Aiming towards a net-zero Devon

By Peter Embling

The Devon Youth Parliament drew together a Devon Youth Climate Forum of climate experts, plus over a hundred of Devon’s students, to discuss how best to reduce carbon emissions in the county.

It was all part of contributing to the goals of the Devon Carbon Plan, ‘a Net-Zero Task Force … which will use its specialist knowledge and experience to produce an evidence-led Devon Carbon Plan. This will consider the earliest,
credible date that should be set for net-zero emissions’. (www.devonclimateemergency.org.uk/)

A room full of students aged 11 to 16, from Great Torrington, St James, Pilton College, Exmouth Community Primary, Braunton Academy, Clyst Vale, West Exe, Isca, Okehampton College, Sidmouth, Exeter Cathedral School, Newton Abbot College and Torquay Girls Grammar, were asked to explore ways to reduce emissions in the county and to identify the barriers to putting those ideas into practice.

Ideas from the Forum included the need for it to become socially unacceptable for individuals and businesses to produce a lot of carbon. Other ideas included removing cars from the centre of towns and cities, for buildings to be constructed out of wood rather than brick and cement and for Devon to make use of wind and wave energy.

The Forum also included presentations from keynote speakers including UN accredited climate change teacher Dr Ben King. Sophie Sleeman and Eleanor Andrade May from Exeter FridaysForFuture also spoke and there were workshops from the Devon Wildlife Trust, City Science, the Growing Devon Schools partnership and the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic-Free Schools Initiative.

In the afternoon the students and members of the Devon Youth Parliament planted ten trees in the grounds of County Hall to mark National Tree Week and support the Woodland Trust’s “Big Climate Fightback”. The aim of this was to promote tree planting as a practical way to tackle climate change and raise awareness of the importance of replacing trees lost to diseases such as Ash dieback.

Regarding the involvement of children in pursuing a net-zero Devon, Doug Eltham, DCC’s Environment and Sustainability Officer said: “For it to be a truly Devon Carbon Plan we need the views of every section of society, particularly young people who are the ones who will have to work and live in a post net-zero society. They are part of the solution and what students have said here today will directly contribute to how we reduce emissions in Devon.”

Supporting the event, Ella Edmonds, the Member of Youth Parliament for Exeter, said: “Young people are really passionate about the environment and it is important that we reflect that in what we do as a youth parliament, representing the young people of Devon, which is why we decided to hold this climate change forum as part of our environmental campaign. If each person can just make one small change in their lives, or get one idea from this event, even if it seems like something a bit insignificant, then together we can make a big difference.”

On another route to the same goal, Nik Bowyer of Devon’s Net-Zero Task Force and Chair of the South West region of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation is saying that our attitude needs a ‘cultural shift’ if Devon is to become a net-zero county.

Representing those who plan, design, build and manage transport and transport infrastructure in Devon and across the UK, Nik says, “One of the main challenges of decarbonising Devon is the emphasis that planners and society as a whole have placed on road transport over the past 60 years.

‘Cities have been designed around car travel, while the road network in a rural county like Devon is designed with ‘low occupancy vehicular movement’ in mind. The way we live is shaped by our infrastructure and tackling and addressing the way we travel is ‘key’ to tackling climate change because it is the single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases that the county can directly influence or control.”

The University of Exeter has confirmed that 27% of all carbon emissions in Devon are generated by on-road transportation.

Mr Bowyer continued, “I think that the key challenges we have in the transportation sector are really addressing years of planning policy that have placed a huge predominance on car travel.

‘The way we live is shaped by our infrastructure, and recent planning regimes have built-in and reinforced car travel. We really need to get into a culture change and engender a cultural shift that is going to allow us to help get people thinking a bit more holistically about how they travel.”

A Net-Zero Devon is something we all need to get involved in, otherwise it won’t work. However we have had decades of local shops shutting, retail parks emerging and internet shopping creating the need for more deliveries and road use. To do any amount of ‘hands-on-product shopping’ I have to travel for about forty minutes, that’s if I want to be able to reliably get what I want, or to actually have a choice and not be limited to one option.

It’s clear that some of the solutions are out of our hands, but please listen to the cries of ‘shop local’ ‘shop small’ and think twice about journeys and increasing your carbon footprint. A lot of people say that such small differences or actions won’t make a difference, but if lots of people make a tiny bit of difference, that adds up to a ‘lot of difference’ and, eventually, maybe the message will gather momentum and be picked up by those that are, apparently, in control.

The Net-Zero Task Force invites residents to have their say on what should go into Devon’s Draft Carbon Plan. You can make your comments here: http://devon.cc/nb-qi . See also: https://www.devonclimateemergency.org.uk/

Ross Tibbles

Author: Ross Tibbles

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