What Leeds needs to do to tackle the climate emergency - Leah Stuart

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MORE than half of the UK’s 408 district, county, unitary and metropolitan councils have now declared a Climate Emergency – a number which continues to grow.

Individuals have also taken matters into their own hands, with mass climate protests taking place and young people partaking in school strikes for climate change.

Extinction Rebellion protesters took to the streets of Leeds earlier this year to highlight the 'climate emergency'.

Extinction Rebellion protesters took to the streets of Leeds earlier this year to highlight the 'climate emergency'.

In Leeds, we are leading the charge. Even before the official declaration of a Climate Emergency by Leeds City Council in March, we have seen a number of ‘firsts’ occur in our city.

The Leeds Climate Commission have been an active force of change over the last two years, keeping the city on track towards meeting its carbon reduction targets.

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Bringing key organisations from across the city’s public, private and third sectors together is crucial in ensuring positive choices and informed decisions are made on issues relating to energy, carbon, weather and climate.

Leah Stuart says it is up to businesses to help Leeds to become carbon neutral.

Leah Stuart says it is up to businesses to help Leeds to become carbon neutral.

The plans outlined in the ‘Leeds Our Spaces Strategy’ are also pivotal in supporting a greener future over the coming years and ensuring our city is resilient.

Initiatives such as transforming the River Aire into a new linear pedestrian and cyclist corridor through the city, comprising a series of linked public spaces, will transform active travel for people who live in, work in and visit the city.

Yet whilst these projects are welcome, following the landmark report by the United Nations arguing that without urgent action the opportunity to avoid the worst effects of climate change will be missed, it is clear that this is an issue our local authorities cannot tackle alone. We must act now.

That is why we need to collectively increase our efforts and the pace of change, while maintaining the focus on reducing emissions in a way that supports inclusive economic growth.

Improved public transport from operators, like Northern, is critical if cities like Leeds are to become carbon neutral.

Improved public transport from operators, like Northern, is critical if cities like Leeds are to become carbon neutral.

The Leeds Carbon Roadmap report, produced by the Leeds Climate Commission, found that it is technically, and to a large extent, economically possible for Leeds to become a carbon neutral city by 2050 – and potentially by 2030 – meeting ambitious global targets set out by the United Nations.

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However, the report also warns of the broader challenges that need to be overcome to transition from where Leeds is now, to where it needs to be, stating that success will ‘depend on transformative action in all parts of the city.’

The need for collaboration and innovative action is clear, and if we are going to achieve the city’s zero-carbon targets, the built environment sector needs to change its ways. There are three ways that we can do this.

Footpaths and cyclepaths along the River Aire are crucial to Leeds becoming carbon neutral, says Leah Stuart.

Footpaths and cyclepaths along the River Aire are crucial to Leeds becoming carbon neutral, says Leah Stuart.

Firstly, we must ensure that new buildings are carbon neutral, combining innovative design with the latest sustainable technologies that will help us all transition to a zero-carbon lifestyle. Whether that be using carbon negative construction materials such as wood, or fitting buildings with better insulation, it all helps to minimise environmental impact.

Secondly, we must be bold with our ambition to retrofit domestic and commercial structures to improve energy efficiency. This offers one of the most cost-effective routes to reducing emissions, including long-term solutions to tackling fuel poverty.

Lastly, we must ensure that we take a ‘place-led’ approach to our city’s future developments. New public spaces must meet the city’s vision for the creation of inclusive and vibrant spaces that directly improve the health and wellbeing of Leeds citizens. Our inner-city developments should be adequately linked to the growing network of walking and cycling routes, while out-of-town schemes must be developed in line with the city’s public transport network, encouraging a ‘Greener Future’.

At Civic Engineers, we believe a fusion of expertise and ongoing collaboration is essential to resolving the complex needs of our towns and cities. The built environment sector should embrace this as an opportunity to do things differently, rather than seeing it as another challenge which must be overcome.

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With over 100 developments underway across Leeds at present, we must act now to make this happen. Whilst the public sector can help create the conditions and mindset for change, as the ones building our towns and cities from the ground up, we need to practice what we preach and help make our green future a reality.

The Climate Emergency is real, and we need to start now, and act fast, to deliver on this level of ambition.

Leah Stuart is an associate director at Leeds-based engineering design practice Civic Engineers.