“What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

December 17, 2023

“No doubt there will be lots of cheering and back-slapping… but the physics will not care.”

So said one scientist about the COP28 global climate agreement. “Transitioning away from fossil fuels” is already happening. Slowly. The UK’s first offshore wind turbines were installed in December 2000, near Blyth.

It’s not whether we’re “transitioning away” from fossil fuels that matters. It’s how fast.

I was an engineer working in Blyth at the time. Fast forward 23 years, and last Monday, I was in Blyth again, evaluating our TIGGOR programme. Technology Innovation and Green Growth in Offshore Renewables has nothing to do with Winnie the Pooh. Except for having lots of energy. It’s creating 118 direct jobs in the offshore technology, and hundreds more in the supply chain. Remote vehicles. Advanced software. Increased reliability and safety systems. I met two of the women working on the projects.

Every disaster movie you’ve ever watched has the same basic conflict. Can the characters escape the volcanic lava or killer bees in time?

In 2016 the world signed the Paris Climate Agreement. To keep global heating to below 1.5 degrees. Otherwise we’ll see crop failures, floods, and desert encroachment across the world. It’s worrying, then, that in November the temperature had risen 1.75 degrees. Food bills are already £100s a year more expensive because of climate damage. You can’t negotiate with nature. Actions speak louder than words.

Transport produces one third of the North East’s greenhouse gas emissions. In my 2019 manifesto I promised I’d unite the North East into one Mayor Combined Authority so we could get transport regulation devolved. I’ve kept that promise, and from May next year, if re-elected, I’ll create a Total Transport Network.

Fully integrated buses, trains and Metros. Where one ticket will take you your entire trip. On-demand transport in rural areas so they’re not out in the cold. With guards on trains to tackle anti-social behaviour. Integrated with safer cycling – away from busy roads where possible – and more pleasant walking routes. Greater accessibility for disabled people and parents with buggies. With an expanded car club so everyone can access a car without expensive vehicle ownership. And free transport for under-18s.

How can anyone argue against cleaner, faster, safer transport?

Thriving local shops and services help too. Sometimes called 15- minute cities, so you can buy a pint of milk or a newspaper locally. Or see a GP or post a parcel, without having to traipse across half the city.

For years people have campaigned to keep local services open. Yet now there are conspiracy theorists arguing against their right to buy tin foil within walking distance of home.

The public are sick of half-baked arguments and half-hearted solutions. I spoke to a young woman on Saturday. Intelligent and well informed, a biomedical scientist. She wants social justice and a sustainable future.
“In the general election, I don’t want to waste my vote. It’s really a tactical choice to keep out the Conservatives,” she said. “The trouble is I don’t believe Labour will do much either.” Polls show the vast majority of Britons agree with her.

“What about the Mayoral election?” I asked.

“That’s different. You’re electing one person,” she said. “And you can win and actually make a difference.”

She’s right. Prime Ministers are not elected by the public. They’re elected by their MPs.

In a Mayoral election, though, every vote counts equally. You directly elect the Mayor, not party representatives. Their skills, integrity and experience determine whether things get done.

Take retrofit. Insulating buildings and installing low-carbon heating such as air-sourced heat pumps.

We’ve already surveyed the entire North of Tyne Housing stock. 140,000 homes are particularly energy inefficient. Retrofitting them would create around 3,500 good jobs. But cost upwards of £7 billion. Add in Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside and those figures more than double.

Once you exclude transport, education and other budgets, the new Mayor has a flexible budget of £48 million a year. If we spent our entire investment fund on this one project it would take us 331 years to complete it.

We need a Mayor who can get results faster.

Like negotiating with Government for the power to regulate the private rented sector. We could then require privately-rented homes to be insulated and have affordable, low-carbon heating. I’d then advance the cash up-front, and property owners could pay it back overt decades from their increased property values and energy savings.

That’s how we get things done.

Like the 1,500 people across the North East doing green skills bootcamps this year. Free, flexible courses, like learning to install air-sourced heat pumps or maintain electric vehicles.

That’s the local Green New Deal in action. I shared a panel with Sian Berry, former leader of the Green Party, last week. According to research, the people of Brighton want the same things as the North East. Affordable public transport. Safer active travel. Fewer cars on the road. More green spaces. And warmer homes.

Except for going vegan. Geordies were less keen than Brightonians. I mentioned that we did invent the vegan sausage roll, though.

It’s as if that climate summit cartoon listing the co-benefits from tackling the climate emergency has come to life.
“Energy independence, preserved rainforests, clean water, clean air, healthy children…” and a man in the audience says, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”