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Vital Signs North East: Environment

Our ground-breaking study of the scale, dynamics and needs of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in North East England.

Environmental challenges

We are edging ever nearer to a tipping-point of rapid and irreversible climate change. We are also facing a decline in biodiversity. But there are also everyday environmental issues affecting health and quality of life, like pollution, waste and access to green spaces. Much can be done locally to address the root causes of climate change or protect local ecosystems – and every little bit of philanthropic support for this does something to chip away at the larger problems. And action on local issues – from clearing undergrowth from paths around a green space to educating people on the benefits of recycling – helps to build community resilience and a commitment to environmental issues.

  • National challenges: delivery of net zero commitments in current context; extreme weather and climate events; air pollution and contamination of waters; UK one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
  • North East England challenges: key contributor to historic carbon production during industrial era; last 10 years have seen hottest day and wettest winter since records began; vulnerability of our places to storms, flooding and rising sea levels; vulnerability of our people because of age, health and levels of disadvantage; relatively complacent about climate change and lower commitment to e.g. recycling.

Environment indicator North East England South East
% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per person 2005-21 64 45 49
Days on which air quality index showed moderate, high or very high pollution levels 2021-24 39 103 133
Average population for every park, public garden or playing field 6867 8557 7028
Household waste recycling rates 31.2% 41.7% 45.4%
% who agree ‘there is so much conflicting information about climate change it is difficult to know what to believe’ 57 51 51
% who agree ‘if everyone does their bit, we can reduce the effects of climate change’ 81 84 85

Environmental opportunities

Despite the challenges there are a number of opportunities in North East England via:

  • Rapid fall in the region’s greenhouse gas emissions since de-industrialisation
  • Hub potential in ‘green industrial revolution’: development and production of renewables, hydrogen, decarbonised heating, materials and transport
  • Population well served with green spaces

The Community Foundation believes there are three areas where philanthropists and charitable funders can make a real difference.

Providing support to address local environmental issues:

  •  activities that increase awareness and action on climate change, loss of biodiversity and other environmental problems
  • projects run by environmental charities and other civil society organisations that tackle local issues within communities
  • work on social and economic issues and community cohesion that addresses the lack of resilience within disadvantaged communities to climate change
  • capacity building for civil society organisations wishing to contract to run environmental and related services

Read the full report here

Providing help to enable people in the North East to benefit from the “Green Industrial Revolution”:

  • vocational programmes that encourage young people to develop an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and support to realise potential, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • vocational support for young people not in education, training or employment, adults furthest from the labour market and those at risk of social exclusion

Read the full report here

Ensuring communities have a voice on environmental issues

  • by enabling charity sector infrastructure organisations, and civil society organisations working in the environmental space, to work with others to enable an independent voice for communities in relation to them, especially at a time of devolution

Read the full report here

Vital Signs Reports

The most recent reports from Vital Signs are here