Labour has a good record of environmental policy, if masked often by focus on other economic and social issues . Much planning law, the National Parks and Countryside & Rights of Way ( Open access) are examples.
Global warming has risen up the political agenda over recent decades and the potential for employment from green initiatives has become clear.
Global warming will not lessen directly our region’s need for energy .: There are concerns that Greenland ice melt may be cooling the North Atlantic.The Jet stream , though weakening and wavering at times , is located often across the Pennines. Storms and flooding may be expected, though punctuated by cold snaps and droughts. Leeds and its water catchments are in the Pennine rain shadow and could be vulnerable.
Over the past three decades wind and solar power have been encouraged by subsidy. This is logical because the UK is the 6th windiest country in the world. The South Pennines, sandwiched between the Dales and Peak Parks, has had more than its fair share of applications . So far, however, these have been located and regulated to reduce landscape and environmental impact. Recent withdrawal of subsidy threatens further on & off shore wind, coastal lagoons, solar panels, and energy conservation/ initiatives which should be part of a sensible energy policy. Our Dales rivers are suitable for small hydro turbines on old weirs with fish passes for returning salmon and sea trout.
Over the past 30 years Forestry Commission, lottery and European grants have helped to restore the region’s woodland cover from 3% of land area ( one of the lowest in Europe ) to 8% , the England average . . Continuation to the European average ( 22%) is seen as desirable for carbon capture and flood alleviation. Also the environmental importance of the Pennine moorlands, bogs and wetlands has been recognised by SSSI and SPA status. Initiatives to reverse past drainage and re wild are helping to preserve carbon capture and biodiversity.
Like land based initiatives , energy production has needed public subsidy because of its risky and long term nature. Both Labour and Conservative government supported civil nuclear power from 1940’s to 1980’s , partly because of its links to weapons production. The long term waste legacy necessitates retention of expertise for safety, and the rebuilding of a few new reactors on existing sites will provide some non- carbon energy , all be it at a high cost.
The Conservative’s approach of inviting ‘private’ investment from Communist China and France is ironic . The pressurised water reactor design envisaged for Hinkley Point, Sizewell and Bradwell has yet to be completed elsewhere , adding concerns about cost, safety and delivery dates .Sellarfield in the 1980’s was receiving £1m of public investment every day : A fraction of this elsewhere could have created many green jobs and conservation initiatives .
Possible new thorium reactors using up some deadly waste plutonium may have some merit, but with uncertainties also about cost, safety and time scale.
Meanwhile two out of the three remaining coal-fired power stations along the River Aire are due to be closed next year, although one has in part been converted to burn domestic and ‘other ‘waste. The third , Drax- Europe’s largest coal burner , is co firing 10% biofuel / wood to reduce sulphur and carbon emissions . Much wood and coal for this is now imported , making the Settle to Carlisle railway its busiest ever for freight. Gas fired power stations may replace coal temporarily for energy security but are also carbon based and will rely increasingly on imports or fracking.
Fracking for oil and gas has been adopted in North America on a large scale , contributing to the world fall in oil prices. In 2013 a tar sands oil train exploded in Canada killing 35 in a Quebec village .The Bowland, Pennine and North York moor shales are gas rich but there are concerns about subsidence and water supplies . North sea oil and gas production is dropping , reflecting harder to reach supplies and an inability to compete with falling world prices.
Control of public transport and support for new cycleways / new stations etc should be part of a regional environmental policy , with better links to reduce road traffic . 50 mph speed limits on certain roads and vehicles could be an option. More encouragement of part time home working could help too.
Recycling and composting of green waste by Leeds is positive, with the latter being used for local agriculture .More support to limit agricultural intensification , carbon emissions and run off linked to the land based measures already mentioned would be welcome.
To tackle global warming local, regional, national and international measures are needed . Government support and intervention for both energy security and land use has been necessary. For that reason, Labour been has been and should be a major player for our future.
Keith Wilson, Dec. 2015.