Cambs at 'high risk' from climate change and 'needs to make changes'

Councillor Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, is co-chair of UK100.

Councillor Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, is co-chair of UK100. - Credit: UK100

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area is at “high risk” from climate change and needs to make changes and attract billions in investment to play its part in reducing emissions, a key report has said.

On Monday (March 5) the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Commission on Climate Change released its first report on addressing the issue, highlighting the need to take “urgent action,” and outlining suggested policies to reduce emissions.

The report said greenhouse gas emissions in the county are “high” – approximately 25 per cent higher per person than the UK average.

It added that, at this rate, “we have only about six years remaining before we will have exhausted all of our ‘allowed’ share of emissions to 2050, if we are to play an equal part in delivering the UK’s critical net zero target”.

The report found the area is at a “high risk from the changing climate”, and that many of feared effects in the UK are “particularly severe” in our region.

These include an increased risk of flooding, high summer temperatures, water shortages, and damage to the natural carbon stores in the deep peat of the Fens.

The report said that by the end of the century, based on current locations and not allowing for future development, nearly one in 10 homes and one in four agricultural and industrial production facilities could face river flooding.

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Communities, farms and industry in the areas of Wisbech, Whittlesey, Huntingdon, St Ives and the eastern edge of Peterborough “face the highest risk”.

Commissioned by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, the report has made over 30 “initial recommendations” ahead of a more comprehensive report expected later this year.

It says that while national government holds “many of the levers”, decisions that can be taken in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough can plan a “very important role” in reducing the area’s carbon emissions.

The report estimates investment of around £700 million a year will be needed in the are throughout the 2020s, “some” of which will be public investment, but “much of it will be private”.

Such investment, if used in the “right way”, can have further benefits beyond addressing climate change, the report says, such as creating more open space, providing high-quality jobs, and improving well-being and public transport.

Included in the recommendations are:

– A retrofitting programme to convert 350,000 homes to low-carbon heating and so all existing buildings achieve high energy efficiency standards

– All buses, taxis and council-owned and contracted vehicles operating in the area should be zero emissions by 2030

– Diesel vans and trucks should be excluded from urban centres by 2030

– All new buildings should be net-zero ready by 2023 at the latest and designed for a changing climate

– A complete phase-out of using cars running on fossil fuels by 2050

– All homes and businesses should have access to superfast broadband by 2023

– Home deliveries should be made by zero-emission vehicles only, including cargo bikes, by 2030

Peatland in the Fens is a particular area that will need investment and focused policy, the report says, with uncertainty over the extent of its greenhouse gas emissions and how best to reduce them.

While the county’s emissions are already “high” compared with the national average, were peatland emissions to be included in the assessment the comparison would be even less favourable.

Estimates are uncertain, but the report says including peatland could add a further 45 per cent to the area’s total emissions.

Emissions vary depending on the type of peat, the implications of which are “still poorly understood”, and the “current rates of loss of peat and levels of emissions are uncertain”.

While the extent of issue is uncertain, the report nevertheless said reducing peatland emissions will be “critical to success in reaching net zero overall”.

The report recommends the combined authority should establish and fund a Fenland Peat Committee, while also looking to attract investment and research to better assess emissions and to encourage new farming techniques.

Transport is a key area where changes need to be and can be made. Transport excluding flights make up  44 per cent of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s emissions, compared with the UK average of 37 per cent, the report says.

Car ownership in the county is “high”, with the number of licensed cars at 620 per 1,000 people, compared with 495 per 1,000 in the UK as a whole.

HGV mileage in 2019 was more than double the level expected purely on population, the report said.

Cambridge has the lowest transport emissions in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, while South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire have the highest.

And with the exception of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire’s districts “rank badly” for car emissions compared with districts of similar characteristics.

Chair of the  commission that compiled the report, Baroness Brown, said: “Emissions in our area are higher than the national average.

“We also face high risks from the changing climate – in relation to rising summer temperatures, water shortages and flooding.

“Urgent action is necessary – both to play our part in delivering the UK’s ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

“It is a big task. But we have the resources – in our businesses, farming communities, academic and research institutes – and most importantly our people, to rise to that challenge and become an exemplar for the rest of the country”.

The mayor of Cambridgeshire and leader of the combined authority, James Palmer said: “I was determined to ensure our response to climate change in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was grounded in the evidence and real-world considerations, and the Commission have not let me down.

“We will digest the full report over the coming days and weeks and look at how we can apply their findings to the important work we are doing in delivering economic growth for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”