24/06/2020 - Permalink

Rural areas demand support to tackle climate change

Related topics: Climate change / environment

Shropshire Council has joined a group of rural council leaders to launch a new network to promote the voice of the countryside in the climate change debate.

In a letter published today (24 June) by the new Countryside Climate Network, a cross-party group of 21 councils from every region in England, warn that “rural communities are at the frontline of feeling the effects of climate change” and that “the countryside offers far more than a place to plant millions of trees to offset carbon emissions.”

The group aims “to ensure that the voice of rural knowledge and experience on climate action is listened to in Westminster” and its new Chair, the leader of Cambridgeshire warns that rural areas face “unfair barriers to decarbonise” including lower budgets and funding rules which favour urban concentrations but may have less overall carbon reduction. The group wants the Government’s delayed £100bn infrastructure fund “to support the ambitions of rural areas and the opportunities our countryside and green infrastructure can provide”.

The new network has been established by UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on climate change. The 21 councils represent 14.3 million people in total, a quarter of the population (25%) and two fifths (41%) of England by area. The letter says that “the countryside offers more than a place to plant millions of trees to combat climate change. Rural communities have always been a great source of national progress and innovation.”

The group is chaired by the Leader of Cambridgeshire Council, Cllr Steve Count, who writes in an article also published today:

“From Cornwall to County Durham we have decided to take a stand. We’re frustrated that climate solutions and green recovery packages haven’t found the right balance, largely missing the rural voice.

“It can be hard to meet our sustainable ambitions when urban areas have no need to fund essential bus services to remote communities or invest in broadband because the market doesn’t reach isolated areas. These examples of typical rural disadvantages add up, combined with a funding gap in rural areas twice that of our urban counterparts, means our stretched resources are diminished making the challenge of funding sustainable solutions even harder.

[We need] A green recovery that works for the two thirds that live outside the most urban cities and towns.

“However, rural communities face unfair barriers in trying to decarbonise – it is harder to attract funding for projects which don’t fit traditional cost benefit analyses, which favour urban concentrations yet may have less overall carbon reduction impact.”

Polly Billington, Director of UK100, said:

“Climate change affects every area and every person, and rural towns and villages can be more vulnerable to the impacts, such as extreme weather. Countryside councils are well placed to tackle climate change and meet the needs and ambitions of their communities for economic recovery and better health and wellbeing, with innovative solutions along with the democratic legitimacy to deliver lasting change.”

The group points out that rural areas can be more vulnerable to extreme weather events such as the devastating floods last winter. The number of extreme weather events has doubled since 1980.

Agriculture, land use and peatlands account for 12% of overall UK emissions, while agriculture is responsible for 88% of ammonia gas emissions which combine with other pollutants to form fine Particulate Matter (PM) air pollution, which is harmful to health.[3]

At the same time, rural areas are home to many of the potential solutions to climate change. Shropshire already has the fifth largest amount of installed renewable energy generation capacity in the UK, and produces 20% of the renewable energy across the whole of the West Midlands. Shropshire Council is eager to work further with partners in Shropshire and beyond to expand this capacity.

Dean Carroll, Shropshire Council Cabinet member responsible for climate change, said:

“Working in partnership with other rural local authorities will help us highlight and raise the profile of the unique challenges we face in comparison to urban areas. In spite of these challenges, we have reduced our carbon output by 25% since 2013 and have embedded climate action in all council decisions. We are working incredibly hard on to develop and deliver projects that will reduce our carbon output and energy consumption. In addition, we are actively exploring opportunities to ‘build back better’ and capitalise on the recent environmental improvements we have seen locally and internationally to enable us to achieve our ambition of being carbon net zero by 2030 at the latest.”

Facts and Figures: Rural Challenges

  • Harder for people to switch to more sustainable transport:
    • 43% of people living in rural England live more than 1 hour away from a hospital by public transport, compared to just 7% of people in urban areas
    • 47% of people living in rural England live more than 30 minutes away from a town centre by public transport, compared to just 5% of people in urban areas.[5]

In 2017/18 people living in the most rural areas travelled almost twice as far per year than those in the most urban areas.

  • Need to switch to renewable heating
    • Around 1 million households in Great Britain use oil fired central heating. Around a quarter of households that use oil fired central heating suffer from fuel poverty, the costs of heating a house with oil are around 50% higher than for grid gas.
  • Rural areas are financially disadvantaged
    • The rural funding gap is nearly twice what it is for urban areas (£1bn vs £1.8bn).
    • 48% less per person funding (metro vs county): councils in London receive £482 per head, whilst metropolitan boroughs and cities receive £351 per head, compared to £182 per person in county areas.
    • Funding rules are not consistently applied across government. According to the New Local Government Network think tank, DEFRA’s rural proofing guidance is not consistently applied by departments to national strategies, and there are no sanctions or penalties for departments that overlook the guidance.