Declaration of climate emergency in Eastbourne a ‘launchpad’ for action

Climate change campaigners in Eastbourne
Climate change campaigners in Eastbourne

Borough councillors have committed to making Eastbourne a carbon neutral town by 2030 after becoming the latest local authority to declare a climate emergency. 

On Wednesday (July 9), Eastbourne councillors unanimously passed a motion, committing the council to “working in close partnership with local groups and stakeholders to deliver a carbon neutral town by 2030.”

Put forward by cabinet member for place services Jonathan Dow (Lib Dem, Old Town), the motion also said the council “recognises there is a climate change emergency”.

Cllr Dow said: “To make these changes we need to paint a picture of how good life and health can be by achieving carbon neutrality.

“If we can achieve this level of communication and positively, then we can achieve this stretching and challenging target with cross-party, multi-agency and public support.

“The greatest change comes from us as individuals, making changes to our lives. Whether that is walking to school, walking to the shops, investing in electric vehicles, taking public transport, fitting solar panels, reducing the use of fossil fuels in our homes. 

“We all have a vested interest and all have a collective responsibility.”

While the broad aims of the motion received unanimous support from councillors, there was disagreement about the best way to proceed.

Conservative councillors argued the motion did not lay out enough details on how the council should achieve its aim. 

To this end, Cllr Caroline Ansell put forward an amended motion, which laid out four actions the council should take to attempt to achieve its environmental aims. 

They were: committing the council to becoming a carbon neutral organisation to set an example; pledging to seek views from residents and local groups on its carbon strategy; agreeing to work with the county council and central government; and bringing forward a “roadmap” for carbon neutrality by the beginning of next year.

Cllr Ansell said: “Looking at our situation: we have rampant deforestation, acidification of the ocean, soil degradation. They believe we have 60 years left of farming unless there is significant change.

 “It is undeniable, to all but a very few on the planet, that we indeed are facing an emergency and must make change.

“I recognise the merit of the amendment you have brought forward. Our amendment seeks only to keep our feet to the fire, because if we have an urgent situation then we need to show that we mean business. 

“We need to commit ourselves to a time when we will come together on this, look at what we have done and march on.

“I think it is vitally important that we say to our world, when we will regroup and when we will speak again on the actions we will take.”

However, the amendment was voted down by the majority Liberal Democrat group, with council leader David Tutt arguing that the motion ‘should be a launch pad’ and ‘not prescriptive.’

Cllr Tutt said: “We are now talking about the issue of the greatest importance, not just to Eastbourne and Eastbourne Borough Council and not just to the UK but to the whole planet.

“If we don’t take action then our children and grandchildren are not going to have a planet  to inherit.

“The reason the motion is written in the way it is, is because we see this as a launchpad. We don’t see this as being prescriptive, we see this as being the first step in achieving that ambition of carbon neutrality by 2030.

“It is not something we as a borough council can do on our own, it is not something we as Liberal Democrats or you as Conservatives can do alone.

“If we don’t come together to do this, then it is not going to be achieved.” 

The decision not to back the amendment came in for some criticism after the meeting, with Conservative group leader Cllr Tony Freebody describing it as ‘unbelievable’. 

Before voting on the motion, councillors heard from a number of public speakers, including climate change campaigner Alex Hough and Miles Berkley of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network. 

Councillors also heard from Rose Norris and Anya Sier of the recently-formed YouthStrike4Climate Eastbourne.  

The youngsters spoke of their monthly school strikes to raise awareness of climate issues and urged adults in the room to do more and “put the climate before anything.”

YouthStrike4Climate Eastbourne was one of a number of groups which turned out to the meeting and took part in a demonstration outside the town hall.