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National Parks and the Climate Emergency

The Campaign for National Parks, of which we are a member, produced a report in June entitled National Parks and the Climate Emergency. It starts with the premise that the climate crisis is the biggest global threat we’ve ever faced and sets out to examine what the National Park Authorities (NPAs) are currently doing and to identify further actions that they, Government and other stakeholders need to take.

Eastbourne Downs from Windover – photo by Richard Reed

There are 10 national parks in England, covering almost 10% of the country and three in Wales accounting for 20% of the country. In the Foreword, the CNP Chair, Janette Ward, declares: “With this report we want decision makers to understand the importance of ensuring our National Parks are fully equipped to combat climate change and contribute to achieving national and global targets for carbon reduction.”

The Report observes that “Many NPAs have now developed specific Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies and are undertaking detailed studies to better understand the impacts on their Park”. The SDNPA have done just that. In March 2020, they adopted a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan confirming a “commitment to address the climate and nature emergency” by:

  • Committing to the SDNPA becoming a ‘Net-Zero’ Organisation by 2030
  • Agreeing an action plan which includes a commitment to working with our constituent Local Authorities and other partners, in particular communities and landowners, to deliver actions that respond effectively to the climate and nature emergency
  • Committing to working towards the SDNP becoming ‘Net-Zero with Nature’ by 2040

As part of that exercise, the SDNPA produced three principal documents: a Strategy, an Action Plan and a 5-Year Programme.  Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Strategy – South Downs  National Park Authority . They make interesting reading, in particular, the 5-Year Programme. It marks an attempt to actually translate good intentions into positive action and sets targets by which the success or otherwise of the actions can be judged.

In early December 2020, National Parks England published four Delivery Plans defining key targets for the NPAs’ work. One of these was on Climate Leadership. They made a number of specific commitments, one of which was “leading by example, through achieving net zero NPAs by 2030, wherever possible”.  They identified actions to achieve this, including:

  • Securing additional funding to establish a consistent carbon budget baseline for all 10 National Parks
  • Employing a climate change officer in each NPA to coordinate data and lead delivery of the net zero plan
  • Promoting sustainable tourism and demonstrating the benefit of low carbon holiday destinations
  • Better communicating how changes in land use as a result of climate change might affect the landscape character of the National Parks
  • Advocating for changes to national policy that will “provide NPAs with the tools locally to deliver net zero”                          

Interestingly, the SDNPA is not proposing to employ a specific climate change officer as they take the view that it is an expertise that should extend across all their work streams. Having said that, their Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy Lead, Chris Fairbrother, is the convenor for the UK National Parks Climate Change group and helped produce their Delivery Plan on Climate Leadership.

This particular Delivery Plan does come in for some criticism from the CNP Report. The charge is that it is “largely aspirational and does not contain any specific milestones other than the net zero dates”. There is a suggestion that although it declares itself to be “rightly ambitious”, it could be more ambitious. There are more ambitious commitments from elsewhere in the public sector. For example, the York and North Yorkshire Local Industrial Strategy sets out an ambition for the area (which contains two national parks) to be carbon neutral by 2034 and then to become England’s first carbon negative economy by 2040. It will be hard for NPAs to argue that they are at the forefront of tackling the climate emergency unless they can demonstrate that they are at least matching such ambitions.

There is a suggestion too that if they want to demonstrate real leadership, the NPAs need to ask for more powers, responsibilities and resources and for wider changes to national policy in order to support such ambitions. For example, encouraging car-free visitors would be far easier if a national road pricing scheme was introduced and/or local bus services were organised in a way which ensured greater support for rural services.

It is clear that, by themselves, the NPAs can only achieve a limited amount. They own a very small proportion of the land in their respective Parks and they are not the transport authority. That significantly reduces their influence. The Glover Report did propose a pilot scheme for the Lake District NPA to be the strategic transport authority for its area and it is understood that two other NPAs are interested in being included in any such pilot. Thus far, the Government has been very slow to respond to Glover.

The CNP Report does identify good progress made by the NPAs but suggests room for improvement. It also emphasizes that more needs to be done by way of education and that there has to be an appreciation on the part of everyone, but particularly Government, that radical action is required urgently before we can start to tackle the crisis effectively. Please do read it if you have the time.

David Green, Trustee

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