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Devon’s carbon emissions reduced by almost a quarter in the first lockdown

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One year on – A Day of Reflection

Since March 2020, tackling the climate emergency has remained a top priority, and over the last year real progress has been made to create a roadmap, which will the show the way to a net-zero Devon by 2050 at the latest.

Thanks to more than 1,000 contributions from the public, the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group (DCERG) and its appointed Task Group of experts, headed by Professor Devine Wright, created an interim draft carbon plan.

Once completed, that plan will be the blue print to show what we must all do – residents, councils, businesses alike – to ensure that Devon reaches its net-zero ambitions.

Later this year the interim plan will be put to a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’, and then to the public.

It will commit all of the partners of the DCERG, made up of Devon’s public and private sector, local government and local economy, to do what’s necessary to reduce carbon emissions.

Individually, partners have continued within their own organisations to make changes to the way they work, to cut carbon and to enable a greener route back from the coronavirus pandemic.

The lockdown last March prompted urgent change by Devon County Council to encourage more walking and cycling and to help people get around safely while social distancing.

Pavements were widened, new paths created, and roads narrowed to accommodate greener travel options.

Emergency Active Travel Funding was used to provide new cycle routes, cycle crossings and pedestrianised areas in locations including Exeter, Newton Abbot and Barnstaple, as well as Sidmouth, Teignmouth and Totnes.  And over 200 additional cycle parking spaces were provided across 25 sites.

With some industry shut down during lockdown and with people working from home where they could, the county saw considerably fewer vehicles on the roads.  Cycling levels last year were up around 50 per cent compared to 2019.

Research in Summer 2020 showed that during the first lockdown, Devon’s carbon emissions reduced by almost a quarter.

“We have an opportunity to introduce transformative change and not just tinker around the edges,” said Professor Devine Wright.

“Ideas that, pre COVID, were perhaps considered too controversial or too expensive, are now, for a limited window at least, entering the minds of national leaders.”

Photo of Dr Phil Norrey, Chief Executive of Devon County CouncilDr Phil Norrey, Chairman of the DCERG and Chief Executive of Devon County Council said:

“In a most tragic of circumstances, the lockdowns have given a glimpse of how a more sustainable Devon might look, feel and sound.

“People have experienced quieter streets for walking and cycling, and felt a greater connection and appreciation for green spaces around them.

“Amongst the sadness of the pandemic, there is a huge opportunity to use the economic stimulus measures that are necessary to enable communities to recover, to improve public health, our resilience and our wellbeing as well as address the climate and ecological emergencies.

“As we begin to recover from this pandemic, we must be careful not to fall back into the same old routines. We all must think differently about the way we work and the way we travel.”