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Cambridgeshire set for blistering summers and winter flooding, warns crucial report

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A warning that Cambridgeshire faces the prospect of dry summers with temperatures soaring to 40C and beyond, and wet winters with 50 per cent more rain, was issued in a key climate change report.

Flooding in St Ives on December 24, 2020 after the River Great Ouse burst its banks. Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography
Flooding in St Ives on December 24, 2020 after the River Great Ouse burst its banks. Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography

The county must rapidly reduce its emissions – which are above the national average – and prepare now for the impacts of the warming climate, the report said.

The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Commission on Climate published its stark findings this month.

It confirmed that the region’s ‘allowed’ share of emissions to 2050 could be exhausted within as little as six years if no action is taken.

“Urgent action is needed – well before the six years is up,” the report warned.

But questions remain over how quickly the county can adapt to the changes necessary, with the Local Plan setting out plans for the development of nearly 49,000 homes in the Greater Cambridge region and public transport improvements not expected until 2025.

Water supplies are already under pressure, with campaigners arguing the over-abstraction of water from the chalk aquifer in Cambridgeshire is impacting the health of rivers like the Cam and affecting its biodiversity.

The scale of the task ahead is huge, the report reveals. It estimates that around £700million must be invested in green infrastructure annually through the 2020s to deliver change.

Stagecoach electric bus (52737616)
Stagecoach electric bus (52737616)

The report comes just before the UK hosts the COP26 summit, seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control.

And it follows the commission’s interim work which was published earlier in March, with the recommendations adopted by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in July.

Wendy Blythe, chair of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations (FECRA), told the Cambridge Independent: “We are hearing from so many Cambridge communities who are worried that they and their children will be living next to building sites for the next 50 years.

“Many residents are questioning the democratic legitimacy of environmentally destructive and undemocratic transport plans which require off-highway busways and pouring concrete all over the green belt for large car parks.

“They ask how will channelling jobs to the driest region in the UK, an area known to be very water stressed, with ageing sewage infrastructure, a housing shortage and no unemployment, address climate change?

“They say that what is being proposed by city and South Cambridgeshire leaders is massive over-development which is being greenwashed as nature tourism, with River Cam green spaces scoped for investment as visitor destinations with a cynical disregard for climate change, the next generation or levelling up the rest of the country.”

Baroness Brown, chair of the commission, said: “Our interim report highlighted that emissions in our area were significantly higher than the UK average, and that we face particularly high risks here from flooding, drought and high temperatures. 2021 has shown us, in the UK and globally, how fast the climate is changing and how devastating the impacts can be. Action is urgent.”

The commission has once again raised the urgent need to reduce Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are 25 per cent higher per person than the UK average with the main source of emissions from transport.

Overall car ownership is high in the county and mileage is high, while the proportion of ultra-low emission vehicles is low.

It calls for the phase-out of the use of cars running on fossil fuels by 2050, urging the Combined Authority, and constituent authorities, that they should by 2022 develop a plan for the roll-out of “charging infrastructure, with an initial focus on bringing the lowest district levels of provision up towards those of the best, and providing a ‘right to charge’ to residents, workers and visitors”.

Flooding in St Ives on December 24, 2020 after the River Great Ouse burst its banks. Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography
Flooding in St Ives on December 24, 2020 after the River Great Ouse burst its banks. Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography

The report says buses and taxis operated within the Combined Authority area, and council-owned and contracted vehicles, should be zero emissions by 2030, and buses on routes subsidised or franchised by the Combined Authority should be zero emission by 2025.

The Combined Authority has bid for £4.2m of government funding for new zero emission buses to operate in Greater Cambridge which could help fund 30 new electric double-deckers buses, if successful.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership has previously stated its ambitions for a zero emission bus fleet in the central area by 2025.

The commission also calls for a reduction in car miles driven by 15 per cent to 2030 and for diesel vans and trucks to be excluded from urban centres by 2030, with home deliveries only being made by zero emission vehicles, including cargo bikes, by 2030.

The report continues: “Many of the risks to the UK from climate change are particularly acute in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: the risk of flooding, very high summer temperatures, water shortages, and damage to the natural carbon stores in the deep peat of the Fens. We all need to act, and we must act now, to avoid the most damaging aspects of climate change.

“If we act in the right way we can also deliver benefits and opportunities, including new jobs in low carbon industries, safer and more comfortable homes and workplaces with lower energy bills, better air quality and more greenspace and access to nature, improving our health and well-being.”

