Tackling climate change challenges in West Sussex

West Sussex is a truly beautiful place to live, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. At this time, the serious threat posed by climate change is a substantial concern here locally as it is globally.

Paul Marshall, leader at West Sussex County Council
Paul Marshall, leader at West Sussex County Council

It’s clear that the climate crisis now impacts on our everyday lives in a wide ranging, and potentially catastrophic, manner. And this is set against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Climate change is an ever-present danger that needs attention while we continue to manage the ongoing response to Covid-19.

Yet amid the huge challenges we face in tackling and adapting for the future, there is also hope. We are doing all we can take the right action, in the right way at the right time across the council. This is not a challenge anyone can meet in isolation. Together we can work to improve our environment and protect our rich mix of natural habitats from coast to country.

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We all have our part to play in the radical transformation needed to face the future. We’d like to know more about your views and we’ll soon be launching the new Environment & Climate Change Hub on our public consultation site.

It will be an interactive space for residents and businesses to find information and exchange ideas with each other and the council, in a way that’s not been possible before.

It will also visually map out the collective positive activity and behaviours taking place across our county to mitigate and adapt to the challenges of climate change.

The recent COP26 has shown that finding consensus is complicated even when all global leaders and the world’s top scientists agree that action is urgently needed. I watched the conference with interest and what struck me was that, amid the rhetoric and polarised debate, there is a shared understanding of the urgency of the situation. The time for action is now, if not yesterday.

At West Sussex County Council, I’m leading on, along with Cabinet, significant change across all that we do so we can meet our responsibility to our residents and our planet. For years we have been implementing new ways of managing our services that are better for the environment. This is now stepping up a gear.

Climate change is the cross-cutting theme underpinning everything in Our Council Plan, the corporate strategy that was approved earlier this year to give direction for the council for the next four years. We also have a detailed and evolving Climate Change Strategy that will help us adapt to the climate crisis and the council’s Annual Climate Change Report shares our vision.

While there is further detail and plenty more examples in the council’s reports, here’s my quick tour of the positive difference we’re making here in West Sussex. On a practical level, as a council, we have five main commitments to deliver real change.

1) Reducing carbon emissions

We’ve committed to being a net zero carbon organisation by 2030. We’ve reduced our corporate carbon emissions by 12% from 2019/20, since 2010 have reduced emissions by

50%, and have agreed a new capital investment of £10 million being allocated towards climate change projects. This funding is on top of the £42 million already allocated for energy generation and storage projects to move away from fossil fuel use. We’re also increasing the amount of renewable energy including the development of largescale battery storage to balance supply and demand on the grid.

2) Adapt to manage unavoidable impact of climate change

There is an old adage that prevention is better than cure. Along the same lines, studies show that adapting in advance to known climate change issues on the horizon is more effective than reacting to severe impacts when they occur. We’re backing preventative projects such as kelp forest restoration and protecting the bee population. The vital role of woodlands in the county is recognised in our Tree Plan which is designed to protect and improve our tree cover.  West Sussex has 42,500 hectares of woodland, covering 23 per cent of our land, compared to 10 per cent for England as a whole.

3) Source and use resources sustainably

Waste and water are the two big local issues in this area of work. Working with partners, we’re trialling new ways of collecting and reducing waste and this includes separated food waste. Processing food waste produces clean, green energy and a compost-like material suitable for improving agricultural land. Taken together with the impact it has on changing household behaviour and boosted recycling rates, the emission-reduction potential of treating food waste separately is huge.  We are also looking at ways to minimise use of our precious water reserves, including water monitoring and leak detection.

4) Support and grow our local green economy

Sustainable tourism and the Shop Sussex campaign are among projects promoting the best West Sussex has to offer while meeting our environmental aims. Again, this is an area where partnership and supporting local ventures is yielding results that look set to have long-term benefits for us all.

5) Transform how we work

We want to make sure that we are leading on this issue in a forward thinking and proactive way. At a corporate level, climate change considerations take the message through all we do. Staff and councillor training includes issues around sustainability and climate change to help raise awareness and drive change. We are very proud of our recent Carbon Literate Organisation Bronze Award that demonstrates our commitment to creating a low-carbon organisational culture and supports our drive towards becoming net zero by 2030.

We’re proud of the commitment and firm steps underway. Yet I know there is more we can do. I’d like to reassure all our residents that we are constantly looking at how best to care for our county amid the growing climate change crisis.