Elmbridge’s Climate Emergency

The Climate Proposal

At a full Council meeting on Wednesday, 17 July, Elmbridge Borough Council declared a Climate Emergency.

Councillors have pledged to take local action to contribute to national carbon neutral targets through the development of practices and policies, with an aim of making Elmbridge Borough Council carbon neutral.

The motion, put forward by Cllr Mary Marshall, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats & Portfolio Holder for the Environment, and seconded by Cllr Tricia Bland, of the Thames Ditton and Weston Green Residents’ Party, outlined that ‘urgent action’ is required to limit the effects of global warming, which not only affects the people of Elmbridge but people around the globe, and that action needed to start with Elmbridge Borough Council and the services it provides.

The Climate Debate

The Climate Emergency motion was proposed by Cllr Mary Marshall, our Liberal Democrat councillor from Claygate.  Mary is our deputy leader and heads up the group’s environmental policy.  It was natural that she became the borough’s environment portfolio holder.

  • Mary’s proposal speech gives a comprehensive account as to why this proposal is necessary and you can watch it here.
  • Our Liberal Democrat cabinet member for corporate affairs, Cllr Christine Elmer, gave an account of allied work in this policy area that the borough has undertaken in the past.  You can watch her speech here.
  • Cllr Andrew Davis, our deputy leader of the council, gave support as to why 2030 was the more appropriate date than 2050.  His speech is here.
  • You can watch all the debate here (44 minutes).
The Climate Vote

The Conservatives wanted to amend the proposal to extend the date for the corporation to be carbon neutral to 2050 but the Liberal Democrats stressed the need to align with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which recently recommended a target of 2030. The amendment was lost. The full motion was carried with 38 members in favour, none against, seven abstained and three were absent.

The Climate Action

The motion put forward the following as action for the council

  • Declare a ‘Climate Emergency’;
  • Pledge to make Elmbridge Borough Council carbon neutral by 2030, taking into account both production and consumption emissions; and
  • Report to full Council within six months setting out the immediate action the council will take to address this emergency, offer best efforts to forecast progress towards meeting the 2030 target and produce a methodology to compare the borough with other local lower tier districts.
The Climate background

The Liberal Democrat 2019 Elmbridge Borough manifesto began with

“Climate Change is an existential threat to humankind. We will put Elmbridge on a path to become carbon neutral and will adopt appropriate policies to this end.”

This was the key policy in the strategy of the Elmbridge Liberal Democrats no other elected party had a similar policy. Only an administration that included the Lib Dems would drive this policy through. If the Lib Dems stayed in opposition this policy would have languished until the next election. Although the proportion of Liberal Democrats on the council has doubled in recent years, it is not enough to govern alone. In order to support this and other policies in May, we entered negotiations with other parties with this policy as a cornerstone of any agreement.

Once agreed, plans were put in place to turn policy into reality and last Wednesday’s motion was the first public step on that journey.

Climate – the next steps

Now the motion is passed, the Liberal Democrat/Residents’ coalition will over the summer:

  • Produce a brief for a new committee of all parties, reporting through the cabinet to the council, specifically focused on the climate emergency.
  • Survey the corporation to ascertain its footprint.

In the autumn the new committee will produce a strategy for ensuring the borough meets the target of net zero carbon by 2030.

This Council notes:

Humans have already caused irreversible climate change, the impacts of which are being felt around the world. Global temperatures have already increased by 1˚C from pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric C0² levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm).

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) in October 2018 gave us just twelve years to implement changes to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5˚C in order to avoid widespread drought, food scarcity, heat related deaths and loss of biodiversity, including insects and vital food crop pollinators.

At present the world is on track to overshoot the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C limit before 2050. In order to reduce the chance of runaway global warming and limit the effects of climate breakdown, it is imperative that we as a species reduce our C0² eq (carbon equivalent) emissions from their current 6.5 tons per person per year (14 tons per year in Elmbridge) to less than two tons pa as soon as possible.

  1. Individuals cannot be expected to make this reduction on their own. Society needs to change its laws, taxation and infrastructure to make low carbon living easier and the new norm;
  2. Carbon emissions result from both production and consumption;
  3. The borough has already made some positive progress, but this is not enough. More can and must be done. The IPPC in its October 2018 report was very clear that action from all parts of society is necessary and local government has a responsibility to lead the way; and
  4. Local governments around the world are therefore responding by declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and taking positive action to address this emergency.
Elmbridge Borough Council believes that:
  1. All levels of government (national, regional and local) have a duty to limit the negative impacts of climate breakdown. Local councils that recognise this should not wait for their national governments to change their policies;
  2. Elmbridge is already suffering from flooding problems, and a significant proportion of its population and a large number of its settlements are located on low or flood plain areas which would be severely affected by more frequent and extreme storms and rainfall both in the borough and up river. The consequences of the global temperature rising above 1.5˚C are potentially so severe that preventing this from happening is a number one priority; and
  3. Bold local climate action can deliver economic and social benefits in terms of new green jobs, economic savings and market opportunities, as well as much improved well-being for the people living and working in Elmbridge – for example through reducing fuel poverty and energy bills, encouraging healthy, active travel and improving green spaces and access to nature.