As world leaders meet in Glasgow to take decisions that will shape the future of our planet and ensure we meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, there will a keen observer in Renfrewshire ready to drive forward the decisions made.
Recently appointed as Renfrewshire Council’s Climate Emergency Lead Officer, Roz Smith has spent more than decade developing sustainable solutions to tackle climate change.
As Strategic Energy Coordinator in the Sustainable Development team at Stirling Council, she helped develop the area’s first district heating network which uses low carbon and renewable heat, as well as the creation of a Low Carbon Hub which provides renewable solar energy for 60 electric vehicle chargers, on-site lighting, and a small Council office.
It’s in Renfrewshire though where her future lies as she gets ready to drive forward the region’s ambitious climate agenda, which aims to make the area net-zero by 2030.
Roz said: “As soon as I saw the Climate Emergency Lead Officer post, I knew I would love the opportunity to take forward Renfrewshire’s ambitious and progressive vision of becoming net-zero by 2030.
“In the short-term, we are researching our baseline to see exactly where our emissions are currently and then our Plan for Net-Zero will set out the actions required to reach our goals.
“While the plan is Council-led, we need everyone to participate to achieve our ambitions as there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We need to look area by area, community by community to tailor actions for local people, businesses and organisations to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged, and we all move forward together.”
With COP26 taking place just over the border in neighbouring Glasgow, the profile of climate change has never been higher in Renfrewshire and Roz is determined to take advantage.
She said: “With a global conference being held right on our doorstep, it gives us the opportunity to showcase the incredible work that is going on across the area and engage our residents with the changes we are making to reduce carbon emissions.
“The Council is leading by example with a number of high-profile projects, including the district heating network at AMIDS, the switch to electric for the council fleet, the planting of thousands of trees as part of the Clyde Climate Forest and the diversion of waste from landfill as part of the Clyde Valley Waste Partnership, and this highlights to other local organisations what can be achieved.
“As a Council though, we only contribute about 3% of the area’s total carbon emissions which shows the importance of partnership working, sharing knowledge and facilitating others so that collectively we can achieve our goal of making Renfrewshire a cleaner, happier and healthier place to live.
“I believe COP26 will be a great driver to bring everyone together to work collectively and make positive transformational changes once the summit concludes.”
Renfrewshire Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 which recognised the need for real and immediate change to reduce its emissions and Roz will lead the Council’s response to the emergency as it aims for net-zero emissions by 2030.
Roz added: “Declaring a climate emergency outlines the urgency of the situation as in order to preserve a liveable planet we need to take action now. Climate change itself cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed.
“As the world recovers from COVID-19, we have the chance to take action to combat climate change and work together to reach net zero emissions – but doing nothing is not an option.
“Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what the planet can regenerate in that year and in 2021, it fell on 29 July.
“We have exhausted nature’s budget and are using nearly double the natural resources we can generate, so for the rest of the year we are running an ecological deficit, depleting resources and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – and every year this date gets earlier.
“We need to take a two-pronged approach of mitigation and adaptation, where we reduce our emissions to stabilise the levels of greenhouse gases while adjusting to current or expected climate change by understanding the local risks and developing plans to manage them.”
While admitting that she faces a daunting challenge leading the Council’s drive to reach ambitious emissions targets, Roz is determined to put Renfrewshire on the right track to achieve them and reiterates the importance of partnership working and uniting behind the common goal of reaching net-zero.
She outlined: “Everyone taking part is key and we need to take people with us so that changes are happening with them and not to them.
“We need to realise that people are all on different stages of the journey so we need to put social justice at the heart of what we do and through our Plan for Net Zero, we can improve people’s lives, take people out of poverty, advance equality of opportunity, and create green jobs which are sustainable.
“The pandemic highlighted people’s ability to adapt and change quickly and there is a real opportunity to build on things like the desire to shop local, embracing daily exercise, active travel and the reduction of food waste – all positive behaviours that were seen during lockdown that would be great for us all to continue.
“We need to enable these positive behaviour changes, as well as identifying barriers to change so that we can find solutions. That’s where investment will come in – at local and national levels, public and private and it’s been fantastic to see an initial £1million already committed to Renfrewshire’s Climate Change Action Fund.”
The aforementioned fund was created to support innovative projects and initiatives being developed by Council services in response to the climate emergency, with an initial £1million committed to a range of research, feasibility studies and immediate projects.
It has supported the creation of the Renfrewshire Climate Panel which brings together a representative panel of residents to help shape the direction of decision making around climate change and seeks to identify what actions local communities would take to support the campaign, with the first meeting taking place in early November.
It follows the formation of a climate partnership forum between local organisations and businesses, as well as the Climate Change Sub-Committee which brings together elected members from all political parties to work with officers to advance the climate change agenda.
Roz will be at the heart of each of these forums and panels, listening to the views of all interested parties and helping to drive forward the area’s ambitions and she’s well aware of the task that lies ahead.
“What we can do to make a difference is never too far from my mind, whether in the office or out on the golf course in my free time, but the opportunity to lead the way to net-zero in Renfrewshire is an opportunity I could not let pass me by – and I’m so excited to get started.”
For more information on Renfrewshire’s climate change ambitions, visit www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/climatechange.