The climate emergency features on Shropshire Council’s agenda on Thursday, 16 May. Not once, not twice or even three times. There is one public petition and three motions from political parties and independent councillors. This is unprecedented and I am not sure how the debate will be managed. It would be a good idea to move the motions from the end to the beginning of the meeting to be debated along with the petition. But it is sea change from the February council meeting, when the council speaker cruelly extinguished a public question on climate change over a technicality.
I am sure the council will get the hint that we need to declare a climate emergency. But this must be more than a token gesture to capture the current public mood. The council must bring forward its plans to become carbon neutral from a target of 2050 to 2030, if not sooner. And it needs to seriously rethink its plans for cuts to bus cuts and building an environmentally destructive North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury.
First up is a petition from Extinction Rebellion with more than 1,000 signatures. It calls for the council to declare a climate emergency. Towards the end of the meeting, the Labour group on the council has tabled a motion calling on the council to declare a climate emergency. And immediately after that, there is a Green, Lib Dem and Independent motion calling on the council to declare a climate emergency. And just to hammer the point home, the Tories have tabled a motion calling on the council to declare a climate emergency.
These motions differ in detail and we can expect some nit picking. There are likely to be substantial debates over the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road, backed by Tories and Labour. We can expect contorted arguments that it is an environmentally beneficial project, if not during the motions, when the project is discussed as a main agenda item.
The Extinction Rebellion petition
The petition requests that the Council:
- i) Declare a climate emergency and immediately halt any new policies and projects likely to make the situation worse.
- ii) Work together with other local authorities and government to agree and implement a UK-wide plan to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025.
The Labour motion
That this Council welcomes the setting up of a task and finish group to examine the Council’s response to Climate Change following the motion adopted by Council on 13th December and we also affirm our commitment to:
- Carbon Emission Appraisals being attached to all reports,
- The designation of a Director level Carbon Champion,
- The creation of a Climate Action Partnership of stakeholders and the wider community.
However, given the conclusions of the IPCC and more recent scientific research findings we believe that Shropshire Council should be more active in its role in providing local leadership and as an organisation meeting rigorous carbon reductions targets.
Therefore, this Council declares that there is a Climate Emergency and calls upon the Cabinet to bring forward proposals within the current calendar year to ensure that all operations within the Councils control are Carbon Neutral by 2030.
Furthermore, we resolve to provide advice, support and encouragement, however possible, to county-wide public, business and charitable organisations to adopt similar policies and practices.
The Green, Lib Dem and Independent motion
From Councillor Julian Dean and supported by Councillors Pauline Dee, Roger Evans, Andy Boddington and David Vasmer.
Since our meeting in December the UK has seen two further periods of records temperatures, in February and over Easter; the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he would adopt the Committee on Climate Change advice to end the use of fossil fuel heating systems in new homes from 2025; thousands have joined protests and school strikes to draw our attention to the nature of the crisis we face and the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has admitted that the Government has ‘not done nearly enough’ to tackle climate change.
In the light of these continuing developments, we agree that Shropshire Council should add its voice to those of Shrewsbury and Oswestry Town Councils – amongst the 87 local authorities in the UK alone (as of end of April) – by declaring a Climate Emergency.
We welcome the allocation of Climate Change to the portfolio of a Cabinet member.
It is with regret that we recognise that the task and finish group recommendations are not likely to reach cabinet before late September and that this means that subsequent policies are not likely to reach full council until December, a full year since we agreed to call for proposals on this matter. Without pre-empting any recommendations from the carbon emissions task and finish group, we urge the Cabinet to make clear to senior staff that measures and policies should be developed that duly recognise the nature of the emergency. We call on senior officers to ensure that staff are enabled to work effectively and collaboratively and with due time allocated to develop such measures and policies.
We instruct Cabinet to come forward with recommendations and targets for Council, with the intention that these are informed by the work of the task and finish group, to consider by the end of the year and that duly recognise the nature of the emergency.
The Conservative motion
From Councillor Dean Carroll (the cabinet climate change champion) and supported by Councillors Rob Gittins, Peter Nutting, Nic Laurens and Cecilia Motley.
This Council believes that Climate Change presents a serious threat to humanity with the potential impacts on weather systems and biodiversity being catastrophic if allowed to continue to increase unchecked. Although small contributors to the climate picture, local authorities do have an important role to play domestically in encouraging behaviour changes that will help to reduce emissions both locally and further afield. We also have responsibility for our own emissions as an organisation and a Corporate Carbon Reduction Strategy is being developed, a draft of which has recently been presented to the Place Overview & Scrutiny Committee, which is aimed at reducing the Council’s carbon footprint. To further those aims a cross-party Task & Finish Group on Climate Change has been established by the Place Overview & Scrutiny Committee and an officer Working Group has been set up to drive forward our strategy for the whole county. It is planned to introduce an officer position to coordinate the Council’s response to Climate Change and the sustainability agenda.
We also recognise the role that local authorities have to play in informing and influencing national Government policy. This is something Shropshire Council has taken an active lead in across a range of subjects from Fairer Funding for rural schools to support for survivors of domestic abuse. We continue to take a leading role in lobbying national Government for positive change with a motion on today’s Agenda supporting the House of Lords Select Committee’s call for a Rural Strategy. Over recent months a number of other local authorities across England have passed motions declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and lobbying national Government for increased support in reducing carbon emissions.
Therefore this Council resolves to:
- To declare a ‘Climate Emergency’
- To ask the Leader to write to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to encourage Government be ambitious in its plans for carbon reduction targets and align with the recent thinking of the IPCC to be Carbon Neutral by 2040.
- To support the work currently being undertaken by Shropshire Council in this field and reaffirm our support to tackling Climate Change.