Remember Rural is the message from the Rural Services Network as the world leaders unite at COP26 to work together towards tackling climate change
Taking place this week in Glasgow, COP 26, Boris Johnson warned that the world is at ‘one minute to midnight’ having run down the clock on waiting to combat climate change.
It is vital that rural areas are part of the solution to tackling climate change, an approach solely focused on urban areas and urban travel and living will not succeed alone.
The Revitalising Rural Campaign of the RSN, sets out a number of policy asks of Government and the specific chapter on Decarbonising Rural Communities and Economies is available at this link.
The specific asks in relation to Decarbonising Rural Communities and Economies are:
- Economic Growth Programmes: all such programmes should include explicit objectives to support low carbon and net zero growth. Specialist advice and related grant funding should be made available for existing rural businesses to help them reduce their carbon footprint. Government should use its Covid-19 recovery package, A Plan for Jobs 2020, to improve energy efficiency in rural homes, especially off the mains gas grid. This would make them greener and easier to heat, whilst supporting green jobs for tradespeople in rural areas.
- Housing and renewables: housebuilders, homeowners and landlords should be incentivised to install or adopt renewable or low carbon energy technologies, which would also help address rural fuel poverty. The target recently set for installing heat pumps is useful, but that technology will not suit some properties, not least many older and hard-to-decarbonise homes in off-grid rural areas which the Government indicates are a priority. The approach for retrofitting existing homes, including eligibility to access the Homes Upgrade Grant, therefore needs to cover other options such as biofuels and heat networks. Housing energy efficiency: for maximum effect, the switch to renewables should happen in conjunction with making homes more energy efficient. The technology for housing development to Passivhaus standards exists, but the financial model needs development, not least in rural areas where development sites tend to be small and have fewer economies of scale. Some pilot exemplar rural schemes should be supported to test feasibility and improve viability of the approach, paving the way for commercial provision to such standards in future.
- Electric vehicle charging: the funding recently announced by Government to make quicker progress with rolling out rapid charging infrastructure is welcome. It must, however, be used to improve the network of public charging points across rural areas (including those areas distant from motorways or trunk roads). Drivers in rural areas are more likely to travel further and gaps in the network are a practical constraint given typical ranges of e-vehicles.
- Rural buses: introducing buses using electric battery or hydrogen fuel cell technologies involves significant investment, both in new vehicles and depot fuelling facilities. This may be hard to justify commercially in rural areas unless bus service patronage grows. The Government’s ZEBRA funding Revised May 2021 scheme should specifically target some uncommercial rural areas. Current electric buses also have a limited range that will be inadequate for some rural routes. A comprehensive review is needed of the electric grid and, where appropriate, hydrogen supply to avoid punitive upgrade costs arising in rural areas.
- Electricity network capacity: the path towards net zero will significantly boost demand for electricity, not least to heat homes and charge cars. Government and energy industry must ensure that electricity distribution networks, sub-stations and connections are made fit-for-purpose. This will be particularly relevant in rural areas, where infrastructure is often less robust.
- Local energy networks: Government should provide gap funding to kick start the development of decentralised energy networks in rural areas, where they typically face higher costs due to serving low population and housing densities. This would support the growth of networks that are based on local renewable production or combined heat and power technologies. These could also help retain money within local rural economies and support local jobs.
- Local services: it should not be overlooked that one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions in rural areas is to retain and, where possible, grow locally based services, such as food shops, post offices, schools, GP surgeries and transport networks. Equally, that providing good digital connectivity will reduce the need for rural residents to travel and enable home working. Policies for public transport, digital, land use planning, community action, education and health all have a part to play
The Rural Services Network took part in the Countryside COP, an event specifically organised to showcase the ways that the rural economy is responding to climate change. Scheduled a few weeks ahead of COP26, the event was organised by the Agriculture and Land Use Alliance and highlighted the need for a just transition to net zero and a resilient society which is both economically and socially fair, leaving no one behind.
23 organisations held workshops. From universities to international farming organisations, the programme offered a wide range of topics from renewables to a just transition and greenhouse gas accounting.
The Rural Services Network event held on 12th October had over 100 delegates and specifically focused discussion on Rural Transport and Rural Energy Efficiency. You can view the presentations on the day at this link, along with recommendations from the breakout sessions. John Birtwistle, Head of Policy from First Bus and Duncan Carter, Corporate Affairs Manager from Calor shared their expertise with delegates ahead of wide ranging discussions in breakout rooms.