As world leaders gather in Glasgow over the next two weeks for the crucial COP26 summit, key figures in County Durham got together to pledge their own efforts to tackle climate change.
More than 70 attendees, including representatives from Durham County Council, Durham University, businesses, and the NHS, gathered at Beamish Hall to sign a new climate change agreement, announcing their commitment to work together to protect the environment.
This County Durham Climate Change Agreement is a new initiative designed to create a strong and active partnership of organisations which will work together to make real environmental progress. It is hoped that following the launch many more organisations across the county will sign the pledge.
To support the agreement, the council developed a new website and video to extend the invitation to individuals and communities to come together and pledge to reduce their impact.
The website was launched at the beginning of the conference, and has information on what local residents, businesses, children and young people, and community groups can do, as well as a pledge for individuals and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to sign.
Cllr Mark Wilkes, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said: “We are committed to doing all that we can to tackle climate change and we have made some really strong progress so far in addressing vital environmental issues.
“However, we have pledged to make our county carbon neutral, and to do this we need to work with partners and the community in a collective effort to achieve this target.
“Today’s event has been a great success and important ideas have been shared, and we hope this event has spread awareness of what we can do together to make a positive impact for our county.”
The council’s chief executive, John Hewitt, and Cllr Wilkes were key speakers at the event and delivered presentations on the substantial efforts already made in the county to reduce emissions.
They also discussed the next steps to addressing net zero and were joined by speakers Sue Jacques, chief executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, and Tony Cleary, managing director of local business Lanchester Wines, both of which are leading the way on tackling climate change.
Sue said: “We launched our Green Plan earlier this year but were already making significant changes including a 16 per cent reduction in waste production between 2016 and 2020 and a 50 per cent reduction over two years in the use of harmful anaesthetic gases.
“As we replace our fleet vehicles we’re moving to electric and have also installed additional cycle storage and electric vehicle points at our hospitals in Durham and Darlington encouraging the use of sustainable transport.
“The essence of our plan isn’t simply meeting targets, it’s about changes in culture and behaviour across our teams and services.
“Working collaboratively as part of the County Durham Climate Change Agreement will take us all further, faster.”
The conference then heard from businesses and organisations that want to do everything they can to reduce their carbon emissions and help others to do the same.
And some of the council’s new electric vehicles were on show, as the authority works towards transforming its operational vehicles into a fully electric fleet.
In 2019 the council declared a climate emergency, pledging to reduce carbon emissions from its operations by 80 per cent by 2030 and make County Durham carbon neutral by 2050.
It also established its Climate Emergency Response Plan (CERP) outlining actions it will take to meet this pledge and tackle climate change.
To sign the climate change pledge, and for information on actions everyone can take to reduce their impact, visit www.climatecountydurham.org.uk.