Scarborough Borough Council has this week become the eleventh council in the UK to declare a Climate Emergency.
The movement originated in Australia, with a grassroots campaign calling on the Australian Parliament to acknowledge that the world is in a state of climate emergency, and to mobilise accordingly to restore a safe climate. The first council worldwide to pass such a motion was Darebin Council in Melbourne.
In the UK, Bristol City Council was the first to make the declaration in November 2018. Since then, the Forest of Dean, Brighton and Hove, the London Assembly and eight other town, city, borough and district councils have passed motions declaring Climate Emergencies. The motions all include a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030
Now, Conservative-controlled Scarborough has joined the ranks after the Climate Emergency motion was submitted by the borough’s two Green councillors, Dilys Cluer and Mark Vesey, and passed on Monday (7 January). The proposal was supported by members of the environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion, who were demonstrating outside the building ahead of the vote.
The motion states that the council will resolve to do ‘everything within [its] power’ to make Scarborough carbon neutral by 2030, and will work with other governments (local, national and international) to ‘determine and implement’ methods of limiting global warming.
The motion also requires the council to bid for an additional £80,000 to fund a Sustainability Officer for a two-year period. This role would ‘champion the scoping and delivery of the borough council’s Carbon Neutral 2030 commitment.’ Contingency savings could be used to pay for the new position, but this has to be voted through in the council budget.
Cluer told Green World about the “robust debate” that took place before the vote, saying: “Difficulties came mainly from councillors who were unwilling to make such a commitment without further examination of the implications, and they wanted to refer the motion to Overview and Scrutiny first. But I had good support from an independent and two of the Labour members, and I pointed out firmly that if they referred it, we would miss the chance of identifying funding in this year's budget, and if we have only 11 or 12 years to go carbon neutral, a year's delay is not acceptable.”
With this in mind – as well as last year’s landmark report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which also set 12 years as the deadline before climate damage is irreparable – what is required next is for councils that have declared a Climate Emergency to translate their words into actions.
“The IPCC warning in the autumn was a spur to action,” Cluer continued. “I have been worried about climate change for around 35 years and saw this as a last-ditch opportunity. And just after we had decided to put the motion, we were urged on by the local Frack Free Scarborough group. On the day many of them (some re-branded Extinction Rebellion Scarborough) demonstrated outside the Town Hall and some came to observe the meeting from the gallery, which may have helped.”
What steps should councils take first?
“I hope that the council will first and foremost employ a Sustainability Officer as there is no way the current overstretched staff can take this on. Such an officer will have to network and use best practice to get results without having to 'reinvent the wheel'.
“We all know what is needed to reduce climate changing emissions but it's difficult in the accepted economic paradigm. Everyone will have to work together, and the Green Party and others who understand how it can be done will have to convince the majority of other people that it is both necessary and possible.
“Of course to start with we can do obvious things such as more insulation, planting trees, better public transport, less meat and educating our citizens about what is necessary. That will not be enough on its own, but at least it is a start. Can our leaders nationally be convinced that things have to change drastically? Well, maybe if enough people locally recognize the emergency, politicians will dare to change.”