Climate emergency declared as councillors unite to go green
Camden its doors to suggestions for tackling climate change and reducing emissions
11 October, 2019 — By Richard Osley
Environmental campaigners outside the Town Hall before a climate emergency debate
THEY rarely agree on much but on Monday evening councillors from all sides of the Town Hall chamber dropped hostilities and stood united with the same goal of tackling climate change.
With universal support, a motion was passed committing new resources to the battle and formally declaring a climate and ecological emergency. It will look to implement 17 recommendations drawn up by its citizens assembly, a panel of 50 randomly selected residents, which brainstormed ideas on how to reduce carbon emissions and go green.
* Fitting as many solar panels on houses as possible;
* encouraging residents to eating “zero carbon dietary choices”, which includes consuming less meat;
* planting more trees;
* installing more cycle lanes;
and improving infrastructure for electric vehicles.
The wording of the motion included the solemn text: “This council formally commits to tell the truth to Camden citizens about the scale and seriousness of the emergency.”
Members of Extinction Rebellion had broken off from their direct action protests in central London – including a blockade of Westminster Bridge – to greet councillors as they entered the building.
Those sympathetic to their aim of forcing the issue of climate change up the global political agenda and public consciousness also filled the public gallery inside the chamber at the Crowndale Centre in Eversholt Street.
Amid the consensus and agreement, the only conflict was over how fast Camden would go in bringing in changes and whether the council, as in the case of Unison’s suggestion to close roads to cars for one week in every month, would be willing to be more radical than the first list of suggestions.
Joanna Macrae called for a genuine ’emergency’ response with faster changes
One of the guest speakers, Joanna Macrae from Climate Emergency Camden, which has brought together different environmental campaign groups together, told the meeting: “We don’t think the motion goes quite far enough. First, it’s too slow. If we were in the grips of a disease outbreak or a war, you wouldn’t ask us to wait for a year to see a plan. We want to see something so much bigger and more meaningful and for change to happen very fast.”
She added: “As things stand, we fear that the agenda could risk being stuck in the margins of the sustainability agenda, rather than embedded in every single decision that you take. And that needs to change.”
Extinction Rebellion meanwhile called for Camden to “change its constitution” so that every decision considered climate emergency.
Shana Tufani, centre, from Extinction Rebellion listens to the debate
Shana Tufani, one of its activists who lives in the borough, said: “Camden Council has an opportunity to show true leadership by embedding sustainability and decarbonisation plans in all of what we do environmentally, socially and economically. Without this, there is no hope for Camden or any of us.”
Two teenage girls, both 13, meanwhile outlined a list of demands as to how they wants schools to help, including providing meat-free meals.
Camden’s only Green councillor, Sian Berry, who is also the party’s national co-leader, said a year-long timetable to formalise a plan “isn’t quick enough”.
Green councillor Sian Berry
A common theme had been around driving, although recommendations about working towards reducing the amount of car use in the borough had not been as well-supported within the citizens assembly as other suggestions.
Elizabeth Wilson, who had been part of the assembly, told the meeting: “I think people are worried about the inconvenience of not being able to use their cars. There’s people who need to use their cars because they’re disabled, or they have some sort of extenuating circumstance, but there’s also people who use them for convenience.”
She added: “Well, if you really, really need a car, then it’s either got to be electric, or you pay for it. So you could have a sort of financial incentive scheme and then that money could be put straight into an offset scheme, and reduce the carbon that way.”
Elizabeth Wilson brings forward ideas from Camden’s Citizen Assembly
Ms Wilson also suggested greener ways of getting children to school, including supervised walking lines and more segregated cycle lanes. Environment chief Labour councillor Adam Harrison said Camden would be “expanding our in-house sustainability team” as the next step.
He said: “We have to be maximising our comms [communications]. So we’ll be looking to do that. We need to be mobilising our community.”
Labour environment chief Councillor Adam Harrison
Cllr Harrison, who has also committed Camden to reaching World Health Organisation safe levels on air quality, added: “In terms of the council’s operations, we’re going to devise a new procurement strategy to make sure that we have a climate lens on procurement. “We will be doing the same with all our budgeting in future and will also be introducing new divestment and decarbonisation strategy.”