United approach with communities to tackle threat of climate change

This story was published 20 February 2023

Communities across North Yorkshire are set to play a major role in helping tackle climate change as grassroots projects will provide the momentum needed to achieve ambitious goals to reduce harmful greenhouse gases.

Whitby Esk Energy

A groundswell of support across all sections of society will be required to ensure that carbon dioxide emissions are curbed to halt the threat of climate change. However, a wealth of schemes already under way and involving communities across England’s largest county have laid invaluable foundations for work to progress.

The launch of a new council covering the whole of North Yorkshire is seen as a prime opportunity to drive forward environmentally-friendly measures and provide a co-ordinated action plan to prevent climate change.

The new North Yorkshire Council, which will be established on April 1, is set to adopt a climate change strategy which is currently out for public consultation and is due to promote measures to prevent greenhouse gas emissions, prepare for a changing climate and help nature to thrive.

Executive member for climate change, Cllr Greg White, said: “There is already a great deal of work that is under way which is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve the goals we have set to help prevent major changes to our climate.

“The launch of a single council for North Yorkshire will play a key part in the fight against climate change, bringing together expertise and experience to promote a more sustainable way of living. 

“It is a huge challenge to reduce changes in our climate, but with a concerted effort and commitment which is evident across North Yorkshire, I believe it is one that can be met.”

Figures show that North Yorkshire produced 5,829 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents(kt co2e) in 2020, with agriculture equating to a third of the total, transport responsible for 28 per cent and 19 per cent coming from homes. 

Initiatives which will need to be adopted to tackle carbon emissions include producing more renewable energy, improving insulation in buildings, encouraging the use of low-emission vehicles and promoting more active travel such as cycling and walking.

Other proposed measures to ensure that North Yorkshire Council achieves an ambition of reaching carbon net zero by 2030 include reducing energy demand and an increasing focus on low-carbon energy such as solar power as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Among the areas of North Yorkshire that have already benefited from the work of community groups and volunteers with eco-friendly schemes such as tree-planting is the Harrogate district.

Harrogate Borough Council is responsible for about 20,000 trees across 505 square miles of land and works with more than 20 community groups. It invested £20,000 to plant a total of 950 trees in the past year alone. The council is also a member of the White Rose Forest project, which is set to see seven million trees planted in North and West Yorkshire between 2021 and 2025, with support from landowners and farmers and funding from the Government’s Nature for Climate fund.

The council’s parks and grounds maintenance manager, Kirsty Stewart, said: “We do rely so much on the dedication of our community groups and volunteers, and this is something that is evident across the whole of North Yorkshire. But to tackle climate change effectively, we do need everyone to do their part. The launch of the new council means there is an opportunity for everyone to come together and work for the benefit of the whole county, which is a really exciting prospect.”

The draft climate change strategy was backed last month (January) by members of the county council’s executive, who also endorsed an ambitious bid for York and North Yorkshire to become the first carbon negative region in the country, meaning more carbon dioxide emissions would be removed from the atmosphere than are emitted.

The routemap to become carbon negative by 2040 has been spearheaded by the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and has involved councils along with the National Park authorities for the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. The plan involves the public sector, businesses and communities working together to reduce emissions and tackle climate change.

North Yorkshire Council’s own proposed strategy identifies the county’s vast natural resources as vital to helping prevent the growing threat of climate change, using trees, hedgerows, grasslands, peat bogs and seaweed to store carbon dioxide in so-called “organic sinks”.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority adopted the routemap in September last year and will work closely with North Yorkshire Council to make the most of opportunities provided by natural resources. Work already under way includes restoring degraded peat bogs through the Yorkshire Peat Partnership and creating new native woodland as part of the White Rose Forest. 

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s member champion for the natural environment, Mark Corner, said: “As a National Park authority, we are acutely aware that transformative change is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“North Yorkshire Council will have a vital role to play in engaging people with the issues and supporting them to take action to reduce emissions - whether that is by improving the energy efficiency of older housing or cutting private car use, partly enabled by improved public transport.”

Ourselves and the seven district and borough authorities will merge from 1 April to pave the way for a devolution deal, which is set to transfer decision-making powers and millions of pounds of funding from Westminster to local political leaders.

Communities harnessing nature to help tackle climate change threat

For almost two decades, there has been a growing and committed wave of involvement deep in North Yorkshire’s countryside to tackle climate change.

Communities in the Esk Valley near Whitby embarked on a programme of environmentally-friendly measures in 2006 that have since helped hundreds of people to seek advice on better insulation in their homes and buying renewable energy equipment.

And a flagship project came to fruition a decade ago when a hydroelectric scheme was established on the River Esk in the village of Ruswarp. A 50kW Archimedes screw power turbine was installed on the river, and the venture celebrated its 10th anniversary in December last year.

The scheme required £450,000 for it to be launched, and a £50,000 grant was secured from North Yorkshire County Council along with funding from the North York Moors National Park Authority and local social enterprises, CO2Sense and Key Fund. A share issue raised a further £160,000 from more than 100 shareholders, with half of the benefactors coming from local communities.

A director and the company secretary of the Whitby Esk Energy scheme, Caryn Loftus, said: “We were very fortunate with the mix of people we have in the group – engineers but also people with a business background, a finance background or a legal background, while I had experience of promoting events and with fundraising.”

The hydroelectric scheme on the River Esk exports about 100,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year to the national grid depending on rainfall and is a defining example of how community groups can be instrumental in helping address the threat from climate change.

The energy generated powers the equivalent of 35 houses based on Ofgem’s estimate that a typical household in Britain currently uses approximately 2,900 kWh of electricity per year.

However, due to the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions even further, more people are set to switch to using heat pumps and electric cars, meaning an increase in the average kilowatt-hours used per household.

This will lead to the need to improve energy efficiency of homes along with scaling up renewable electricity production and a strengthening of the power grid.

The launch of the new North Yorkshire Council and the prospect of a devolution deal, which is set to have the green energy sector at the heart of its policies, have been welcomed by Rory Newman, the chair and a director of Whitby Esk Energy.

He said: "There are many opportunities for more community energy projects in North Yorkshire. There will need to be a strong commitment from a devolved authority to enable local communities to make their buildings more energy efficient and generate their own renewable electricity."

Mrs Loftus added: “I welcome the emphasis, in the proposed devolution deal, on moving to a carbon negative North Yorkshire and having a co-ordinated regional response will hopefully enable change to happen faster. Future community energy projects, whether linked to energy efficiency or renewable energy generation, should benefit from working with just one local authority.”

In addition to managing the scheme through online monitoring and weekly visits, members of Whitby Esk Energy provide talks and site visits to local groups and school pupils, and they have also offered research opportunities to university students in Durham, Hull and Teesside.

In the long-term, the intention is to fund other carbon reduction projects in the area, but any surplus money has so far been used towards re-paying loans and providing a return to shareholders.

See more information on the Whitby Esk Energy project, as well as volunteering opportunities with the group, or email admin@whitbyeskenergy.org.uk.