Protecting and celebrating our natural environment has never been more critical

by Richard Hyde ([email protected]) 448 views 

As the “The Natural State,” Arkansans recognize both the natural beauty of your state and its economic value. As the British consul general to the great state of Arkansas, I thought I should share some thoughts as we celebrate Earth Day at a time when protecting and celebrating our natural environment has never been more critical.

Earth Day this year has particular significance for the United Kingdom. In partnership with Italy, we will host the 26th conference of the parties, or COP26, over the first twelve days of November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The COP26 summit will bring together governments, businesses and civil society from across the globe to create action plans to reduce emissions, develop policies for us to adapt our behaviors and take steps to build resilience to protect climate-vulnerable communities. At the forefront of this is engaging with key businesses and supporting the public-private partnerships necessary to achieve the climate goals made by both the UK and US governments.

The UK government’s commitment to being a global leader on climate change reflects our understanding that, like it or not, climate change is happening now. We must work to address the significant challenge every nation faces: how to protect both our environment and our economy. Living in Houston and working in cities like New Orleans, the economic impact of climate change is clear — we cannot afford to do nothing.

One nation cannot change things alone. Success requires global collaboration, and the United States is our most important partner in these efforts. We are working together to address shared challenges, collaborate on industrial innovation and develop appropriate policies to ensure an equitable transition to a lower carbon future.

We are working together to bring other nations with us on this journey of change; we cannot put our economies and businesses at a competitive disadvantage. US-UK collaboration is essential to shaping the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our shared interests and values.

Climate change policies are often driven at the national level. However, at the state and local level, we experience first-hand the worst aspects of climate change. Extreme weather is growing more common, as I witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of Winter Storm URI in Texas in February. That followed a record-breaking hurricane season that constantly threatened the Gulf Coast for six months last year. I know that Winter Storm Viola also impacted parts of Arkansas. These weather events can be particularly devastating for a state with such a vital agriculture and tourism industry.

We believe that it is at state and local levels where many of the main challenges can be tackled, often through creative solutions, innovation and dedication of individuals, universities, research institutes, regional foundations, industry and elected officials.

In my brief time as Consul General, I have been genuinely impressed with what I have learned about how Arkansans, especially how those in Northwest Arkansas, are tackling many of these issues, for example:

  • Walmart’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by deploying the so-called “Internet of Things” to help them achieve more sustainable food production,
  • JB Hunt’s long-term commitment to carbon reduction through greater use of intermodal and their work to develop electric fleets
  • Tyson Foods’ work to reduce their impact on deforestation within their global supply chain, they have introduced water conservation practices and improved land stewardship and have provided farmers with tools to improve their economic and environmental practices while maintaining competitiveness
  • The University of Arkansas Agriculture Extension’s necessary research on water and energy sustainability

I look forward to visiting soon and learning more about these and other efforts to tackle climate change and explore opportunities for collaboration between the UK and Arkansas in these areas.

As this is Earth Day, a day dedicated to the natural world around us, I am especially looking forward to getting out and about in what my team tells me is one of the most beautiful states in the entire US.

Though mountain biking is not really my thing — and I know that Northwest Arkansas is rapidly becoming the Mountain Biking Capital of the World — I fully intend to get out and enjoy hiking the stunning trails of the Ozarks and kayaking the extraordinarily beautiful waterways, and hopefully sharing these experiences with my family.

Richard Hyde is the British consul general for the South Central United States, based in Houston. Hyde represents the United Kingdom’s government in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.