Scientist and business leader Dr Debbie Trebilco, a North Yorkshire Rural Commissioner, was speaking as she opened the Rural Commission’s latest evidence session.
She said: “We are coming through an existential pandemic crisis and now have to face the existential crisis of climate change."
During a day-long online hearing last week, the commission, which consists of eight independent experts, heard evidence about the huge opportunities and challenges presented to North Yorkshire by the growth in renewable energies and the need to make fundamental changes to reduce carbon emissions here.
Themes which repeatedly emerged during the sessions were the imperative to work with public and private sector partnerships, the vital role to be played at hyper local level – with communities driving their own projects and programmes, and the extensive job opportunities the renewable sector can offer the county.
Dr Trebilco has 30 years’ experience in business and an extensive knowledge, experience and passion for renewable energies and climate change initiatives.
She said: “North Yorkshire’s expanse is also potentially a treasure chest for renewables.
The science is there to produce the energy, but it needs to be generated and stored and there are many areas of the county, which naturally lend themselves to that purpose if we can transport the energy to and from them.
“This is a truly momentous opportunity not to be missed if we are to play our full part in the race to become carbon neutral.
“And let’s get practical here. There are up to 17,000 new jobs across Yorkshire and Humber as a direct result of moving through this transition to renewable energies.
“North Yorkshire has a missing generation of 25 to 45-year-olds and a low-wage economy, which is heavily dependent on hospitality and agriculture.
"We need to explore how we can refocus our skills and education so our young people can benefit from these skilled jobs.
“Imagine the positive impact this could have! More higher-paid jobs, more children in our rural schools, more vibrant communities. A future our youngsters can aspire to right on our doorsteps. No more haemorrhaging youth and talent.”
Nationally, the Government has set a target for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050.
In North Yorkshire, the county council, which set up the Rural Commission last year, has set a target to be carbon neutral by, or as close as possible to, 2030.
The Rural Commission was established in autumn 2019 to examine the particular challenges for North Yorkshire’s most rural areas. It has examined a broad range of subjects to date, including farming, schools, transport, jobs and the economy, digital connectivity and housing.
Commissioners have also visited communities and projects to learn how to harness local momentum to drive change. In early 2021 they will draw on the evidence to make recommendations which will be aimed at helping these communities to grow and prosper.
These recommendations will be considered by all the sectors and agencies involved.