The evidence is clear: climate change is the greatest threat facing the countryside today. This summer’s record-breaking heat and wildfires in Lancashire and Yorkshire highlighted the destructive potential of extreme weather for rural communities and our countryside. Continued increases in carbon emissions are forecast to increase the frequency and severity of such events.
The Committee on Climate Change estimates that the proportion of prime farmland in the UK is likely to fall from 38 per cent to 9 per cent due to the loss of soil fertility, which will have a significant bearing on food prices and security. The increased risk of water shortages could have profound implications for agricultural, domestic and business use. Increasing frequency of intense rainfall will result in more homes at risk of flooding, whilst coastal communities are threatened by erosion.
All of this presents a key challenge to the rural and urban communities who benefit from the countryside as a place for recreation, a place of food production and a place of tranquillity, and to all who value our natural world.
The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on limiting global warming to 1.5°C is the clearest statement yet on the challenge that faces our society. Its sets out the potentially devastating impacts on our natural world and communities of inaction on climate change, effects of climate change that are already being felt much closer to home than the melting of distant ice caps.
The scale of the task and the need for immediate action are clear. To limit global warming to 1.5°C, significant emissions reductions are required by 2030, a mere 12 years away, and must meet net zero by 2050. Meanwhile our current efforts are falling short. As the report makes clear, current national mitigation efforts under the Paris climate agreement have us on course for a dangerous 3°C of warming. As the IPCC’s findings emphasise, the changes needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C ‘require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.’ The transitions needed are unprecedented in scale but many of the solutions are already available.
Herein lies the opportunity: a shift towards a zero-carbon countryside can benefit both our planet and our communities, reduce waste and reduce inequalities.
Lowering carbon emissions will require large-scale retrofitting of our homes and workplaces to increase efficiency in our heating and power networks. It will also require a shift towards renewable energy and low-carbon technologies.
Well-insulated homes waste less energy and contribute to tackling fuel poverty, whilst community renewable generation provides planet-friendly power options tailored to local needs.
Sustainable farming practices that improve the health of our soils and enable carbon storage to combat climate change also deliver agricultural productivity and restoration of habitats.
Furthermore, strong action is needed to reduce car dependency in rural areas, providing practical, sustainable travel choices that allow people of all age groups and backgrounds to access our countryside and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.
CPRE will be taking on these challenges as part of a broad partnership of 130 other NGOs in the Climate Coalition, and through other partners. We will be making the case strongly to the public and decision-makers that action on the very real threats posed by climate change is not only necessary but unavoidable in order to safeguard the countryside, communities and planet we depend on. It is also the best way to ensure we can all count on a beautiful, thriving countryside for generations to come.
Tom Stockton is campaigns and policy assistant at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
Follow @thstockton and @CPRE
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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