Conservative councillors on Harrogate Borough Council once again refused to declare a Climate Emergency, a crucial first step: recognising the scale of the problem.
The motion was put forward by Councillor Pat Marsh, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Harrogate Borough Council, seconded by Councillor Chris Aldred.
"By declaring a Climate Emergency, we would acknowledge that the council needs to act on the causes and impacts of climate change. This would be major leap forward and would send the right message to our residents", said Councillor Marsh.
The motion also called for the establishment of a Citizens' Assembly, to replace the ineffective and failed Climate Coalition.
A Citizens' Assembly would be an independently-selected, diverse cross-section of the community, who would listen to evidence relevant to the district, find solutions, and provide a plan to tackle the Climate Emergency at a local level.
Councillor Pat Marsh said: "This is about involving our residents and how we can all act together on this Climate Emergency. We do need to plan to engage with a cross-section of that community. The word is engage, not inform."
Around 90% of the population live in areas that have declared a Climate Emergency, but not Harrogate.
Commenting, Councillor Pat Marsh said:
"Unfortunately, this is yet another example of arrogant Conservative councillors thinking they know best – telling people, rather than bringing them in the process.
"A problem as big as climate change needs to bring the whole community together to find solutions and act on them. This can't be done if the Council refuses to even acknowledge the scale of the problem, not to mention if it actively attempts to push people out of the process.
Councillor Chris Aldred added:
"Over 300 Councils across the UK – of all shapes, sizes, and political colours – have declared a Climate Emergency, including 77 Conservative controlled councils.
"This isn't about party politics, it's about saving our planet. However, councillor's unwillingness to act locally is unacceptable and won't be forgotten.
"Our campaign to declare a Climate Emergency, bring the whole community together, and fight for bold solutions to this existential crisis will go on."
Councillor Marsh's speech in full:
Mr Mayor you won’t be surprised that I cannot support the response from Cllr Ireland on our Notice of Motion of wanting this Council to actually Declare a Climate Emergency.
I and nearly 600 Residents who signed a petition, really do not understand his and the Administrations reluctance to do what, as of today 300 out of 404 District, County, Unitary & Metropolitan Councils have done, which is to declare a Climate Emergency.
Plus 8 Combined Authorities/City Regions, that is 74% why can’t Harrogate join this growing list, why does it want to be in the bottom 26%.
This means in Britain now around 90 per cent of the population live in areas that have declared a climate emergency but not in Harrogate we are in the bottom 10%.
A Climate Emergency declaration, issued by this council, would be a powerful catalyst for a community-wide action, if paired with a clear action plan.
By declaring a Climate Emergency, we would acknowledge that the council needs to act on the causes and impacts of climate change. This would be major leap forward and would send the right message to our residents.
Climate Emergency is defined as a situation where urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change, to avoid potentially irreversible environment damage resulting from it. The important word is 'urgent'.
We're nearly two years on from since I first brought this issue to Full Council and in two years little has been achieved.
The United Nations says we could have just 11 years left to limit a climate change catastrophe. So, the situation is urgent, therefore we need to show how we recognise this.
Locally, the evidence is quite concerning. The average person in the UK has an annual carbon emission of 10 tonnes, but in Harrogate District it is 12 tonnes. We certainly cannot be proud of that.
By declaring an emergency, this would give us a new impotence for looking at everything we do with a view to reducing our emissions as quickly as we can.
As an example of action, as the planning authority, this council sets rules for new developments in this area. Many of the Climate Emergency councils are committing to adopting more demanding standards for the carbon efficiency of new build, through an updated local plan or supplementary planning guidance.
Here in Harrogate, despite having a very updated Local Plan, not one development has delivered a zero carbon development in the last two years. So all the houses being built at present will have to be retrofitted in the near future. That, Mr Mayor, is ludicrous.
Councillor Ireland points to the Harrogate District Climate Coalition as the instrument to lead on this. Yet, within a year there was been little progress, and at the last meeting, yet again, there was more reorganisation and refocus. A whole year wasted.
There was evidence given by the two independent consultants on the way forward and they too strongly recommended engagement with the wider public to ensure buy-in to the process, and this is exactly what a Citizens' Assembly or Jury would do, and in a short space of time, two weekends for Oxford, recommendations and actions were proposed.
This is about involving our residents and how we can all act together on this Climate Emergency. We do need to plan to engage with a cross-section of that community. The word is engage, not inform.
As an example, the French commune of Grand Paris Sud launched a council-wide consultation to crowdsource innovative projects for its climate plan.
By combining a digital platform with offline events, the council reached a wide audience and gave residents a say on pressing local topics. Residents shared their projects and voted for the ideas they wanted to support. The council has now implemented the winning projects: gardening plots in public spaces, schemes to reduce food waste and sustainability awareness programs in schools just to give a few examples. The word Implemented being the important word.
By declaring a Climate Emergency, we will have acknowledged that this Council needs to act on the causes and impacts of climate change and is a first step in the right direction. But to ensure that our Residents engage with this they need to be consulted, as they were in Grand Paris Sud, Oxford, Leeds etc. To work with our Residents will be critical in delivering net zero ambitions. We need to pull together a wide demographic of our Residents who would focus on the issues and propose actions and recommendations. If you can’t support engagement with a wide demographic of our Residents then tell them why not, why you don’t want their thoughts, their suggestions, their recommendations, their help.
Climate Change is not someone else’s problem it is a problem for us ALL.