"We have no time left, and we must act now" - the Mayor of West Yorkshire on the climate emergency

Ahead of COP26, the Mayor has set out her vision for a net zero carbon West Yorkshire by 2038.

Our region has first-hand experience of the climate emergency.

Flooding events, such as those on Boxing Day 2015, traumatized communities across West Yorkshire. What were once regarded as once in a generation event have become regular occurrences, and vast sums of money have been spent to prevent flooding in the future.  

If we are to protect ourselves and our communities, we need to tackle the root cause. As Mayor of West Yorkshire, I am fully committed to leading our response to the climate emergency.  

We cannot have a fair, just and inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic unless we address the impact of climate change, invest in an ambitious future-proofed transport system and stop the decline of our natural environment.  

In the run up to COP26, I’m proud to launch the West Yorkshire Climate and Environment Plan which outlines how West Yorkshire Combined Authority can deliver a net zero carbon economy by 2038.   

It builds on the Combined Authority’s ongoing work to tackle the climate emergency which has contributed to an overall 38% reduction in carbon emissions in the Leeds City Region since 2005, compared to 27% nationally.    

Let me be clear, this is not just about planting a few trees or off-setting carbon emissions. Our carbon reduction targets are based on detailed scientific studies, but this plan puts people at its heart. It is a comprehensive programme of action that will require us all to make fundamental changes to way we travel, the way we work and the way we use resources.  

With this comes the great opportunity to rebuild our region. I want everyone to be able to share the benefits of homes that are healthy, economical, and warm; workplaces that are more energy efficient; energy supply which is more local, clean, flexible and affordable; and transport that is sustainable, integrated and low emission.  

Within West Yorkshire, transport emits the most carbon.

With more than 90% of those transport emissions coming from cars and vans. Enabling more people to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport, walking and cycling is integral to us achieving our ambition to be a net zero carbon region.  

Transport in our region has suffered from decades of under investment and as a result we are more reliant on buses and cars than most areas of the UK. However, we hope that our recent funding bid to the Government, The City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, will help redress this balance. With this settlement, we can start delivering a new, high quality mass transit system, and play a significant role in reducing our carbon emissions from transport.  

In the shorter term, we need a more reliable and affordable network of zero emission buses, as well as expanding building on our £60 million investment programme of walking and cycling routes to offer people a viable alternative to using their car.  

But not all journeys can be made on public transport or by walking or cycling. This is why we’ve invested in the right infrastructure to enable people to switch to electric and hybrid powered vehicles. I’m proud to say that West Yorkshire now has the highest number of electric vehicle charging points outside of London. But the biggest barrier to people making the switch is the cost of the vehicles and we’ll continue to work with the government to go further.  

One of the themes at COP26 will be around adapting to protect communities and natural habitats.

I recently visited Mytholmroyd to see the opening of the £32million flood alleviation scheme which will provide better protection to more than 400 homes and businesses. People in communities like Mytholmroyd have been forced to live with the impact of our changing weather systems and the fear of devastation caused by another storm like we saw in 2015 and again in 2020. That’s why a key part of the Climate and Environment Plan focuses on what we can do to further invest in flood alleviation, including restoring natural defences such as dams, building on the £20 million already invested by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to help other communities at risk.

Prioritising good, green jobs, and investing in skills and training for young people to do them have been some of my key pledges as Mayor for our region’s economic recovery.

Both will be vital to achieve our commitment to a fair, just and lasting recovery for all of West Yorkshire and a net zero carbon future. But it’s not just about young people at the start of their careers, we have to help people moving into new careers offered by the shift in our regional economy.  

When I was elected, I pledged to build 5,000 sustainable homes including council houses and affordable homes.

That’s why I will Chair a Better Homes Yorkshire Hub to bring together housing partners, local authorities and businesses to champion new ways to deliver warm, affordable, low-carbon and climate resilient homes for all. But we must also focus on retrofitting the homes we already live in. Many people cannot afford to heat their homes, with 10% of households in fuel poverty, and energy bills rising. Cold homes lead to health problems and premature deaths. Of the just over one million homes in the region nearly all will require some form of low carbon heating system to be installed, and approximately 700,000 of these properties need some form of energy efficiency upgrade. 

This is the key moment for Government, West Yorkshire businesses, communities, local authorities and citizens to work alongside each other and play their part in tackling the climate and environment emergency. We have no time left, and we must act now.