Leeds 'needs to spend £2.6bn per year' to meet ambitious climate change targets - council debate

Leeds needs to spend billions of pounds every year in order to meet its ambitious climate change targets, a meeting of councillors has heard.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 4:45 pm

A presentation by Leeds City Council officers and climate experts suggested that in order for the city to meet its predicted climate shortfall, around £2.6bn a year would have to be spent over the next decade.

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Since this could not realistically be financed with local authority cash, it was suggested that private investment could be sought from individual households and pension funds.

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Llewie Evans, five, takes part in the the first ever UK-wide Youth Strike 4 Climate in Leeds in February 2019. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Members of the council’s Climate Emergency Advisory Committee clashed heavily over this, with one warning such moves could “bankrupt” the UK, leaving it like “Zimbabwe or Venezuela”. Another likened the environment to a sinking boat, and stressed urgent work needed to be done.

It follows an announcement In 2019, when Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency, giving the city a target to be a net zero carbon producer by 2030.

Council officer Polly Cook told the meeting: “We know what needs to be done. Most of, if not all of, the technological solutions exist.

“The first barrier is around finance. You are looking at £2.6bn a year that is required, which is far short of what we are currently spending on climate.

“That finance exists in the system, but it is not being spent on climate change.”

According to the presentation, £600m per year would need to be spent across all houses and organisations to cut the city’s total energy bill by £651m.

A further £900m annual investment would need to be made over the next decade to reduce the city’s emissions by 52 per cent of the current projected levels for 2030.

On top of that, around £1.1bn every year would need to be made to make further emissions savings, which would eliminate 60 per cent of the city’s climate target shortfall.

It is hoped that the investment would create thousands of jobs and save the city and its people hundreds of millions of pounds annually.

The meeting heard that one way to stimulate extra spending power to help negate climate change would be to encourage individuals to invest savings into ethical companies.

Ms Cook said: “An interesting study showed that 50-75 per cent of the UK public actually are bothered about where they invest, and are not just bothered about the return – they want to make a positive contribution.

“There is now a network set up around global impact and investing, making sure there is a global focus. There is a need to make sure what we invest in reflects our values.”

The meeting also heard that pension funds could be a large source of finance, and that it would be prudent to encourage their investment in green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure ranges from low carbon ways to heat homes, such as ground source heat pumps, to more environmentally friendly ways to travel, such as electric mass transit.

Commenting on the presentation, Coun Neil Buckley (Con) said: “I hardly know where to start. A lot of work has gone into this, and I don’t wish to be in any way rude, but back on planet earth, I think things need saying.

“We are in danger of floating off into a fantasy world – £6bn in Leeds (household infrastructure) over 10 years is not going to happen.

“People in the real world with normal jobs and normal lives need a return on the investment. They need to live – they need to know what their return will be.

“We had a few comments on money out there in pension funds. This is people’s own money – it is not owned by the state.

“On household savings being tapped into: it is their savings – they own it. If, in theory, a huge amount of this wall of money was invested in these things, what would happen to the stock market that we depend on for our pensions?

“It would bankrupt the country, and we would end up like Zimbabwe or Venezuela.”

Coun John Illingworth (Lab) took issue with Coun Buckley’s comments, responding: “That was the best and most enjoyable presentation I’ve seen on this council in 40 years. It got to grips with the issues and showed real understanding.

“Neil, we are on a boat – it is going to sink – at which point, arguments about how much it is going to cost to put the patches on it are irrelevant.

“We have a massive, massive problem, much sooner than people expected and we need to do something about it. It just shows the poverty of current Conservative Party thinking.”

Coun Paul Wray (Lab) then suggested Coun Buckley carry out research into stranded assets – the phenomenon of previously safe investments being devalued or becoming obsolete.

He added: “It’s very strange that a Conservative councillor is suggesting institutional pension funds might not want to invest in something that would make a profit for their savers, which is what their entire job is.”

Rufus Grantham is a member of Bankers Without Boundaries – an organisation which produced a report on green investment.

Responding to Coun Buckley, he said: “The challenges are huge, and it is crazy numbers.

“Either the Government has to pay it out of taxes or, if we end up having to force people to do this stuff, it will bankrupt people and will be done in a regressive way across the country.

“At the moment we are asking people to spend money themselves, and people need to see a long term return on their investment and they are not seeing that. Pensions are only going to invest in this if they see a return.

“It is complicated stuff, but they are incredibly complex problems we are trying to solve.”

Coun Buckley concluded: “Something has to be done, we all accept that. I want to mention the elephant in the room, which is China. They recently introduced 200 new coal-fired power stations.

“This country is so gigantic, and is not very nice. It is run by the Communist Party. They have some very unpleasant ambitions, and they don’t care about what we have been discussing.

“We have to look at these things, but it would in my view be disproportionate to risk bankrupting the city and the country when China is 100 times bigger in terms of this stuff than we are, and they are doing nothing.”

Chairing the meeting, Coun Peter Carlill said: “We are aware there are other countries in the world, and those need sorting, and it is something for all governments to work together and try and sort.

“It doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands and do nothing. Hopefully we can lead by example.”

Polly Cook added: “China has actually made some ambitious promises recently, and their peak carbon emissions will be brought forward significantly.

“There is a lot of open dialogue going on. It is something that is said frequently but there is actually a lot of change happening there.”

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