The leader of North Yorkshire County Council has warned “very difficult decisions” must be made for the authority to achieve net carbon neutrality in a decade.
Councillor Carl Les has issued the caution three months after 57 North Yorkshire County Council members voted unanimously to produce a carbon reduction plan and support the Government’s ambition for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The warning follows the authority admitting that finding a further £40m of savings – in addition to the £157m it has made in recent years – to meet balance its books will be “extremely challenging”.
Cllr Les said: “There will be some changes in behaviour that have to happen and some of those will be difficult. There will have to be an element of carrot and stick.
“This will require very difficult decisions to be made in coming years, particularly given the financial pressures we face and the growing demands on our services.
“It is going to be a challenge, but I would rather try and miss the 2030 target than be less ambitious.”
He said operating in England’s largest county would create challenges as well as offer opportunities to hit the net carbon zero target by 2030.
He said: “We can’t get away from the fact that the council serves an area of more than 3,000 sq miles and has more than 5,000 miles of roads, We can’t say we are not going to travel, but we can look to reduce travel.
“So it brings challenges that don’t exist in a city setting. In a city it is easy to say don’t use cars use public transport, but for many in rural North Yorkshire cars are essential.”
Cllr Les said the authority would investigate using North Yorkshire’s wide open spaces to offset its carbon footprint.
He added: “We are already making positive strides. A good example is our achievement in already converting more than 35,000 streets lights, 80 per cent of the total, to LED.
“This has generated savings of £800,000 this financial year alone and reduced our carbon footprint by more than 2,400 tonnes of CO2.”
Cllr Les also urged the authority’s 72 members to encourage and support other organisations towards net carbon neutrality.
Independent group leader Councillor Stuart Parsons said the Conservative-run council was playing catch-up, but was in a good position to vigorously lobby for extra funding from fellow Tories in Westminster.
He said: “The decisions are not difficult. It is a question of right or wrong. The council could do a number of things to help meet its carbon commitments, such as contributing to the county’s forests or peatland restoration projects in the national parks.”