Why should you do something today when you can do it tomorrow, even if you should have done it yesterday? That is the attitude of Shropshire Council’s Conservative members when it comes to tackling climate change. Why should they rush to deal with an emergency when they can take a gentle stroll?  

The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is currently languishing parliament. But support for the bill, which sets out what priorities the UK needs in place to meet its climate change targets and tackle the ecological crisis, is strong. That’s why a cross-party motion to give an expression of support the bill was tabled at Shropshire Council yesterday.

But the council’s portfolio holder for climate change kicked the motion into the long grass, supported by a fellow Conservative who complained about the potential costs to the council of the bill. How much does an expression of support cost? Failure to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies will cost us our planet.

Listen to the CEE debate at Shropshire Council.

A motion to secure an expression of support for the Climate and Ecology Bill 2019-21, know more generally as the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CCE) was kicked into touch by the portfolio holder for climate change, Dean Carroll. He negated the motion by proposing a task and finish group to consider the council’s position. A T&F will take months, especially as there are local elections in May.

Julian Dean, Shropshire Council’s single Green Party member introduced the motion by saying that the Climate Change Bill, which sets the UK’s binding targets for emissions, started out as a private members bill. “The issue we face is that are absolutely not on track [to reduce the targets]. The government’s Climate Change Commission says as much” as do independent commentators, Mark Carney, industry leaders and others.

“They say the framework is not there to achieve even the government’s target of 2020, which I would argue is too late. The second part of the two E’s in the title of the bill is to do with the ecological emergency and that is not something we have discussed before. But we ought to recognise before that is too late that that too is a looming crisis.”

This bill is intending to bring us back on track. It also calls for the UK to take full responsibility for its entire greenhouse gas footprint.

“The other thing I want to draw your attention to is the misplaced, fairy tale if you like, reliance on new technologies which are not proven. There is far too much reliance by the government on carbon capture and all sort of technologies that don’t exist. But we do have the technologies to reduce our footprint to zero through retrofitting, the modal shift, electrification of transport and through changing the way we use land.”

Dean Carroll, the council’s portfolio holder for climate change tabled an amendment. It was seconded by Councillor Milner who did not speak during the debate, an unusual move for someone who is seconding. Perhaps he wasn’t happy with what Corroll was proposing.  Carroll’s “long grass” amendment deleted almost the entire motion and called for a task and finish group to ponder the council’s position on the CEE Bill. He described this as a very sensible way to go as it was a “technical subject” and denied he was proposing a wrecking amendment. For some reason, he mentioned that there are hundreds of private members bills in parliament at any one time and the council could not take a view on them all. Hundreds? The ballot of MPs for each parliamentary session selects just 20 bills.

The reason Carroll was promoting a task and finish group on behalf of the Conservative administration was obvious. The Tories don’t want to go into the May elections having rejected support for the CEE bill. With a task and finish group in progress, they can tell voters the council is discussing its position. But he will know that T&F groups rarely have any impact on council policy and give the appearance of something being done rather than doing something.

I responded:

“[Councillor Carroll says there are hundreds of private members bills but there is only one that is of concern at this very minute… Pushing it to a task and finish group does not match the political process of timetable. What we are doing in asking you to support this bill today is to support the principles of the bill and say, yes this is what we should be doing and we should modify our actions, this is our beliefs.”

Councillor David Minnery then spoke. He is the portfolio holder for finance and said he cannot support anything that effectively writes a blank cheque. I wondered what planet he was on when he said:

“The thought that Shropshire should take responsibility for everyone’s carbon emissions and the costs that may or may not go with that is too great.”

He said he supported the general thrust of the bill but he had grave reservations about its impact on Shropshire Council and its finances. He supported the task and finish group so that the council knew that “all the potential dangers” in the bill had been accounted for. Potential dangers? We were asking for an expression of support not a Mars Rover.

Roger Evans for the Lib Dem’s said the council should take the bold step of supporting the bill. “Climate is far more important than anything this council is doing, except for Covid at the moment.”

Julian Dean closed the debate saying he also was not sure what Councillor Minnery was on about. The motion asks the council to resolve to send a couple of letters. “If he is concerned about the stamps, I’ll pay for them.

The long grass amendment setting up a task and finish group gained majority support and the main motion was lost.

And as the motion fell, the pretence that the Conservative group on Shropshire Council is committed to tackling the climate and ecological emergencies evaporated.

The rejected motion to support the CEE Bill

The following motion has been received from Councillor Julian Dean and is supported by Councillor Kate Halliday and the Liberal Democrat Group

Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

Humans have already caused irreversible climate change, the impacts of which are being felt in the UK and around the world. Global temperatures have increased by 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric CO2 levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm) and continue to rise. This far exceeds the 350 ppm deemed to be a safe level for humanity.

Without more significant and sustained action, the world is set to exceed the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit between 2030 and 2040. Therefore the current UK target of net zero by 2050 is not satisfactory. It is too little too late.

The increase in harm caused by a rise of 2°C rather than 1.5°C is significant. This is described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C published in October 2018. According to the IPCC, limiting heating to 1.5°C may still be possible with ambitious action from national and sub-national authorities, civil society, the private sector and local communities. The costs of failing to address this crisis will far outstrip the investments required to prevent it. Investing now will bring many benefits in the form of good jobs, breathable cities and thriving communities.

Council notes that

(i) This council has declared a climate emergency;

(ii) Many local authorities have established Citizens’ Assemblies that are playing an important role in assisting them in their plans to achieve net zero by 2030 or before; and that

(iii) There is a Bill before Parliament—the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (published as the “Climate and Ecology Bill”)—according to which the Government must develop an emergency strategy that:

  1. requires that the UK plays its fair and proper role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures;
  2. ensures that all the UK’s consumption emissions are accounted for;
  3. includes emissions from aviation and shipping;
  4. protects and restores biodiverse habitats along overseas supply chains;
  5. restores and regenerates the UK’s depleted soils, wildlife habitats and species populations to healthy and robust states, maximising their capacity to absorb CO2and their resistance to climate heating;
  6. sets up an independent Citizens’ Assembly, representative of the UK’s population, to engage with Parliament and Government and help develop the emergency strategy.

Council therefore resolves to:

(i) Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

(ii) Inform the local media of this decision;

(iii) Write to local MPs, asking them to support the Bill; and

(iv) Write to the CEE Bill Alliance, the organisers of the campaign for the Bill, expressing its support (campaign@ceebill.uk).

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