Wealden District Council has become the latest local authority to declare a climate change emergency.
At a full council meeting on Wednesday (July 24), Wealden councillors voted in favour of declaring a climate change emergency and committing the authority to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Critics, however, say the commitment does not go far enough – with some arguing the council should set its sights on becoming carbon neutral by 2030 or even 2025.
The motion was put forward by Cllr Roy Galley, the Conservative-led council’s cabinet member for waste and the environment, who said: “Warming is clearly here in a big way and we have to get on with producing an action plan.
“What we can do in Wealden will be limited in terms of its impact internationally of course, but we may be able to take exemplary action that others will follow.
“But it is important that any action plan is based on evidence and not in any way on emotion.
“Before we commit ourselves to anything further than a ‘by 2050’ target we need to know what the implications would be of a 2025, 2030 or 2040 target.
“At this stage I think it is sensible to go for 2050, but the cabinet is committed, if it can go much faster than that, then it will do so.”
Beyond declaring a climate emergency, the full motion committed the council to create an action plan of ‘costed and practical actions’ it can take to reduce carbon emissions and raise awareness of the issue in the community.
The creation of this plan is expected to be led by the council’s Climate Advisory Group (CAG). Made up of councillors, the CAG will hear expert evidence over the coming months before making its final recommendations in November.
The motion also committed the council to take a ‘plant-led approach to development’, which would aim to mitigate and minimise emissions from new building projects.
While Cllr Galley’s motion eventually received unanimous support from councillors, opposition groups argued it needed to go further and move faster.
To this end, three amendments were put forward seeking to tweak the original proposals and add additional commitments.
The first of these amendments was put forward by Forest Green councillor Dr Patrica Patterson-Vanegas (Green Party) and sought to commit the council to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, not 2050.
The two other amendments proposed – from Liberal Democrat Gareth Owen-Williams and the Green Party’s Keith Obbard – called on the CAG to report back its recommendations sooner and for the council to simultaneously declare a ‘ecological emergency’
Cllr Patterson-Vanegas said: “We are not in times of business as usual any more. The IPCC report says to us that we have 11 years to act radically, which takes us to 2030.
“But that report has already been watered down by political interests. Scientists are telling us that the actions we take now will be much more effective than action taken when we are facing failing harvests or even greater human mass migration and climate refugees.
“This is as urgent in Wealden as it is far away, because air pollution doesn’t know age or privilege. Rising sea levels, heat waves and floods in the end will not spare anyone.
“You might be thinking ‘climate change by 2030, is that too optimistic?’ But this is the wrong question.
“In 1940 Winston Churchill did not ask the people if it was too optimistic to win the war. It probably was. Instead he focused the minds and hearts of the nation towards one goal. Taking urgent, ambitious and decisive action won the war.
“Only urgent, ambitious and decisive can stop dangerous runaway climate change and a tipping point from happening. Failure is not an option and we can stop it.”
EMPTY PROMISE WOULD BE THE WRONG MOVE
The argument was disputed, however, by Conservative council leader Bob Standley (Frant and Wadhurst).
He said: “We are very happy to actually get to net zero earlier, but we need a plan we need it properly funded and that is not available yet.
“I think to make, what could be, an empty promise of 2030 is the wrong move. If we can actually do it earlier [we will], and Cllr Galley made it clear that it is by 2050 not at 2050.
“I support all the words that have been said, but I think we need to be sensible. Wealden does not set false dates and target dates that can’t be achieved.”
All three amendments were defeated after being voted down by the majority Conservative group (although Cllr Obbard’s motion was supported by Pevensey Bay councillor Lin Clark).
Cllr Standley’s arguments, however, failed to sway campaigners from Extinction Rebellion, many of whom had attended a demonstration outside of the meeting earlier in the day.
‘IT’s A START BUT NOWHERE GOOD ENOUGH’
Speaking after the meeting, Extinction Rebellion campaigner Ben Carter, who was one of several to ask questions of council leaders ahead of the debate, said: “It’s a start but it is nowhere good enough.
“All they need to do is read some science and look at the urgency of the situation. If they don’t then they are just going to see more of this.
“The truth of the matter is it is a very, very simple equation: act now or the sixth mass extinction, which is underway now, will include humans.
“If you don’t answer that question. If you don’t act, humankind will more than likely become extinct.”
He added that he did not think it was likely that the 2050 target would be brought forward ‘unless something drastic changes’.
Mr Carter had been one of a few dozen campaigners to take part in a demonstration outside of the council offices earlier in the day.