Eastbourne’s Lib Dems and Conservatives clash over backing of climate emergency legislation

Eastbourne councillors have clashed over whether to back new potential legislation on climate change and ecology.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 11:53 am
Eastbourne Borough Council offices, 1 Grove Road. SUS-210823-124921001

On Wednesday (November 17), Eastbourne Borough Council debated a motion calling on the authority to support adoption of the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill — a piece of potential legislation which seeks to make it legally binding for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as well as protect and restore its habitats.

The motion, from Liberal Democrat cabinet member for climate change Jonathan Dow, called on the council to formally support the bill and write an open letter to Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell asking her to do the same.

It also called on the council to declare an ecological emergency, similar to its climate emergency declaration in 2019.

Cllr Dow said: “The UK is one of most nature depleted countries in the world. One in seven of our plants and animals face extinction and more than 40 per cent are in decline. For example we’ve lost 95 per cent of our hedgehogs. 

“The UK needs a legally enforceable nature target so that by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably on the path to recovery, in line with the global goal for nature.

“140 local authorities are presenting this motion or similar in support of the CEE Bill and whilst doing so are declaring an ecological emergency. 

“We need central government to bring these targets into action and ensure they become law.”

Cllr Dow went on to argue the motion should have cross-party support. 

Conservative councillors felt differently, however, who argued the CEE Bill was flawed and would make it harder for the country to reach net zero.  

A similar argument had been made by Conservative county councillors when a very similar motion was rejected by East Sussex County Council last month.

Cllr Penny di Cara (Con, Sovereign) said: “Whilst we totally agree that as a council we should be doing all we can to support reaching net zero carbon emissions, we do not agree with this motion to support the CEE Bill, which is sponsored by the radical environmental group Extinction Rebellion amongst others.

“The Conservative government is taking real action and leading the world in tackling climate change. Leading by the landmark Environment Bill, which will create a greener, cleaner country, including plans for a green industrial revolution which will cut carbon emissions and create jobs in green industries across the UK, as we build back better and greener.

“The CEE Bill will result in political chaos and ride roughshod over democracy by creating an unaccountable citizen’s assembly which will decide policy instead of elected representatives. 

“It will also mean carbon offsets do not count towards our climate targets, which makes it even more difficult and more expensive to reach net zero. We already know that net zero by 2030 is unrealistic and something around 68 per cent is somewhat more achievable. 

“These meaningless council motions are purely political posturing that only serve to detract from local issues with a chance to achieve something locally through our own actions.” 

These arguments saw pushback from the majority Liberal Democrat group, whose members took particular issue with the characterisation of the bill’s citizen’s assembly proposal as ‘undemocratic’.

This, Lib Dems argued, was because the assembly was only intended to make recommendations, with final say remaining with elected MPs after a parliamentary debate.

Notably, a similar citizens’ group, Climate Assembly UK, was established by a group of commons select committees in 2019. It met and reported its findings to those select committees last year.

Conservatives, however, argued such decisions should be left to elected politicians and that the council should focus on its own local climate change strategy rather than pushing for new national legislation.

Conservatives also criticised the Lib Dem administration over a recent press release, which claimed the council had cut its own carbon footprint by 15 per cent since 2018/19.

As previously reported, this figure did not include the direct emissions from the Congress Theatre or the Sovereign Leisure Centre or its indirect emissions. 

After debate, the motion was passed on a majority, with Liberal Democrats voting for it and Conservatives voting against.