Cllr Joe Porter is the Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Biodiversity on Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and works in the UK100 Parliamentary Team.

Over the last two years we have seen people connecting with nature on their doorsteps more than ever before. Coronavirus has provided a stark reminder of what happens when humanity’s relationship with nature breaks down. Poll after poll shows that the public want to see bold action to address the climate and biodiversity crises – the greatest threat we face for people and the economy.

At COP26 we heard many world leaders give passionate speeches about how, unless we act swiftly, climate change will become a catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This is all too true. The narrative must shift though. We focus far too much on the negatives when in fact climate action provides us with many opportunities for a Great British Green Industrial Revolution with green jobs and opportunities to level up across our country. If you look at the direction of consumer demand, investment allocation, and regulatory oversight, now is the time to reset. People are buying products based on their climate credentials – and companies are realising that they need to embed that if they want to do well. That is good for business as well as the planet.

More and more evidence shows that local authorities are key to the UK reaching Net Zero. And the Government’s Net Zero strategy states that 82 per cent of all emissions are under the scope of influence of local authorities. At Staffordshire Moorlands District Council we want to play our part.

We need everyone to come together to play their part if we are going to meet the ambitious target of becoming Net Zero. We also need the UK Government to continue to build sustainability into key policies and laws such as the National Planning Policy Framework and Building Control Regulations. We need partners such as Staffordshire County Council, which has responsibility for our roads, transport and education, to take a lead on the areas that they have responsibility for. Importantly, we also need our businesses, residents, community groups, and visitors, to play their part. We will do what we can to encourage a joined-up approach to tackling this vitally important issue that affects us all.

I have seen first-hand how local solutions are amongst the best ways of addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Our community orchards programme has been a great example of harnessing the power of community spirit in action. It has brought communities together behind a common cause to tackle climate change, boost biodiversity, and improve people’s health and wellbeing. The trees we are planting allow local people to take small, tangible actions and will leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Within the Council we worked with Keele University to train all our service areas and councillors in carbon literacy and help embed our commitment to Net Zero emissions into our policies and strategies across the entire organisation. We commissioned Anthesis to create an emissions baseline, analyse our procurement spend, examine land and rural emissions, produce a pathway analysis and assist us with putting together our Climate Change Action Plan.

We are putting together our EV strategy to deliver a charging point infrastructure across the District in a practical and realistic way that delivers value for money. We are also collaborating with Staffordshire County Council, Air Aware Staffordshire, and local businesses to deliver the Leek Business Travel Network to deliver local-led solutions to air pollution. We are proud to be the best local authority in Staffordshire and in the top 30 in the country for recycling with a recycling rate of 57.8 per cent. The UK saves 18 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year as a result of recycling – the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road.

We have also introduced a new fleet of 18 Euro-6 engine waste collection vehicles – the most low-carbon, energy efficient diesel ones on the market. The latest engine technology has helped the Staffordshire Moorlands save 141 tonnes in carbon emissions – the equivalent of taking three refuse collection vehicles off the roads every year. In addition, we are currently trialling a new fuel mix to drastically reduce emissions. We have participated in the Staffordshire Warmer Homes project and funded Beat the Cold as our key local partner in achieving affordable warmth for local residents. We have also achieved some quick wins by switching to LED lights across all our leisure centres and reviewing all outside lights.

Enshrining the Biodiversity target into the Environment Bill is a big step forward; it is now fundamentally important that adequate resources are allocated to ensure this target can be met. UK100’s research into delivering Rural Net Zero highlighted the importance of ensuring that Net Zero Nature and biodiversity are delivered in parallel and at Staffordshire Moorlands we are striving to deliver these joint objectives through our work programme. One of the most important initiatives is our flagship Green Infrastructure Delivery Plan, helping us to deliver a robust Nature Recovery Network in partnership with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

Our planning officers have worked with their conservation team to map out our green spaces, identifying existing habitats, and finding opportunities for creating new wildlife corridors. This will be crucial to making our area more climate resilient, long-term. Over the next few years, the plan will result in a range of nature-based projects, such as community orchards, wildflower meadows, peatland restoration, and woodland expansion, to lock in a green recovery and establish a Nature Recovery Network. Nature-based solutions to climate change benefit not only the local environment, but also the local economy. A study by Oxford University has found that supporting a green recovery would produce greater financial returns, in both the short and long-term, than pouring cash into a conventional fossil-fuelled recovery. The UK Government has identified that nature-based solutions make up around a third of all solutions to climate change.

Now that we have released our Climate Change Action Plan, we want to crack on with delivery. We have a once in a lifetime chance to change our behaviour and take climate action. Locally, I am proud of the work we have done so far – but this is work without end and we have much to do. Post-COP26, I am determined that we must not only build back better, but build back greener in every sector. Our journey to Net Zero in the Staffordshire Moorlands will be a science-led, clean, and resilient one. We will address the linked challenges of poor public health, climate change, and biodiversity loss. The actions we take today must ensure that we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it in.