Decarbonising Somerset [WFJ #48]
Are local councils doing enough to address issues around food and climate?
Since 2019 local councils have had a legal responsibility to plan their response to climate change.
And, whether it’s upping the amount of food grown locally, improving access to fresh fruit and veg for lower-income households, or connecting schools with produce from nature-friendly farms, there are 14 glowing examples of how local authorities are using food and farming to approach concerns towards planetary health.
But Somerset County Council, it turns out, is not one of them.
At the end of last year, campaign group Food For The Planet published the report, ‘Every Mouthful Counts’, rating 179 UK councils on their efforts towards tackling climate and nature issues in relation to food. More specifically, councils were assessed in four areas: ‘Governance’, ‘Farming and growing’, ‘Food waste’, and ‘Procurement’.
Somerset’s report card amounts to this: Better than most counties, but plenty of room for improvement. Where Somerset does exceptionally well in ‘Procurement’, it has one of if not the worst rating for food waste, while scores for ‘Governance’ and ‘Farming and food growing’ are middling.
Probably the best indication we have of Somerset authorities’ intentions in this regard (that includes the intentions of the four other major Somerset councils) are in their ‘Towards a Climate Resilient Somerset’ document, which came out of Somerset joint district councils’ climate emergency declaration in 2020.
This collaboration, which crystallises proper as a unitary authority on the 1st April this year, wants to realise a carbon neutral county by 2030, and appreciates the role agriculture plays in that. They acknowledge, for example, how farming is linked with habitat loss and the decline of vulnerable species, or how the change in climate will affect what can be cultivated in the area.
For the purposes of the Every Mouthful Counts report however, acknowledgment of the issues and promises to address them aren’t quite good enough. What exactly is ‘good enough’ is a little vague, but with some informed guesswork, and a few extra questions for the assessors, we can start to make more sense of how Somerset County Council – and the soon-to-be unitary council – can do better.