Late last year, Channel 4 ran an entertaining and informative two-part documentary ‘The Great Climate Fight’ featuring three celebrities – Kevin McCloud (Grand Designs), Mary Portas (‘queen’ of retail and formerly the government’s high-street tsar) and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage chef).
The basic premise of the programme started with McCloud’s typically genial challenge to viewers; ‘What if I told you that solving the climate crisis is possible?’. It drew on the Government’s commitments to decarbonisation and The Sixth Carbon Budget published in 2020 by its own Climate Change Commission, now chaired on an interim basis by Harrogate resident and Leeds University Professor, Piers Forster, patron to Zero Carbon Harrogate.
Given the path and the benefits seem clear, it asked why the government was not now doing more of what its advisers recommended. Managing to be entertaining (with some slightly ‘prankish’ antics), the three presenters each focussed on an issue and tried to speak directly with leading politicians. Portas questioned tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. Whittingstall asked why planning has slowed progress to a trickle for the cheapest form of electricity generation, onshore wind. McCloud berated lack of investment in insulation and renewable energy sources for existing and new housing stock, perpetuating higher energy bills for homeowners.
One of the most hopeful parts of the programme was Kevin’s visit to Vaxjo, a town in Sweden, similar in size to Harrogate, which showed how things could be different with local action and a commitment to sustainability from all the political parties working together.
As the celebs’ requests for formal meetings with the politicians were declined, they took a different, more direct approach. Portas took a megaphone and battle-bus to the Treasury – but failed to get an audience with Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. Whittingstall put a quick question Grant Shapps, Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, at a speaking event. McCloud also managed a question at a book-launch with Michael Gove Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Gove promised a meeting – which didn’t materialise.
The contact with politicians and housebuilders felt very London-centric and failed to generate meaningful dialogue, with replies short on conviction and vision. The programme petered out rather sadly with The Sixth Carbon Budget floating into space carried by a balloon.
On reflection and facing into 2024 maybe there is more hope than appeared at the time of airing.
At COP28 in December a global commitment was made to transition away from fossil fuels.
At UK level the government has recently announced a relaxation of rules around building onshore wind turbines.
And here in Harrogate, Zero Carbon Harrogate is actively working on McCloud’s concern to improve the energy efficiency of our housing stock, building local capacity to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.
There is so much to be done. And as Kevin McCloud said at the start, it is possible, if we stay in the fight!