Fri, 07 Jun 2019
WEST Berkshire Council has made a public commitment to declare a climate emergency.
There were extraordinary scenes last Thursday as protesters of all ages – some banging drums and blowing whistles – stormed into a public meeting to demand action over climate change.
The special meeting was held to discuss, debate and vote on a petition – signed by more than 2,000 people – urging West Berkshire Council to declare a climate emergency and work towards a carbon-neutral district by 2030.
The council made a commitment to both, but said its constitution meant it was unable to support the petition because of some of the wording it contained.
The protesters, made up of residents and political representatives, had come with one simple message for district councillors – do something now, before it’s too late.
Before the meeting, the council chamber was a cauldron of noise as members of the Newbury arm of Extinction Rebellion made their voices heard.
Introducing the petition he started before he was elected last month, Green Party councillor Steve Masters (Speen) said: “This is an opportunity to change people’s lives right now, as well as securing the future for our children and, for many of us, our grandchildren. It is a win-win.”
He added: “The inter-governmental panel on climate change has warned that humanity has 12 years to take urgent action to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
“This figure is significant because scientists warn there is a tipping point, a point above which the effects of climate change accelerate and humanity’s ability to control them will be lost.
“Humanity is already facing more frequent and intense floods and droughts, which will increase poverty and global migration as people look to leave areas of the planet in which they can no longer survive.
“We need to wake up to the fact that this is not someone else’s problem. Migration, food shortages and rising sea levels, will affect this country and this area eventually. So I think we can all agree, something needs to be done.”
Conservative councillor James Cole (Hungerford and Kintbury) said: “We agree this council should declare a climate emergency. There’s good reason to do so. Global temperatures are rising.
“Whilst we agree with the sentiments behind the petition, in practical terms we cannot accept it as it stands because of some of the wording. In particular, we cannot provide an outline strategy by June 1.
“The constitution requires us to vote tonight on the exact wording that your signatories signed on. However, we are not going to hide behind the constitution. We agree that the country should set an example where it can and that this council must be part of that example.”
Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen), who had spent time chatting to protesters before the meeting, echoed her colleague’s comments, saying: “I am willing to declare a climate emergency and work towards a 2030 target for zero carbon emissions.”
She added: “I get it’s frustrating that there is a technicality in the wording of the petition as it currently stands which means that we can’t accept it and I understand your frustrations about that. There are elements in there – a strategy by the June 1 – we are unable to do that.
“But there’s a couple of other pieces as well – you’ve asked us to pledge on areas that are outside the control of West Berkshire Council and as a council we can’t do that.”
Mrs Doherty suggested working further on this together and coming up with a motion to put to full council in July.
She also said that she had been in talks about forming a youth climate change panel which will actively participate in decision-making.
Newly-elected Green councillor Carolyne Culver (Ridgeway) hit out, saying: “We should not use a technicality in a petition that we have waited for four months to debate as an excuse to not vote for a climate emergency this evening. The public are here because that is what they want.”
There were also calls from the Greens for the council to approve part of the petition and bypass the ‘technicality’, but the local authority’s head of legal services said that this was not possible.
After the meeting, Mr Masters said: “While I’m obviously disappointed, it is a moral victory for the Green Party.”
His party colleague David Marsh (Wash Common) said: “I’m glad the Tories have listened to us and made a commitment to declare a climate emergency.”
However, there was anger from many protesters, with some calling the council’s decision to reject the petition on a technicality a “disgrace” and a “joke”.
The Liberal Democrat group will put forward a motion at a meeting on Monday calling on Newbury Town Council to declare a climate emergency.