The decision by leading politicians on the City Council to aim at a 2030 target for removing carbon pollution is a big step forward. It follows a declaration from the council that Cambridge faces a “climate emergency”.
We can surely thank the school students and non-Extinction Rebellion for demanding change in a compelling and public way. But accepting the need for decarbonisation and “doing” it within the next decade are two different things. It will be hard – but necessary.
We will potentially need to remove all our fossil fuel gas boilers and replace them with electrified systems. This could mean individual ground source heat pumps and solar panels or just using the electricity mains – although the power stations serving them would all need to be low or no carbon. We could also consider using hydrogen like is being trialled in Leeds. This gas has no Co2 emissions at point of use but it does at source when it is being made by separating hydrogen from natural gas. That initial Co2 would have to be captured and stored.
The whole of Cambridge’s transport system needs to move from petrol and diesel over to electric vehicles (EVs). A key way to do this is to run a much better and more frequent bus service around the city – using EV buses.
We have none currently but countries such as China are putting 2,000 on the roads a WEEK. An electrified tram or underground system here would be great but the latter costs maybe £4bn and will take ten years to build if there are no hitches.
This may sound daunting. Cambridge will certainly need Westminster to provide state funds and other help to make this happen.
All those experts in the university, on the science park and towns people must pitch in while we will all need to scrutinise our own often high-carbon lifestyles.
But this moment also offers huge opportunities not just to create jobs but to rebuild the community with a “just transition” that helps everyone. The last ten years has seen an unsustainable Growth Agenda here that has brought inequality, unaffordable homes and car congestion. The next ten years must see a totally different culture emerge which favours people over profit.
Speed is of the essence and change can happen. State-owned British Gas changed the UK over from town gas to North Sea gas 40m appliances in ten years to 1977. After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1940, the US declared war on Japan and changed factories over from car to tank production in 55 days.
So let’s start to build this Green New Deal for Cambridge; our environment and the happiness of future generations depend on it.
Ex-Energy Editor, The Guardian.
Senior Member, Wolfson College, Cambridge.