Like many people, I was gripped by David Attenborough’s recent documentary about climate change. He paints a compelling picture of the challenges the UK and the world faces, and it reaffirmed the importance of the significant progress in carbon reduction we’re already making in the West of England.
We have made a strong start by reducing our carbon emissions by 35% since 2005, while also achieving a 45% growth in our regional economy. This proves that economic growth can be achieved alongside ambitious carbon reduction if we work together as a region.
However, I know we have much more to do and this week I was delighted to launch our Low Carbon Challenge Fund. It will provide millions of pounds of extra funding to help businesses make their buildings and activities more energy efficient, and support community energy projects to deliver renewable energy, reducing costs and protecting the climate and environment upon which we and future generations depend. WECA also hosts the new South West Energy Hub which is working to improve the energy efficiency of homes. The Hub offers advice and funding to help more communities begin using renewable electricity and heat and provide support to increase the number of electric vehicle charging points.
It is our councils who are tasked with improving air quality, but I’m determined to play my part too. I am working to improve congestion and the air we breathe by improving transport options and encouraging people to leave their cars at home. For example, thousands of people are now choosing to use Metrobus each month and we have already seen an 18% shift away from car usage in a recent passenger survey. I am looking forward to building on that success with more Metrobus services across the region.
I have also been investing to make walking and cycling safer, to encourage people to swap four wheels for two. We have already allocated over a million pounds for projects which include walking and cycling routes around schools in South Gloucestershire and in the centre of Keynsham, and we will be discussing more investment in walking and cycling at our meeting in Bath next Friday 14 June.
These efforts are building upon existing success stories in the region which should inspire us to continue moving towards a more sustainable future. I have been focusing on improved and clean public transport and helping support projects which will ultimately result in lower energy bills for residents through improved efficiency. There is a way to go yet, but we are making good progress and need to continue to build upon our early successes and ensure a sustainable future for everyone.