English county Cumbria aims to decarbonise totally by 2037

Published on : Thursday, January 21, 2021

Across Cumbria local communities, businesses and grassroots organisations are being mobilised to map out ways that they hope will help it become the UK’s first carbon-neutral county. The county is aiming to decarbonise by 2037, an ambition initially supported by £2.5m of national lottery funding, awarded last August and to be drip-fed over five years starting this month.

Tourism will be an area of focus, alongside housing, transport and agriculture.

“The national lottery funding is an injection of adrenaline at the beginning of a long journey,” said Karen Mitchell, CEO of Cumbria Action for Sustainability (Cafs). The funding was secured by the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership, which was set up by Cafs in 2019 with the help of the county council. The partnership has 68 members tasked with leading the drive to cut emissions, including the Lake District national park authority.

The UK government has a legal commitment to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but last month announced an additional target of reducing carbon emissions by 68 per cent by the end of this decade. Last November, UK water companies launched a sector-wide commitment to achieving net zero by 2030, and a handful of cities, including Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds, have also committed to becoming carbon neutral by that date.

“We’re not excluding being able to do it earlier,” said Cafs’ Mitchell. “This is a climate emergency and we should be throwing everything at it.”

Achieving decarbonisation poses challenges for a county that in 2019 was visited by 48 million people. Visitors contribute £3.13bn to Cumbria’s economy and support 65,500 jobs. Tourism’s impact on its carbon footprint is largely linked to transport. In February 2020, the partnership commissioned A Carbon Baseline for Cumbria, which was produced by Professor Mike Berners-Lee, an expert in carbon footprinting – who also happens to live in Kendal.

The report found that the driving emissions of visitors to Cumbria are three times the UK average; their emissions from eating out and recreational activities are also higher than residents’. They account for 49 per cent of Cumbria’s consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions, although 36 per cent of those emissions come from travelling to and from Cumbria.

“Tourism does create significant challenges [to decarbonising], but it’s a huge part of the local economy,” said Chris Hodgson, owner of Haven Cottage B&B in Ambleside, which is now working towards gold certification with the Green Tourism accreditation body. He believes becoming carbon neutral will offer new opportunities for local tourism, but also that it shouldn’t have to mean reducing visitor numbers. “You just have to find ways for people to visit in a more sustainable fashion,” he said.

This could mean increasing the public transport options, the number of bike hire locations and cycleways, and looking at pedestrianisation.

Hodgson is a member of the Ambleside to Zero action group, which is working with Cafs on some of these challenges.

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