15s: Professor Andy Gouldson, the professor of environmental policy at Leeds University and the chair of Leeds Climate Commission. He is, internationally and nationally, the leading light in what towns and cities can do to counter climate change. This podcast has been put back a bit as Andy was speaking at the Youth Climate Strikes in Leeds and later in the week, he was speaking at Stormont.
1min 17s: Surely climate change is just a myth? Didn’t we have an ice age in Harrogate and the surrounding areas around 10,000 years ago? I think you have to be wilfully ignorant to believe that kind of stuff; the evidence is overwhelming. I work in a school with environmental scientists who do work on glaciers and each they come back more depressed with alarming evidence of how quickly things are unravelling. We are 1 degree above the historical baseline now, meaning global surface temperatures are, on average, 1 degree warmer. Somewhere between 2-2.5 degrees is what the climate scientists predict will be into the dangerous realms of climate change where the perma-frost can melt and release tonnes of stored up carbon dioxide and methane. Then climate change will become self-fuelling and out of control. If you deny that then I’m sorry for you and your grand-children because it will impact them.
3mins 3s: If there is climate change in Harrogate and surrounding areas and it gets a bit warmer, are there any upsides to it? There could be some good news from a minor-moderate level of climate change up to where we are now which is roughly 1 degree above the industrial average. For example, champagne production in Sussex or Kent. As we move deeper into climate change, no. Think about loss of food systems, water systems, extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts and famines. For the UK, we don’t know what’s going to happen. The Gulf Stream is weakening meaning we could be more like central Canada which wouldn’t be beneficial.
4mins 22s: People are saying the weather is changing, would you agree? Yes, you hear that everywhere, fishermen saying fishing schedules and seasonality are changing, to when cherry blossom and daffodils come out. You can’t attribute that to climate change all the time, but you can to the trends that are consistent with climate change.
5mins 10s: Is there much we can do with China’s factories and the population growing? It’s a misconception that China doesn’t care about climate change, it invested more in renewables last year than it did in fossil fuels. It has a self-interest in avoiding climate change and it’s been one of the global leaders in renewable technologies. In the last decade in the UK, the amount of energy generated by renewables has gone up by a factor of 6 and the price has fallen by half. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen the UK’s coal fire power stations being replaced by off-shore wind. Since 2000, the electricity produced by renewables has gone from 4% up to 25-30% now and is forecast to double or more in the next decade. The new power stations being built in Hinkley has signed up to a long-term contract of £95 per mega watt hour of electricity and off-shore wind about 18 months ago at £55 and has fallen into the 40s.
7mins 46s: In Harrogate, we have 3 or 4 wind turbines which are said to be an eye-sore. Should these all be off-shore? I think we have to do something radical to avoid dangerous climate change, off-shore wind is one of the things I think we have to be doing. The scale of habitat loss if we don’t do these things is on a scary scale compared to the number of bird kills you might get from off-shore wind farms.
8mins 56s: What are the good things people are doing in Harrogate? I’m not sure. In Leeds, yesterday we published a low-carbon roadmap which shows how Leeds can become carbon neutral by 2050 and can slash its carbon emissions through the 2020s. Science shows we have to do something radical in the next 10 years, so changing transport, energy efficiency of our homes, improving industry and waste collection. Leeds has signed up to a climate emergency and next Wednesday they have an executive board meeting to sign up to some really ambitious carbon reduction targets. At the moment we are 42% down on our carbon emissions since 2005 and we need to be 70% by 2025 and 85% by 2030. The roadmap is on our website Leeds Climate Commission www.leeds.candocities.org
11mins 47s: What can we do, in Harrogate, to push our council to work with Leeds? The council needs businesses and households and the general public to get behind that. There are groups such as Zero Carbon Harrogate which are proposing things like this. There are benefits for businesses like major savings in energy bills and job creation opportunity. Everyone needs to move forwards together on this. The main thing I would say is transport – do you really need an SUV or could you switch to a hybrid at least? Improving the energy efficiency of your homes as well.
