached.

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There was much to be positive about – the landmark agreement on loss and damage and the first explicit reference to moving away from fossil fuels are two examples. But the role of the UK and the leadership shown by our Government left a lot to be desired. And this is where Westminster could take a leaf out of West Yorkshire’s book.

Tracy Brabin is the Mayor of West Yorkshire. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA WireTracy Brabin is the Mayor of West Yorkshire. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Tracy Brabin is the Mayor of West Yorkshire. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Mayors are the tugboats able to push the tankers of government into the correct positions. And haven’t we seen some trying to turn net zero into a culture war for their own gain? Saving the planet has been dragged into a petty game of rhetoric, pitting communities against each other in a cynical ploy to divide voters. Climate shouldn’t be seen as a political pawn – it's a global issue and one that affects us all.

And it’s in all our interests to lower dangerous emissions which impact on our health, insulate our homes so we all pay less on our bills and create more renewable energy so we’re not dependent on other countries. A few weeks ago I took part in the COP Outcomes Summit hosted by King’s College London alongside Chris Skidmore MP, the former Prime Minister Theresa May,

and many other prominent leaders in December. What was clear is that regional leadership is key to mitigating the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

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Since being elected as West Yorkshire’s first ever Metro Mayor back in 2021, I’ve been determined to ensure our region is protected from the immediate consequences of climate change and prepared for a net zero future.

And a first step in becoming more resilient, is our recent announcement of an extra £22m to fund new flood defences, slow the flow of water in our rivers and support businesses in at-risk areas.

We’re also supporting businesses in other ways – such as grants and free support to help reduce energy usage, cut emissions and minimise waste.

Measures that not only help our environment, but also strengthen our regional economy.

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Homes here in West Yorkshire are often colder, more draughty and more expensive to run than the national average. Most of that data is driven by the age and the type of houses typically found here. But we’re working with social housing providers, private landlords and homeowners to fix the problems.

This year, more than 1,700 rented homes have been fitted with new insulation and renewable energy measures such as heat pumps, with a further 4,000 to be completed by 2025. This means lower bills for people struggling with the never-ending cost of living crisis and improved health and mental wellbeing.

In a landlocked county, we don’t have the option of off-shore wind like some of our neighbouring regions. But we’re finding innovative ways to create renewable energy. In Wakefield, a city once known for its coal production, we’re exploring how heat from redundant mine shafts can be used to heat homes and offices.

In Bradford, a project to turn a former gasworks into the UK’s largest state-of-the-art hydrogen production facility has just secured funding. Both are examples of how we can use the strengths of our industrial past to create a cleaner, healthier and wealthier future.

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As a regular commuter, I know how bad our public transport can be and what we need to do to fix it. That’s why we’re pressing ahead with our plans for a region-wide mass transit system to get people out of their cars and onto zero emission trams or buses.

Of course, finance is key. As Mayor, I have long argued for more powers and funding from Westminster to help our region on its journey towards a net zero carbon economy by 2038. But it’s not just about Government investment, we need the support of the private sector.

The evidence is clear to see: record breaking temperatures, devastating floods and wildfires wreaking devastation across the globe. But to make real, tangible progress, change must be driven from the ground up.

That’s why I’ve launched our Big Climate Chat – because the solutions which will work best for our region, must come from the people they will impact. We want to hear people’s views on a wide range of climate related issues from transport to housing to jobs.

Tracy Brabin is the Mayor of West Yorkshire.

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