I’ve done some fascinating things this week; we’ve made some important decisions; and I’ve faced some big challenges. But all of this pales into insignificance compared to the challenges faced by World leaders in Copenhagen in a few (8) days time. So, I’m going to focus this Blog on why success at ‘COP15’ the World summit on Climate Change matters to the Peak District.
First of all, what is at stake at COP15 – the 15th Meeting of the United Nations ‘Conference of the Parties’ relating to the global agreement on Climate Change. I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but the Government’s Climate Change website sets this out clearly in its ‘Road to Copenhagen’ document. Details at: www.actoncopenhagen.decc.gov.uk/en/
Basically, success at Copenhagen would be the last chance to reduce the total increase in World temperatures to no more than 2°C, which is itself a scary rise in temperatures. Global emissions would peak by 2020 and drop back to 50% of 1990 levels by 2050. The UK aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
The climate change scenarios show the difference between impacts in the Peak District with a ‘low’ scenario, that is below what Copenhagen attempts to achieve, and a ‘high’ scenario, which is what would happen in the worst scenarios if Copenhagen fails. All the scenarios would, to different degrees, lead to hotter and drier mean summer temperatures; warmer and wetter mean winter temperatures; more intense weather events such as storms and heavy rain.
This is my personal list of the reasons why World leaders must act.
Reason1: The cleanest rivers in England are under threat from higher summer temperatures, leading to more weed growth, lower oxygen levels and reduced summer flows. Our limestone rivers and wetlands are of international importance: they support important plants and invertebrate populations, important populations of dipper, grey wagtail, water vole and crayfish. These rivers have been fished for over 400 years and are the basis of a large angling industry today.
Reason 2: Making hay and silage – conservation of vital fodder for winter months – will become increasingly difficult on the thin soils of the White Peak plateau if our summers become hotter and drier. Peak District farming is a low Carbon way of producing protein for a hungry World. Over 250 000 head of stock are reared on the Peak District hills and sold through Bakewell market every year. There is a growing commitment from visitors, residents and the local catering industry to support this, with hugely successful farmers markets and a sound, low carbon distribution chain emerging.
Reason 3: If we let our moors dry up, the carbon that will be lost from them pollutes our water and adds further to the emissions of CO2 , so making climate change worse. Over 1/3 of the Peak District is our fantastic, globally important peat moors. These moors hold vital water and carbon and they are the basis for the water, farming and fieldsports industries. They are great places to walk and for wildlife. Hotter drier summers will make it more difficult to sustain these wetland environments because they rely on cold, wet and anaerobic (where there is no oxygen) conditions to survive.
Reason4: Politicians should not fear to set CO2 emission limits, because our communities are already planning to live within them. Peak District communities are at the forefront of learning to live with less carbon. Schools, villages halls, landed estates, businesses and public bodies are pioneering energy conservation, micro-renewables and low carbon economic models. The Sustainable Development Fund has helped nearly 100 projects, from small wind turbines, to community water turbines and to studies into anaerobic digestion and water power. The National Park Authority’s own Carbon footprint has been slashed by 12.6% in 2 years and we plan to go further and quicker.
Reason5: Birds such as golden plover, dunlin and red grouse are vulnerable to warmer, drier summers. If they cannot feed in the damp mosses and moors of the uplands, then they cannot survive in the Peak District. The Peak District uplands are home to some of the most southerly populations of upland species, plants and animals whose main populations are further north in the tundra, moors and forests of Scotland, Scandinavia and the Arctic.
Reason 6: Hotter drier summers will make the threat of moorland fires and their severity much greater. Our Moorlands have been under threat from wildfires and fires caused by people for centuries, but in recent years this has got worse. Our Fires Operations Group is an excellent example of cooperation between National Park Rangers, fire services and the moorland landowners and, during dry spells in the summer, their preparedness and efforts much reduce the severity of fires. In Victoria, Australia which experiences a different scale of threat from fires (270 people were killed in one day in February this year) Parks Victoria has increased its spending on fire control from 10 to 30% in the last 5 years. Can we afford to make the same commitment as our moors become drier in summer and the fire season extends each year?
Reason 7: There is the potential to develop a low carbon visitor economy and we are making real progress towards this. Currently most of our visitors come by car, although of course historically the train was an important way in which urban people have accessed the National Park. But, there is a growing demand for more sustainable ways of accessing the Peak District. Research for our Recreation Strategy identified a huge latent demand for better public transport and, especially, opportunities for people to cycle into their favourite parts of the Peak District. On Friday, members agreed to a £2.25M investment that will provide cycle access for up to 500 000 people. I firmly believe this will not be the last action that will open up truly sustainable ways of accessing the National Park.
Reason 8: One consequence of climate change will be more intense and severe rain storms and flooding in neighbouring cities. We have seen the British record for rainfall broken with terrible consequences in Cumbria this last week. In 2007, the intense rainfall in the Upper Don and Rother catchments led to flooding in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. In 2000 Derby was flooded. Whilst we are working with the Environment Agency to restore moorlands in our pioneering Making Space for Water project, severe climate change will make this an insurmountable problem .
Reason 9: Climate Change will lead to enormous stresses on the historic environment. English Heritage and the National Trust have catalogued the damage hotter and drier summers and more intense weather will have on historic buildings. The further spread of arable farming could lead to valuable field systems and artefacts being damaged. Our heritage shows the way with principles for building design that allow maximum energy efficiency and design that benefits from natural light.
Reason 10: Upland Areas such as the Peak District have enormous potential to contribute to energy generation in a more sustainable way, using farm waste, timber and fibre, wind and water power and the power of the earth itself. There has, from the Government, been a singular focus on wind energy and I can see the need for large offshore and some onshore wind farms and the scope for many more modest wind turbines in the Peak District. But there is even more potential for ground source heat pumps – many of our buildings, businesses, farms and communities have access to the land that is needed for these and also for water power. Early in 2010, Friends of the Peak District will be launching a major new study supported by our Sustainable Development Fund into the potential for Peak District rivers to contribute energy and we have already seen pioneering projects develop in Alport and New Mills.