Acting on the climate emergency: the role of the National Park Authorities

14 July 2021

Julie Martin is a Secretary of State-appointed member of Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and a Trustee of Friends of the Dales. Here, she reflects on our National Parks and the Climate Emergency report and the role of National Park Authorities...

I was very interested to read the recent report by Campaign for National Parks (CNP) on National Parks and the Climate Emergency. The report suggests that National Park Authorities (NPAs) should be leading the way in adapting to and mitigating climate change, and reviews the progress made by NPAs so far.

There are some really excellent suggestions, such as greater recognition of climate change in planning decisions; a continued focus on land management projects like peatland restoration; and making the NPAs’ own operations net zero.

Work underway in the Yorkshire Dales

Here in the Yorkshire Dales, as in many other NPAs, we are already strongly committed to making such changes (and have been for some time).

For instance, a recent resolution by members confirmed that we have raised our expectations of how development proposals should contribute towards tackling climate change. Already this is yielding results – a newly-approved scheme for 49 homes will rely entirely on renewable energy.

The latest iteration of our National Park Management Plan sets out eight specific climate objectives that we and partners are seeking to achieve, including the (very ambitious) restoration of all degraded blanket bog/deep peat within the Park by 2030 to actively sequester and store carbon. A programme of Greenhouse Gas Audits on farms will seek to identify and encourage reductions in on-farm emissions.

As an Authority we have made a commitment that by 2030 we will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions from our own operations by at least 95% compared to 2005, and there has been sustained progress, with emissions reduced by 74% to date.

The role of the Government

While such initiatives by the NPAs themselves are a great starting point, it also needs to be recognised (and to be fair the report does do this) that there are limits to what the NPAs alone can achieve without commitment and action from others.

Central government has a particular role to play and should, as recommended by the Glover Review (which we are still awaiting a full response to), be extending the Parks’ statutory purposes to include climate action – at the same time ensuring that other bodies such as utility companies and highways authorities have a statutory duty to help deliver National Park management plan objectives.

Government also needs to bear in mind that nature-based action such as peatland restoration and woodland planting cannot be undertaken without the active involvement of landowners and managers, with major new funding required to make it possible.

Likewise we need more stringent national building regulations and energy emission standards, and more incentives for sensitive retrofitting of existing housing with renewables, if we are to achieve significantly reduced carbon emissions from housing (and avoid being challenged at appeal).

Beyond tree-planting

The report makes a number of practical suggestions that are well worth considering – such as the appointment of NPA members with specialist climate expertise, and the assessment of climate implications in committee reports. But for me, perhaps the key message is that the focus should be on cutting emissions, rather than simply offsetting – something we would all do well to remember. Tree planting will not solve it all!

You can read a full copy of CNP's National Parks and the Climate Emergency report, here.