On Friday, once again, people took to our streets to send a clear message: we need action now to avert the worst effects of spiralling climate change. Just last September it was estimated that seven million people across the world took part in a strike for climate action. In Brighton and Hove, whether it is young school pupils or adults, it’s clear a growing number want strong action to stop the climate catastrophe – and they are right to demand change.
Climate scientists warned only this week in the respected Nature journal that there’s a risk that we have already entered a period of irreversible climate change. Like Greens, they argue that this shouldn’t signal dismay but must strike confidence in politicians willing to take the necessary robust action on emissions.
From fires in the Amazon and Australia to substantial reductions in the Arctic Sea ice, the climate emergency is upon us – and will be a greater feature of our future if we fail to act. Scientists have long argued that a global temperature increase of 5ºC above pre-industrial levels would be the ‘tipping point’ for the climate, pushing us to irreversible climate change. Now, they have calculated that these ‘tipping points’ could occur if warming increases between only one and two degrees. We can get lost in the numbers – but the stark science is clear: ‘Warming must be limited to 1.5ºC. This requires an emergency response.’
And we need an emergency response. We have just 11 years to limit the catastrophic effects of global warming and stop temperatures exceeding a rise of 1.5ºC.
Our fear is that too many politicians have woken up too late to a crisis that Greens have warned about for many years. The situation requires radical and immediate action, but with no leadership coming from the global or national stage, we must consider as many solutions as we can at a local level.
This is why local leadership is so important. In Brighton, we hit back when Conservative and Labour councillors voted to slash the sustainability budget six years ago when the Greens ran the council. The fact is, we would now be in a much stronger position as a council to increase what we are doing – rather than start from scratch.
In the face of the challenges before us, Greens here have won some of the strongest action in the country. Last December – almost one year ago – we pushed the council to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency and bring forward 2050 carbon reduction targets to 2030. In February we tackled the council budget, ploughing £690,000 into climate change mitigation and sustainability – without making any further cuts.
Our work is now directly funding projects that focus on the climate crisis and biodiversity protection. It’s creating a fund to reduce the city’s carbon footprint with initiatives such as community renewable energy projects, solar panels, species and habitat protection and sustainable transport improvements. We have also provided the funding to staff these sustainability projects, reversing cuts to the team.
Kick-starting the essential work on cleaner air, we have called for a toughened Ultra Low Emission Zone and projects that encourage walking and cycling. We continue to fight for an environmental focus in all of our council policies: from encouraging events in the city to go plastic free, to making our housing more energy efficient.
In May this year, the Green Group of Councillors pledged to work with the Labour administration on the climate crisis and I co-chair the city council’s 2030 Carbon Neutral Board. We have met climate campaigners and are publishing our plans to use funding identified by the Greens to create a new ‘climate assembly’ for the city. This puts our communities centre stage: everyone must be able to have their say.
We are challenging the Labour Council to implement a ‘Green New Deal’ – an ambitious programme for boosting new, ‘green’ jobs that we need to manage the climate crisis.
Whatever happens this election, Greens will always argue for decisive action at a national level that responds with urgency to the climate crisis. Without this, so much will be constrained. The climate strikers today carry a strong message to those in power. Greens too say that the government must challenge the corporations who are a source of non-recyclable waste, promote renewables and create a Clean Air Act that enforces low emissions. We can no longer afford slow progress.
Whether locally or nationally, Greens will do everything in our power to help the city go ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030. I am reminded once again of the words of climate scientists writing in Nature: ‘The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.’