Every action counts in Leeds’ sustainability push

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, discusses how climate change will factor into all aspects of decision-making following the council’s declaration of a climate emergency earlier this year

Tackling climate change is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Like many other local authorities, Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency in March 2019 in response to the UN report for urgent action if we are to limit temperature rise and avoid some of the catastrophic effects of climate change, including flooding, heatwaves and rising sea levels – some of which we have already seen at the local, national and global level. Whilst climate change is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges we will ever face, I am confident that our city can tackle the climate emergency together to transform our lives, and the lives of future generations, for the better.

We already know that the people who live and work in Leeds are passionate about tackling the climate emergency. In our Big Leeds Climate Conversation consultation, the council found that 97 per cent of respondents believe that tackling climate change should be a priority for Leeds and 93 per cent are willing to change their behaviour to reduce their impact on the environment. Across the city we have also seen that young people are extremely engaged about taking action against the effects of climate change and how, in many ways, they have been leading the agenda so that their generation and those to come can benefit from a cleaner, more sustainable planet.

If we are to raise the standard of living for everyone across Leeds and promote inclusive growth the city, it is vital that we take urgent action immediately. To meet our ambitious targets to become carbon-neutral by 2030, the city will need to work collaboratively – with residents, public and private sector organisations and central government – to reduce our carbon emissions and become a more sustainable place to live and work.

Climate change and decision making
As a council, we have always recognised the importance of sustainability and this has long been at the heart of our key strategies on affordable warmth, air quality, improving public transport, flood alleviation, digital access, and asset management.

Since declaring the climate emergency in 2019, the climate agenda has been pushed to the very forefront of our leadership and we are leading by example to inspire change across the city. We have announced our bold plans to become a carbon-neutral city by 2030 and to halve our organisational emissions by 2025. We will achieve this through our governance, through engaging with residents to reduce their own emissions and through speaking with businesses and organisations to inspire them to minimise their carbon impact. We will also be making key asks to central government to meet carbon reduction targets at a local and national level.

Where our own leadership is concerned, we have embedded the climate emergency within our performance monitoring, decision making and governance structures. The council has created a cross-party Climate Emergency Advisory Committee and themed working groups – including transport, planning and biodiversity – to advise on decision making and the implementation of the climate emergency strategy across Leeds. We have also created a new executive board portfolio which gives one executive member combined responsibility for transport, sustainable development and tackling the climate emergency.

To embed culture change at the heart of the council, we are putting structures in place to support staff across every level of the organisation. We’re developing training and guidance material to make sure that sustainable practice is incorporated within every decision made at the council. This includes sustainable procurement guidance, an internal toolkit for staff, and an independently accredited Carbon Literacy training programme for decision makers -through which we’re aiming to increase the number of ‘carbon literate’ staff and senior officers to ensure the climate emergency is at the centre of decision making and project planning.

In addition, we’re shifting our organisational culture by giving council officers a platform to shape the climate emergency strategy. Through our climate emergency staff forum we are encouraging staff members to discuss climate related issues and develop climate champions across our directorates to help reduce our shared carbon footprint.

Ongoing work
To halve the council’s carbon footprint by 2025, we have announced a series of bold plans to cut our organisational emissions. We have committed to purchasing 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by the end of this year. We’re reducing our energy demand through a programme of efficiency measures, rationalisation, heating civic buildings through the energy recovered from household waste, and converting street lighting to LED. To target emissions from transport, we’re more than doubling our fleet of electric vehicles and phasing out staff mileage payments for diesel and petrol vehicles by 2025. To compliment this, we’re also implementing policies and improving our infrastructure to promote flexible working. This includes working from home, improving teleconferencing facilities, and offering staff travel cards and incentives for electric bikes and pool cars.

We’re also working closely with schools to support energy efficiency measures, develop and implement travel plans, and highlight the damage that can be done by engine idling. The council’s school meals service has also introduced a new, healthy climate-friendly menu at primary schools across the city which includes a meat-free day and encourages children to enjoy their five a day. We’re also involving school pupils in the important conversation about climate change and providing the opportunity for students to develop advice and guidance to be rolled out to young people across the city. At this year’s Youth Voice Summit, which was focused on discussing the climate emergency, students from across Leeds were invited to develop ideas with senior councillors and discuss how schools can become more sustainable.  

A collaborative effort
Whilst we’re making huge changes to our own processes and decision making within the council, becoming a carbon-neutral city won’t be possible without the widespread support of everyone in Leeds. We’re actively inspiring citizens, workers and businesses to reduce their own carbon emissions through our ongoing engagement programme. We are continuing to raise awareness of the climate emergency across the region and providing information about how residents can make small changes to live more sustainably.

In our Big Leeds Climate Conversation, residents said that they would be willing to cut their own carbon footprints through a range of different steps including creating habitats for wildlife, choosing energy efficient appliances, and switching to renewable tariffs. We’re trying to make this as easy as possible by offering guidance and inspiration to residents through our ‘Leeds by Example’ website. This provides clear, interesting and easy to understand information on how everyone can become more sustainable through the food we eat, the way we travel and power homes, the items we buy, and the way we dispose of goods. Through these everyday tips and steps, we can all play our part in tackling climate change.

We are also working closely with the private sector to offer support to businesses to make more environmentally conscious decisions and we’re delivering programmes to provide a platform for partnership working and collaboration. The climate emergency was the key theme of this year’s State of the City, which is an annual event that is an important part of our calendar. This saw the council, businesses and the third sector come together to discuss climate related issues here in Leeds and explore how the city can work together to implement solutions to the climate emergency.

We’ve also recently launched the EV Trials scheme to help organisations tackle their emissions from transport. We know that emissions from road transport are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in Leeds, and our EV Trials scheme aims to tackle this by giving businesses the opportunity to trial an electric vehicle free of charge. In addition to this, we’re actively encouraging businesses in Leeds to share their own examples of how they’re becoming more sustainable.

We all have a carbon footprint and a responsibility to reduce our emissions together. We can’t solve climate change on our own, but together we can make a huge difference. Every action counts.

Further Information: 

www.leeds.gov.uk