In 2018, Cambridge recorded the highest temperature in the UK at 38.7C and, according to the final report, these temperatures are set to become the norm by 2050. It reveals that even with action further climate change is inevitable.

The report highlights the need for transformation at a national government, local government, local community, business, and individual level from a financial and people-based perspective if the region is to mitigate against the impacts of a changing climate and prepare for hotter summers, intense storms which could lead to flooding, and the potential interruption to the supply of goods from across the world as well as from our region.

It says: “We need action both to reduce emissions in line with UK targets and to prepare for the impacts of climate change, which will be significant even if we are on track globally for the Paris agreement ambition of keeping close to 1.5C and well below 2C of warming by the end of the century. If we cannot deliver this ambition, the impacts of climate change become much more severe.”

It continues: “In the CPCA area we have over 350,000 existing homes that will need to be converted to low carbon heating, and every new build (growing in number with developments like the OxCam Arc) must be net zero. All the cars in the region (more than 500,000 currently) will need to be zero emissions by 2050.

Anne Miller, chair of Carbon Neutral Cambridge, said: “I was pleased to see the strong recommendation that all buildings, new and existing, should achieve high energy efficiency and be heated from low carbon sources

“There are some useful measures proposed to upgrade properties with an EPC below C. As these homes are the most expensive to heat, I think this focus will be very useful in helping create a just transition to a low carbon future.”

This report builds on the 31 initial recommendations presented in its interim report, but places additional focus on adapting to climate risks, nature and water, business and a fair and inclusive transition for individuals and communities.

It says the Combined Authority must use its “borrowing powers” as “an important lever to support investment” to fund change.

Dr Nik Johnson Picture: Keith Heppell. (52737621)
Dr Nik Johnson Picture: Keith Heppell. (52737621)

“Some of the funding will be public investment, much of it will be private and we will need to look at ways we can attract investment into the region to ensure we can deliver the changes required,” it says.

Industrial, commercial, and public sector emissions across the region are slightly below the UK average in relation to the population. This can be attributed to the fact the area has relatively less energy-intensive industry.

The report suggests an active approach to supporting businesses in the green economy by developing net zero business links across the three economies within the region, as well as skills and training for net zero, this can help to rebalance the economy, reduce regional inequalities and contribute to a just transition.

At the same time, the report recognises the great potential for working with nature. By identifying and bringing forward nature-based schemes which provide more and better green space to protect wildlife and increase biodiversity.

The outcome can also provide a positive result in the mitigation against changing weather patterns can help protect water resources and slow down surface water flooding and offer opportunities for farming to adapt their practices.

It warns that by the end of the decade one in 10 homes in the county could be at risk of flooding, with one in four agricultural and industrial premises.

The report also considers findings and principles developed from the commission’s conversations with the public and community groups.

And it recognises that the transition must be delivered in a way that is fair, is good for nature and the environment around us, and does not leave marginalised communities behind.

It reveals that to enable action to be effective, it needs to be taken forward in a way that people feel is fair and just.

The region’s communities are keen to engage and play their part. They want to see policies and information made clear and trustworthy to make their choices easier. This became apparent in the recent engagement panels and focus groups which developed 10 principles for a just transition.

Baroness Brown continued: “This full report extends our recommendations, integrating the outcomes of extensive consultation with people and organisations in the region about how we can achieve change in a way that is fair and inclusive – delivering a just transition. It has been inspiring to hear the ideas and commitment to change from a wide range of local people. We can and must make significant changes in the region, to be successful, this must be done with people and not to people.’’

This full report will now be shared with the Combined Authority and its constituent councils for consideration and a response will be made in November 2021.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, who previously warned “our house is on fire”, said: “Once again Baroness Brown and the members of the Climate Change Commission have produced a full and frank report on the impact greenhouse gas emissions and our changing climate is having across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“I welcome this report and its recommendations. We will now digest the reports contents and in addition to the 31 recommendations the Combined Authority has already responded to, we will look at how best to work with central government and our constituent councils to respond to these findings and recommendations.

“Focus on the impacts of climate change are at the front of everyone’s mind in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow next month. How we engage fairly with our communities, encourage green skills and innovation are key questions that we as leaders need to ask so we can encourage green growth and just as importantly protect public health and wellbeing.

“It’s obvious to me that we need to take the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions seriously, and this seminal report helps with this green mapping, so we can take responsibility for the choices we make and lessen the impact climate change is having in our own backyard, on our lifestyle, our homes, at work and on our health.”

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