What is Climate Change?

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns across the world. These shifts occur naturally; however, anthropogenic climate change (climate change caused by humans) has been the main driver of climate change since the 1800s. In fact, greenhouse gas concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere are at their highest levels in two million years and emissions continue to rise. As a result, the Earth is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s. The last decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record and 2022 was the warmest year on record. The Paris Agreement states that we need to keep warming below 1.5°C. However, current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are insufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C. Of course, the extremity of the effects of climate change worsens with every tiny increase in global temperature.

The impacts of climate change have already been experienced in the North East and Northumberland. The climate in Northumberland National Park is likely to become warmer and wetter in winter, and hotter and drier in summer. In addition, extreme weather events such as storms, flooding and wildfires are likely to increase in frequency and severity, threatening the unique landscape, heritage, ecology, and other special qualities of Northumberland National Park. Storm Arwen in November 2021 saw around one million trees uprooted overnight.

Many species living in Northumberland National Park may struggle to adapt at the speed in which the climate is changing, particularly as habitats become more vulnerable. The 2022 summer heatwave saw new record high temperatures being made all over the UK. Northumberland experienced nine wildfires in the first eight months of 2022, which is more than in the whole of 2021. The wildfire risk is only exacerbated when trees lie fallen and dying from the winters’ storms. The increased risk of heatwaves is also causing peatlands to dry out and erode, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further exacerbating the global warming problem. Healthy woodland and peatland store carbon dioxide and the protection and restoration of both is critical to help combat the climate emergency.

The College Valley and Cheviot from the summit of Great Hetha, Northumberland National Park, England

What are we doing about our own emissions?

In October 2021, the UK National Park Authorities collectively agreed a Joint Statement on Climate Change in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow, including the target that “National Parks Authorities themselves are working to achieve Net Zero by 2030”.

At Northumberland National Park Authority, we are working to reduce our own impact on the climate by cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. Between 2008 and 2014, we identified and actioned numerous projects, such as energy efficient IT procurement, loft insulation, energy efficient lighting, a shift towards hybrid vehicles, the installation of heat pumps, and solar panels.

These actions saw a significant reduction of 49% in the Authority’s carbon footprint from a 2008 baseline. A Climate Change Action Plan was approved by members in July 2020 to further reduce emissions to work towards achieving the target of Net Zero by 2030 for the Authority.

In April 2022, Northumberland National Park Authority established a new baseline of greenhouse gas emissions for financial year 2019-2020 as part of work carried out by the Carbon Trust on behalf of Defra Group.

In April 2023, Northumberland National Park Authority submitted data to Defra for financial year 2021-2022, and has since received its latest greenhouse gas emissions report. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions can be seen from the baseline year. This is largely due to increased resource provision within the Authority to track and collate a wider range of data, including categories that it does not have direct control over, such as purchased goods and services, which were based on estimates in the baseline report according to full time equivalent staff numbers.

Work is continuing to deliver the Climate Change Action Plan and adapt the plan where necessary. Northumberland Joint Local Access Forum has also issued a Climate Change Position Statement, which considers the effects of climate change on access issues.

Digger in The Cheviots carrying out peat restoration work
Cheviot peat restoration

What is happening in Northumberland National Park?

We and our local partner organisations are committed to doing our bit to help to tackle the climate emergency. In the Joint Statement on Climate Change, National Parks UK stated that National Park Authorities will develop ‘strategies to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration through land management and nature restoration, and to achieve Net Zero as places by 2045’.

Moving towards a situation where Northumberland National Park is Net Zero (where emissions are reduced by 90% first and the remaining 10% of emissions are offset (Science Based Targets Initiative) is one ambition that makes up the Climate Action theme of our 2022-2027 Management Plan.

The latest assessment of the level of greenhouse gas emissions from different sectors in the National Park is available here. Based on the evidence collated by Small World Consulting in this report and if the stated Management Plan targets for woodland creation and peatland restoration are met, alongside a reduction in residential, local businesses and visitor greenhouse gas emissions, then it is believed Northumberland National Park will reach Net Zero by 2025 (though ‘Net Zero’ in this instance is not the Science Based Targets Initiative definition).

Northumberland National Park is already working with partners on initiatives that work towards achieving objectives laid out in the report, including, peatland restoration projects delivered through the work of the Northumberland Peat Partnership and woodland creation projects in association with the Great Northumberland Forest initiative.