Cllr Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West & Chester Council shares her reflections following her attendance at COP26.

Please note – this blogpost was originally published on 17th November 2021

I attended COP26 for three days during the second week of the summit. I was proud to be asked to speak on Transport day, with a focus on the North West’s journey to Net Zero. I spoke about the behavioural change required to move people away from their cars and onto public transport and or active travel.

Giving people alternatives to making a journey in the first place (e.g. via digital connectivity) or using more sustainable modes of travel – walking and cycling for shorter distances, buses for medium and rail for longer journeys or providing services and facilities where people live i.e. the 15-minute neighbourhood, an exciting concept that we are keen to explore – but most importantly, moving from the default position of the car. Local government plays a big part in developing 15-minute neighbourhoods in our regeneration schemes and planning guidance via triple access planning: thinking transport systems, land use and digital connectivity.

To support our work the government needs to deliver 100% on Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), anything less would be a betrayal of Northern communities and set us back in our collective efforts towards decarbonisation and Net Zero. The information leaked from government over the last few days is disappointing to say the least and at the very worse will make the government’s own target for Net Zero unachievable. Alongside the devastating impact on decarbonisation, non-delivery in full of NPR will have a dramatic impact on the economy and people’s lives and livelihoods. As a result of NPR, the economy in the north is set to benefit to the tune of £22bn by 2060 and raise the employment rate by 1.5%. Not delivering NPR shows that the Government is incapable of strategic thinking.

It is clear local government is at the forefront of the journey to Net Zero and has a massive part to play. Cheshire West and Chester is the fifth most polluting borough in the country with a dense cluster of industrial activity: Essar, CF Fertilisers, Encirc to name but a few and with Rocksavage works on the border with Halton. Our challenge is massive, but we have a plan – we are working with our businesses and communities through our Climate Emergency Taskforce as part of our Climate Emergency response.

Hynet has recently been announced as one of two Net Zero carbon clusters in the country and will start to de carbonise the North West and North Wales from 2025 reducing annual CO2 emissions by 10m tonnes (equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road) by 2030. This is a game changer for our region. It is the start of a Green Industrial Revolution in the North West and has turned Ellesmere Port into a world “Super Place”, but we need to ensure this is an inclusive revolution where everyone benefits.

It was good to talk alongside Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham and other north west leaders and businesses. I called for the whole region to come together to agree joint goals so we can all work together to get to Net Zero. To truly level up we need more devolved powers and funding outside of our City Regions and certainly for us this needs to be a focus over the coming months.

Whilst I was at COP26 I signed the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration on behalf of our council. This declaration is about speaking with a unified voice to ‘develop sustainable food policies, promote mechanisms for joined up action and call on national governments to put food and farming at the heart of the global response to the climate emergency’ and links perfectly with the work we’re doing to become a sustainable food place bringing together both our climate and poverty work with a people and planet approach.

I came back from COP26 feeling refreshed and reinvigorated in tackling the Climate Emergency, at a local government level at least, and would like to see us coming together more, as a Labour family, to drive this forward. The LGA Labour Group is organising more events on the climate emergency and leading the way on this. However, on the international stage Governments have let us and the planet down with vested interests in the fossil fuel industry getting in the way of making something remarkable happen. Roll on COP27.