New climate commission writes to Government in light of Leeds Bradford Airport decision

The director of the new climate commission for the region has said the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport makes it “much harder, if not impossible” to achieve net zero.

Professor Andy Gouldson, the new director of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission - which launched on Wednesday - said views were divided among members on the Leeds commission over expansion of the airport, which was approved by Leeds City Council last month.

And while he said the new pan-regional group, which is the largest of its kind, had not yet had a chance to agree on its stance, it “broadly agreed” with the position of its Leeds counterpart, which previously said it would make it difficult to achieve carbon neutrality.

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The Government has come under increasing pressure to ‘call in’ the decision, with lawyers already taking on the government over a proposed new coal mine in Cumbria writing to Robert Jenrick over the plans.

Leeds Bradford Airport. Photo: Charlotte Graham

While Leeds City Council said Government policy dictates the emissions should be tackled at a national level and not at the detriment of regional growth.

And speaking at the launch event for the new commission, Prof Gouldson was pressed on the issue, which was voted as the most urgent among attendees.

Prof Gouldson said at the Leeds specific version of the climate commission, of which he is chairman, members had “grappled with this issue” and that: “We issued a position paper on it a couple of years ago that made it clear just what the carbon impact of expanding Leeds Bradford Airport would be and it's really significant, there's no getting around it, it makes achieving net zero, much, much harder, if not impossible.”

He said: “When it comes to what we should do about it, honestly, as a commission, we were divided. There were many of us that completely agreed that this was taking us in the wrong direction in a very damaging way. But there were other people who had a different view, and we found it hard to come together and agree on exactly what should happen.

“That said, we have agreed as a commission that we will be writing to Westminster, to the Department for Transport, to Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and to BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, urging national Government to set a national aviation strategy, which is consistent with the Sixth Carbon Budget as a matter of priority.

“That is, I think, the minimum, some of us would like to go further, but this exemplifies what these commissions are about, they are about drawing people together and accepting that we have different views and trying to find practical ways forward.

“So while that may not be ideal for everyone, especially from a climate perspective, that's where we've got to and that's our position as a Leeds commission and today, the Yorkshire and Humber commission broadly [...] agreed today to support the Leeds Climate Commission approach in addressing this very contentious issue.”

Elsewhere at the event, it was stressed how only a spirit of collaboration will have enough power to meet the challenge facing the region head on.

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council and Conservative co-chair of the Yorkshire Leaders Board said: “Irrespective of which colour team we support, there are some issues that cross political boundaries and geographical ones too, and I think climate is perhaps one of the most exemplar of that.

“For example, rainwater that lands in Conservative North Yorkshire can cause problems and consequences for Lib Dem and Green York and Labour West Yorkshire.

“What a nonsense it would be if we said that that wasn't a shared issue, and there's no boundary to climate change.”

While Harrogate Borough Council chief executive Wallace Sampson added: “The creation of a regional climate commission is an opportunity that we've all got to grasp by working collaboratively - central and local government, public, private, and the third sector, education and other bodies can co-develop solutions.

“This is, I think, an opportunity for the Yorkshire and Humber region as a whole to be national exemplars and to develop innovative approaches to our climate and zero carbon ambitions. But the size of the challenge is so large that everyone has to be on board. It can only be achieved through a collaborative approach.”

Wednesday’s launch set out how many of the region’s local authorities had now declared climate emergencies and set targets to reach.

But Prof Gouldson said: “Targets have to be turned into reality, and now, it's all about delivery.

“In the next few years, we need to turn those targets into reality and to do that in a positive and fair way.

“And that's not just a job for our councillors, we can't leave it to our local authorities to do all of this for us. It's all of us, all of the businesses, all of the organisations, all of us as individuals within the region that need to step up and do our bit.”

And he added: “To do that, we have to share responsibilities and we have to pull our energy and expertise, and we have to build our capacities. Those are crucially important.”

He said: “Perhaps what's even more crucial is that we need a positive vision for the future of our region. Without that positive vision, I don't think we'll get people on board.”