How the Greens in the room pushed Trafford into climate action

“It is unbelievable that two years after declaring a climate emergency, decisions were still being made in silos, not knowing what the climate implications are.” Geraldine Coggins, Green Councillor in Altrincham and Green Party Group Leader of Trafford, details how Greens in Trafford have pushed the council into climate action. 

Trafford town hall

Trafford Town Hall, Parrot of Doom (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Geraldine Coggins

Trafford declared a climate emergency in 2018, as a result of a Green Party motion, seconded by the Lib Dems. This was November 2018, just six months after Dan Jerrome and I were elected as the first ever Greens on Trafford Council. But this wasn’t an empty declaration, because the council was in no overall control. We got through a powerful motion that had teeth and we are still seeing the repercussions today.

However, it has been far from plain sailing. Despite all party support for the motion, months went by with meetings but no decisions. Recommendations were made but not implemented. A year passed and the council had not done one thing to reduce its emissions. 

Fortunately our motion had called for external experts to be brought in to draw up a carbon budget for Trafford. So although the council was not changing, it had commissioned this work which was being done elsewhere. This analysis was nearly complete when the pandemic hit. The recommendations were expected in March 2020 and delayed even further.

Finally, in September 2020 Trafford published its own carbon budget.

In line with the instructions in our climate emergency motion, the independent experts at Anthesis had looked at the Paris agreement targets. From this, they worked down to see what Trafford’s fair share of global emissions really is.

The news was stark, we have just seven years left at our current rate of emissions to have used our entire carbon budget. And we now need to make 13.4 per cent cuts in those emissions every year to stay within that budget.

It’s really worrying to think that without Greens in the room we wouldn’t have this information and that most councils around the country and the world don’t have this piece of data for their local area.

So we had a new challenge. The council talks the talk, but it has proved itself unable or unwilling to walk the walk when it comes to the climate emergency. We needed a system of accountability and transparency that would push, or at worst shame it into action.

So we made a new plan. We looked at how the council tackles the stuff it is good at and how it manages the targets it has to meet. It would never deal with its financial budget in the careless way it handles its climate budget. We needed a mechanism to hold it to account.

So, we wrote a new motion, and managed to get much of it through without too much watering-down from Labour. 

We’re now going to have six-monthly reporting of our emissions. Sometimes we may not have full and accurate data in this timescale, but we had done our research with climate scientists and experts inside and outside the Green Party. We knew that we could ask for proxy data based on travel patterns and energy use that would give us a good approximation of real-time emissions.

What’s more, every decision-making report will now have to outline the climate impacts of those decisions. It is unbelievable that two years after declaring a climate emergency, decisions were still being made in silos, not knowing what the climate implications are.

It is also shocking that the Labour executives were happy with this. They weren’t calling for this change, in fact, they were simply not acting on our calls for this and happily making their decisions without knowing the full implications of their actions.

Our carbon budget will now be broken up and senior officers will be responsible for different quantities. This is based on the way the financial budget is handled. Basically, we’re asking them to take the carbon budget as seriously as they take the financial budget.

There is so much more to be done. But without Green councillors, this work wouldn’t be happening and it isn’t happening in many areas around the country. That’s why we need more strong Green voices in council chambers, pushing to make radical and ambitious change happen.