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The climate challenge: “Let’s get on with it”

Read Director of Home Martyn Broadest’s thoughts as he takes his seat as commissioner at the first meeting of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission.

Those of you who work with me regularly will know that the climate emergency has become a far greater focus for my work at Connect over the last couple of years.  I am fortunate and privileged that, in Connect, I have an employer with whom my own values and interests closely align, and which encourages its staff to go beyond the organisation’s own specific interests to take on a positive influencing role within the wider community in which it operates.

Today I attended my first meeting as a member of the newly-formed Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission.  It was a role I applied for, and for which I am extremely honoured to be selected, setting out my intention to help link in and influence the considerable contribution the social housing sector can make to the climate change agenda in this region.  I also saw it as a fantastic learning opportunity that would help Connect and our sector to advance its own sustainability strategy and actions.

The forecasts are stark

The commission has four stated objectives: to drive climate resilience and adaptation; to drive progress towards net-zero; to do this through a just and inclusive transition; and to do so in a way that they protect and enhance nature and biodiversity.  It is the largest commission in the country, and has been formed with the support and financial backing of political, academic, industry and third sector leaders from across the region.

Take a look at the introduction to the Commission here.

The forecasts are stark.  Even the best-case scenario sees a 30cm rise in sea level by the end of the century, with greater extremes of seasonal rainfall and drought.  The impacts of such changes will be more frequent and more consequential rainfall and coastal flooding events, along with, paradoxically, environmental stress linked to higher temperatures and extended periods of hot dry weather.  Much of this is already locked in and unavoidable – we need to adapt and mitigate the worst impacts, and start doing it now.

Inequality at an international level

Much of the discussion at our first meeting focussed on the inequalities associated with the climate emergency and on a just transition to a zero-carbon future.  Working in social housing, we are all too aware that our customers are amongst those who are most likely to be impacted by climate change, and have fewest options in terms of adapting to it, yet those same people are likely be amongst those with the smallest carbon footprints.  This inequality is nothing new, and indeed is reflected at international level when one considers how climate change will impact globally, particularly in the developing world.  It’s so important that our transition to a zero-carbon economy is through a truly inclusive approach that takes account of those communities and industries that currently rely on carbon-hungry processes.

The focus that commissioners put on biodiversity and enhancing our natural environment also came through loud and clear, and chimes well with Connect’s own ambitions to improve the sustainability of our estate.

The community is key and we are well-placed to help

I was pleased to be able to contribute to the commission’s work programme by suggesting that one of the workstreams going forward should focus on community engagement with the climate change agenda.  It seems clear to me that whilst collectively we have a good understanding about the technical challenge and solutions, and we also can work out what it’s going to cost (a lot!) and how to pay for it, probably the biggest challenge we face as a society is encouraging and enabling our communities to make that transition to a zero-carbon future.  As a sector, we are well-placed to take a leading role on this agenda – we have lots of transferable knowledge and skills to share.

There was a huge amount of passion, energy and commitment around the commission’s virtual meeting table, and a great deal of optimism about the future in Yorkshire and the Humber notwithstanding the scale of the challenges ahead.  It occurred to me that, amongst the many things we have learned over the previous, most extraordinary, 12 months of the pandemic, one lesson is that when there is sufficient stimulus and will, the collective power of national and regional actors, working alongside local communities, can achieve remarkable things that previously were considered fanciful.  In the words of commission Chair Liz Barber, chief executive, of Yorkshire Water: “Now let’s get on with it.”

You can watch the launch of the commission here.

Words by Martyn Broadest.

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