A North East Gathering on Climate Emergency

A guest blog from Peter Stark.

Climate Change is an existential challenge to humanity.

The UN – informed by an unprecedented level of co-ordinated global scientific research – states that the world has until 2030 to change the trajectory of the emissions of greenhouse gases if we are to avoid catastrophic environmental damage by 2050 and disaster by 2100.

In November 2020 the critical 26th UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held to review the national targets to change the current upward trajectory of emissions agreed in Paris in 2015. At the moment the prospect of the scale of change required can seem remote.

Bleakly, 50% of the increase in greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial age have been emitted since the science was in place to confirm their danger.

A significant proportion of the total emissions have been produced using technologies developed here in the North East in 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and exported around the world: deep mining for coal; the railways; the steam turbine and the coal fired power station. It was the engineers of the North East who ‘released the genie of coal into the world’.

The Great Northern Coalfield

North East England is essentially the historic counties of Northumberland and Durham reaching from the Tweed to the Tees. The Region is divided by the River Tyne but underpinned and profoundly connected for over 300 years – literally, economically, culturally, socially and politically – by the Great Northern Coalfield.

Those 300 years of innovatory engineering and entrepreneurial ‘carboniferous capitalism’ changed the world but exacted a high price here from workers, their families, communities and the environment. That price, in turn, produced a radical communitarian politics and ground-breaking innovation in public policy. Addressing Climate Change in the North East and the world will again require these twin traditions of engineering innovation and radical public policy if a ‘just transition’ to a sustainable future for the whole population is to be achieved.

A Regional Gathering

Adopting the UN timetable towards COP26 and drawing on the research reports that will precede it, my proposition suggests a Regional Gathering across the public and private sectors and civil society to coincide with the UN Conference in November/December 2020. The Gathering would focus on the Region’s own plans to achieve challenging targets by 2030 in terms of emissions and energy and programmes to support the population through transition. There would be particular power in this proposition if the UK bid to host COP26 was successful.

If there is support for a Regional Gathering from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, and from elected representatives and other regional agencies and interested parties, a developmental programme towards the Gathering could then be launched, in the region and on-line.

There would be a continuing priority to engage with young climate change leaders and the international scientific and engineering expertise in the region.

A lightweight organisation is envisaged, sufficient only to achieve the time specific target of the Gathering in 2020 and its development programme and working wherever possible through and alongside others.

VONNE Annual Conference 2019

VONNE's Annual Conference will be on the theme of Climate Emergency: A North East Gathering on Thursday 7 November in Newcastle.

You can read our Chair Sir Paul Ennals' blog announcing the conference.


Peter Stark

Peter Stark’s work in researching, developing and delivering cultural policy and projects in the UK has ranged from his founding directorships of South Hill Park Arts Centre and Voluntary Arts to the major cultural capital projects on Gateshead Quays and the Select Committee report on imbalances in Arts funding between London and the rest of the country.

He was awarded the OBE in 1990 for his work as Director of Northern Arts and he was appointed Professor in Cultural Policy and Management at Northumbria University in 2000. In that role he began what became a 12 year residence in South Africa, working in Inner City Johannesburg and then in the Eastern Cape establishing the Swallows Partnership. Returning to the UK he became Chair of Voluntary Arts and Development Director for the Mining Institute, leading a successful bid to HLF for £4.7m to secure its future.

That immersion in the Region’s industrial heritage led directly to his current concerns with the environment and Climate Change.