How Can We Transition to a Sustainable North East? Overcoming Local Policy Challenges to Combat Climate Change

Looking forward to further advance the region’s sustainability efforts

The North East of England has made significant strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy. However, local policy challenges and the need for greater investment in green initiatives remain. INE’s 2nd Annual Conference promises to be a pivotal event, offering valuable insights and strategies to further advance the region’s sustainability efforts. By leveraging its unique assets and addressing policy challenges, the North East can continue to lead the way in the UK’s green revolution.

Where are we now?

Between 2005 and 2021, emissions in the North East of England decreased by a remarkable 51%, highlighting the region’s significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For comparison, emissions across England as a whole decreased by 39% during the same period. The CO2 equivalent emissions per head in the North East stand at 4.91 tonnes, lower than the national average of 5.47 tonnes per head, reflecting the region’s ongoing efforts to address climate change and transition towards greener practices (NECA, 2024).

In 2021, greenhouse gas emissions from transport in the North East totalled 2,930 kt CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). Compared to other core city areas, the North East had a lower percentage of emissions from motorways, with only County Durham having a percentage close to the national average (NECA, 2024).

In 2022, the North East’s renewable electricity generation capacity was equivalent to 3.5% of England’s total capacity. The region was particularly important for hydro, onshore wind, and “other bioenergy” generation, contributing 17.6%, 13.7%, and 7.8% of England’s capacity, respectively. Notably, North East onshore capacity focused on biomass and waste (41% of the total) and onshore wind (37%) in 2022. However, the North East had a smaller percentage of capacity for solar generation than the national average (16% compared to 55%). When considering the number of households, the North East had the highest capacity among the eight English core city areas in 2022, although it remained lower than the national equivalent rate (NECA, 2024).

The North East, having a combination of rural and urban areas, also has significant potential in developing nature-based solutions to climate change. Despite this, a 2023 survey revealed that only about 53% of adults in the North East are somewhat or very worried about the impacts of climate change, lower than the national average. While most residents are aware of the concept of “net zero,” only about 40% have a fair amount of knowledge on the topic (ONS, 2023). Another challenge is in encouraging investments in renewables and other net-zero projects. Although there have been developments in manufacturing of electric vehicle and batteries, there remains to be a gap on the financing needed to accelerate the region’s ambition of low carbon growth. As a historical powerhouse of the UK’s Industrial Revolution, the North East has the potential to drive the UK’s green revolution.

Using every asset, person and organisation to combat climate change

Over the past year, Insights North East has been working with a broad range of partners from across the region on a variety of projects to help policy makers identify approaches and interventions to support the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030. We are bringing together much of this work and the experts involved for our breakout session at the Annual Conference titled “How can we transition to a sustainable North East? Overcoming Local Policy Challenges to Combat Climate Change”.

The session will feature experts on sustainability, including Katharine Rietig, Professor of Sustainability and International Politics at Newcastle University; Ross Lowrie, Principal Manager on Low Carbon Growth and Net Zero at the North East Combined Authority; Claire Copeland, Senior Innovation Associate of the Arrow Programme at Durham University; and Hannah Davison, Senior Climate Change and Sustainability Manager at Northumberland County Council. Chaired by Neil Heckels, Impact and Policy Manager at Durham University, this session will provide attendees with the opportunity to engage with experts on overcoming local policy challenges to combat climate change.

We will be delving into multi-level governance, devolution, and new structures of working in the region given the new North East Combined Authority. Experts will elaborate on the assets in the North East and focus on climate mitigation and adaptation beyond net zero. Attendees will be introduced to relevant research and evidence from the universities in the region. Insights will also be shared on lessons learned from other countries, along with global, national, and local perspectives on sustainable development and policy. Attendees will gain an understanding of the region’s strengths and current developments, including finance and investments, and potential use of geothermal energy in the region. Rural-urban pathways, education, awareness-raising, and skills development on sustainability in the North East will also be covered.

The session will be an important juncture for our work in this area and an opportunity to hear from you in order to shape future projects and priorities. We look forward to the discussion.


Claire Copeland, Innovation Associate, Durham University: Dr. Claire Copeland is a Senior Innovation Associate at Durham University, holding a doctorate in Science and Technology Policy Studies. She is currently working on the Arrow Innovation initiative, leveraging academic expertise to advance new business ideas in the region.

Hannah Davison, Senior Climate Change and Sustainability Manager, Northumberland County Council: Hannah oversees various projects as part of Northumberland County Council’s climate action plan, including district heating, renewable energy generation, and waste management.

Ross Lowrie, Principal Manager, Low Carbon Growth and Net Zero, North East Combined Authority: With over a decade of experience in low carbon energy regulation and policy, Ross leads the North East Combined Authority’s Low Carbon Growth and Net Zero team. His team develops policies, partnerships, and programmes to support innovation, skill development, and regional supply chains.

Katharine Rietig, Professor of Sustainability and International Politics, Newcastle University: Professor Rietig focuses on improving the effectiveness of climate change governance. Her research includes the role of learning, non-state actors, and multilevel governance dynamics. She holds a British Academy/Wolfson Fellowship and leads several projects on climate governance.