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York’s Climate Strategy: Fine Words Butter No Parsnips

York City Walls and Minster
York City Walls and Minster

City of York Council (CYC) has produced a draft Climate Change Strategy for 2022-2032.

It is full of worthy sentiments and noble ambitions, but – as I believe the young people of today are fond of saying – fine words butter no parsnips.

Foreword & Executive Summary

The Foreword says the Strategy is designed to get York to Net Zero by 2030, and help the city to be more climate-resilient.

The Executive Summary says that CYC has set up an independent Climate Commission for the city, a body which represents and reflects the public and private sectors.

The Executive Summary notes that York’s main sources of greenhouse gases are:

  • residential buildings 32%
  • commercial buildings 30%
  • transport 28%
Breakdown of York's CO2 emissions
Breakdown of York’s CO2 emissions

Background & Ambition

In the Background section, the report claims that York is a leader on climate action. It declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, and set an ambition to reach Net Zero by 2030.

Apparently the Strategy is really only concerned with the 4% of emissions under CYC’s direct control. That is odd and unsatisfactory – because local government does have control over more than its own vans and light bulbs. In practice, the Strategy is not confined to council emissions alone.

York has worked with Leeds University and others to develop a Net Zero Carbon Pathway:

York's Net Zero Pathway
York’s Net Zero Pathway

These emissions reductions will not be achieved by business as usual, the Strategy says.


The Strategy then sets out strategic objectives.

On transport, one objective is to reduce total distance travelled by 25%, and to increase active travel by 33%.

CYC's strategic objectives on transport
CYC’s strategic objectives on transport

That sounds great, but then you look at what CYC is actually doing.

It is planning to spend over £60 million increasing capacity for motor vehicles by dualling northern sections of York Outer Ring Road. The sums allocated to active travel are tiny by comparison, and in any case CYC is not adhering to its own timetable on the active travel projects.

Follow the money. If you spend your budget on capacity for cars, you will get more cars.

Logically if you believe that you’re going to be reducing car miles by 25%, why would you be building extra capacity?

York says ‘business as usual’ won’t get the city to Net Zero – but on transport, it is carrying on with business as usual.

York’s actions don’t match its words. The words are therefore insincere or meaningless. We need action, not waffle. Waffle won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On transport, York needs to stop allocating its resources to increasing emissions, and start allocating them to reducing emissions.

York’s Climate Strategy: Fine Words Butter No Parsnips