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West Berkshire Council to debate whether to declare 'climate emergency'

Petition urges local authority to bring forward district's zero net-carbon commitment

SENIOR councillors will tonight receive a petition signed by thousands of people across West Berkshire urging the local authority to declare a ‘climate emergency’ and work towards making the district zero-carbon by 2030.

The petition, started by West Berkshire Green Party, has gained more than 1,600 signatures and will be the first of its kind to be presented in the council chamber.

It will be handed in by West Berkshire Green Party’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Newbury Steve Masters at a meeting of the council’s executive committee tonight.

The UK is currently targeting a reduction of 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and West Berkshire’s own aims to reduce carbon emissions are aligned to this.

In November, Bristol City Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ when its members unanimously backed a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030 – a move which was also copied by Scarborough Council at the start of January.

Meanwhile, the 10 local authorities that make up Greater Manchester are set to implement measures banning fracking, as part of the region’s commitment to become carbon zero by 2038.

In November, a Newbury branch of the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion was formed.

Extinction Rebellion is an international social movement established last year that aims to drive radical change through non-violent resistance in the fight against climate change and conservational protection.

Mr Masters said the number of signatures on the petition – gained over a six-week period – sent a powerful message to the Conservative-led council.

He said: “The public response has been amazing and I would like to thank the people of West Berkshire for their enthusiasm and warmth, many of whom waited patiently to sign in cold temperatures.

“One of the most telling aspects of this process has been the response of the partners of a number of our Conservative councillors who, even when they declined my invitation to sign, often said how crucial it is that we act.”

A petition must contain a minimum of 1,500 signatures if it is to be reported to a council meeting for debate, where it will be discussed for up to a maximum of 15 minutes.

At a council meeting in December, Jeannette Clifford, the council’s portfolio holder for transport and the countryside (Con, Northcroft), told Mr Masters that setting a target year of 2030 was not realistic, without having a “strong, concrete plan” in place.

However, she remained optimistic that the council would achieve net zero carbon status before 2050.

But Mr Masters criticised Mrs Clifford’s views, saying that they were out of touch with reality.

He said: “The petition suggests research and co-operation between all levels of government in order to formulate a credible plan based on the current science and modelling available.

“Mrs Clifford’s claim that we must wait for leadership from central government completely misses the point.

“Her Conservative colleagues are wedded to a future that doesn’t relinquish fossil fuels soon enough.”

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