We must put the planet first - its future really is hanging by a thread


By Councillor Richard Rout, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Environment

COP26 may now be over, but we must not let the conversations be forgotten or let the positive energy of the last few weeks simply ebb away.

President for COP26, Alok Sharma, said: “We have a monumental challenge ahead of us – and time is running out.” The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said: “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

These are not words used to simply grab some headlines, this is the reality of the situation. We are all living through the stark reality of climate change, and we must not delay doing what is required. Neither must we think that it’s down to other people to sort it all out. We all have a responsibility to make changes, no matter how small. If we don’t, then we are going backwards, let alone standing still.

There was disappointment at the conference, with the last-minute changes from some nations around “phasing down” coal use, rather than “phasing out”, to the Glasgow Pact. However, there were some real positives which should make a significant impact as we work towards slowing down how much the planet is heating up – commitments to reversing deforestation, making farming more sustainable, cutting methane emissions, and creating green shipping corridors.

Despite some alarming headlines and concerns, we should not be without hope. I’m pleased to say that Suffolk is recognised as an area of the UK that is leading the charge, there is a huge amount of climate change action taking place in Suffolk. In truth, there has been for many years, but you may not be aware of it, or the people who are making difference.

This is why Suffolk County Council hosts the Greenest County Awards, to celebrate communities, individuals, and businesses who are going above and beyond with their efforts and inspiring others along the way.

Our 2021 Awards were held just last week at The Hold in Ipswich, and it was a humbling and inspiring afternoon to be surrounded by like-minded people who all have the same vision, for making Suffolk the Greenest County. From the award-winning children who attended from Alde Valley Academy, to a specially recorded message by Lord Deben, Chairman of the UK's independent Committee on Climate Change, there was a real feeling of ‘we can do this’ and that in Suffolk ‘we are doing this’.

I was pleased that COP26 also recognised the importance of green spaces and our natural environment. This is something I’m particularly passionate about and proud that Suffolk County Council is leading the way on this locally. Just last year, we planted over 100,000 trees and hedgerows and will be matching this again during the current planting season, and we are supporting the ambitions of the Queen’s Green Canopy to plant a tree for every Suffolk resident. We have also recently secured funding from the Forestry Commission to plant both new and mature trees in derelict and disused spaces across the county, in both urban and rural areas.

We are following our ‘right tree, right place’ policy so that our efforts are managed properly, and trees have the best opportunity to establish themselves. More greenery of course helps with reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere but is also incredibly important for our mental health and wellbeing.

Work is also getting underway to develop the Healing Woods and green spaces which we promised as memory to all those we have lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Suffolk County Council reached another milestone in our journey to Net Zero, by announcing a £12.8m investment in decarbonising our buildings. In previous years we have installed solar panels, solar hot water systems, replaced fossil fuel boilers, and taken many other measures, but we’re now addressing our whole portfolio of properties to accelerate our drive to consume less energy and be ‘smarter’ with our buildings.

The last few weeks have, yet again, emphasised the stark threat posed by climate change. I hope that you’re inspired to make changes for the health of our planet – we must put the planet first, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are simply guests here.