Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
How County Councils are fighting back….and why the same can’t come soon enough for Southampton.
In March of this year, my home County Council, Wiltshire, admirably tabled and passed a motion declaring a climate emergency, vowing to make the county carbon neutral by 2030. The motion tabled by two Liberal Democrats elected to the council, passed by a slim majority of 4, outlined the specifications needed to reduce the carbon output of each citizen in Wiltshire from 6.5 tonnes to 2 tonnes per year. The motion stated that, despite the personal responsibility of every person to sustain a green lifestyle, it is also the responsibility of ‘government at all levels ’ to ensure that CO2 emissions fall whilst protecting those most vulnerable.
Wiltshire has previously been making headway in the right direction, with the highest generation per annum and second highest installation of solar power. It has also been reducing paper use and carbon consumption within its council, as well as installing several electric vehicle charging points. However what is most important surrounding the issue of climate change and local councils is that simple reduction is not enough. The current conditions outlined in the motion certainly provide enough reasons as to the necessity of a climate emergency. Despite the Paris Agreement and the UK’s promises to assist in keeping a global temperature rise of less than 1.5 degrees celsius, studies have shown that we are on track to exceed this limit well before 2050. What is most striking is the evidence presented in the motion which shows that the current predictions state that the average temperature will indeed rise by 3 degrees.
Indeed, the Councillors who tabled the motion, Gavin Grant and Brian Matthews, have since made clear their reasons as to the importance of the motion. Mr Grant, who has recently become a grandfather, outlined how clear our mission should be to save our planet. He said, ‘if we don’t act now, then we will ruin the planet, which is not the legacy I wish to leave for my children and grandchildren.’ He also outlined the ‘serious action that must be taken to eliminate carbon emissions’, including the planting of trees as a natural defence against the temperatures that are rising. The crucial nature of the climate emergency was echoed by Mr Matthews who said that if ‘Britain wants to be leaders, we should stand up and do it first’, in reference to those who feel as though it is not our responsibility to have an overall effect on climate change. Mr Matthews also made clear the role that Extinction Rebellion played in creating the motion, with his meeting with a member of the group inspiring him to ensure Wiltshire County Council ‘acknowledges’ the threat of climate change.
What those who voted for the motion must take is pride in themselves for their efforts in taking this stride ahead of the national government and their own parties. Those who tabled and supported the motion show that there is at last a growing sense of knowledge surrounding climate change across the political stratosphere and in Wiltshire it will not be ignored. Whilst the minutes of the meeting reveal some skepticism, mainly from Conservative candidates, if the goal of carbon neutrality is indeed possible then it is certainly a bold, yet forward thinking move from the council to give the issue such a priority. It is not enough to simply believe it to be unrealistic when the cost of our current environmental impact has such grim premonitions for the future.
It was with some dismay that when researching Southampton’s own efforts to combat climate change I found that they had not themselves also declared a climate emergency, failing to make the commitment that over 70 UK councils have pledged to follow. However, there is certainly promise in the petition set up by the Extinction Rebellion group. The petition states that the group is responding, and quite rightly so, to the council who believe that declaring a climate emergency in the way that most deem necessary will just incite public panic. This irresponsibility must be confronted and that is why the petition to declare a climate emergency in Southampton is frankly the most imperative change it can make regarding local politics. The petition makes this clear, using the same figures as presented in the Wiltshire County Council motion from the Paris Agreement as to the importance of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Through correspondence with City Council Leader Christopher Hammond, it is clear that the council has made some progress prior to the Extinction Rebellion petition. This includes a motion, passed in 2017, regarding Southampton’s reduction of City Wide CO2 Emissions, which Mr Hammond seconded. This motion saw Southampton commit to the agreement made by the government in the Paris Agreement. Mr Hammond also pointed out that Southampton has indeed set about plans for a Green City Charter, which further confirms Southampton’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. It has not however declared the Climate Emergency that both Extinction Rebellion and Mr Hammond deem necessary due to the impending climate change threat.
We may not consider Southampton our real home. We may feel we are only here for academic purposes. But we have a duty to protect our world. Councils and individuals around the country are committing themselves to reduce their carbon footprint and to seek to make their area carbon neutral in the near future. For the students that follow in our footsteps or those who wish to make their future in Southampton, it is important that we ensure their world is sustainable. We must persuade our council to declare a Climate Emergency.
Should anyone wish to contact their local Councillor and have their say, a link to members of Southampton City Council and their contact information is available here.