National governments have often provided more talk than action on climate change, and sometimes the real leadership has come at the regional level. This has been particularly true in the US, and as Grist pointed out recently, ‘all climate progress will be local’ under the Trump. The Republicans are aborting America’s climate change programmes one by one, but many states intend to press on regardless.
It’s not nearly so bad in Britain, but the days when we could be considered a global leader on climate change are apparently behind us. The government has got the hots for fracking, and renewable energy is being sidelined. But there’s room for regional ambition, and last week Cornwall showed us how it’s done.
The county has announced that 100% of its electricity will be from renewable sources by 2030. That’s ambitious enough, but it’s also committed to local ownership. There are plans for a Cornish energy company and 50% locally owned power generation.
As a marginalised part of Britain, this makes sense. It would keep money within the local economy and create jobs in Cornwall. There’s a social justice angle here too. The county has above average rates of energy poverty, and a council owned or community owned energy company may be able to deliver cheaper electricity.
Cornwall has been able to make these decisions because, as an independent-minded region, it has secured it’s own devolution deal from the national government. It has more control over spending and planning, and is able to set its own agenda in several areas of government, including energy. A low carbon transition is an important part of that agenda, and Cornwall has already played a pioneering role. It had the first council owned solar farm, it has long-neglected geothermal potential, and grid connections for experimental wave power. There are plans to regenerate the region by making it a hub for low carbon enterprise, and I’ll be watching this space.