14mins 32s: Say, in a family, one person works in Harrogate and the other in Leeds; where should their efforts and money go? If you think about a cup of tea, when you add milk, you double the carbon footprint of that cup of tea. Think about your meat and dairy consumption. In Leeds, we want to decrease consumption of meat and dairy by a third by 2030. Vegetarianism has boomed in the past few years. Reducing food waste is important too. Making your home more energy efficient by replacing windows, insulating the loft, replacing the boiler with a more energy efficient alternative, solar PV on the roof. Some people think “I’ve done my recycling this week so now I can go on a holiday to Mauritius”.
17mins 55s: The roads in Harrogate are dreadful with traffic, this is damaging children’s health with schools close to roads. What are your thoughts on this? We have the Stray in Harrogate but there are no cycling signs. I think the council could be more innovative with cycle lanes and that could reduce traffic flow. Leeds has a new congestion zone for commercial vehicles, taxis, vans because Leeds has a poor air quality problem and some of us from Harrogate drive into Leeds on a daily basis and contribute to that problem.
21mins 19s: If we leave the EU, how will this impact climate change? It’s too early to say. The EU has been a big driver in environmental policy for 30-40 years and this could be vulnerable. Britain could be free to develop more innovative policies perhaps than the EU. Internationally, the EU has been a global leader in climate negotiations. I don’t think the UK would be secure in that position if it came out of the EU without a strong commitment to maintaining environmental standards. Michael Gove has been a good environment secretary, but I think there are other people on the Brexit campaign who are very much about deregulating and liberalising and that could be dangerous for environmental standards here.
23mins 23s: We have an incinerator; we don’t have an option to recycle here. Up until the 80s or 90s it was a problem. There was a famous incinerator in Sheffield and it was emitting carcinogens from the chimney which was right next to the hospital and there was a cancer ward. If the temperature drops in an incinerator, you get a sudden slug of pollution out of the chimney. Modern ones don’t let the temperature drop so they aren’t as polluting. The one in the middle of Leeds has been used to heat homes with its waste heat.
26mins 30s: Are there any towns internationally that people in Harrogate can look to? Fryberg in Germany with car-free transport. Norway has wooden towns, concrete constructions are carbon intensive. There is a new alliance between Otley, Ilkley, Menston, Guiseley, Harrogate and a few other towns to develop a sustainable towns initiative. Otley has a new community energy group which would look at new ways of funding household upgrades, investments in renewables etc.
28mins 32s: There are new houses in Harrogate, are these good for energy efficiency? New bills are more energy efficient than Victorian houses. A company in Leeds called Situ are building a low/zero carbon development in the middle of Leeds. There will be 700 houses, wood-framed and they run from the heat from computers, fridges and people in them.
30mins 26s: A lot more jobs can be home-based, is working from home or the office better? If people have to heat an energy efficient home and there is an office being heated as well, it’s better in the office. In the summer, if there is less heating, and the employer shrinks the office size then it could be beneficial.
31mins 58s: How does a business do a carbon assessment to reduce emissions? There are companies who can do that for a fee. We’re running a programme on project development; businesses want to do things on energy – they have ideas but a shortage of finance; finances say they have a shortage of projects coming through which are ready for us to invest in. Next month, Leeds is launching a “Green Bond”. Leeds used to be a leader in municipal bonds as a way of funding infrastructure in schools and development. Leeds would issue a bond for £1.5 million that anyone could buy. You’d get more than you’d get from keeping your money in a building society, risk free. They would use that money to put solar panels on leisure centre rooves which would generate electricity which is used by the leisure centres; saving money on energy, creating jobs, cleaner air, helping to decarbonise. Wouldn’t it be exciting if we started investing in our towns again?
35mins 53s: Which companies should we buy shares in? Look at what’s happening to energy prices like with nuclear power compared to off-shore wind. If I was invested in carbon-based companies that aren’t making signs of rapidly transitioning into low-carbon stuff, I would be worried about being left behind in those investments. New start ups like film based solar PV which you can put in a window and you don’t even know they’re there. Electric cars. Hydrogen. Graphene discovered in Manchester has a potential for desalinisation.
39mins 7s: How do people contact you? I’m happy to chat though I may not reply immediately, I travel a lot with work. I have Twitter @andy_gouldson or email me using the university website.
Andrew’s comments: I feel quite ashamed that Leeds is about 50 years ahead of Harrogate! We should be putting pressure on the council to follow Leeds.