West Berkshire Council declared a climate emergency, and set a target of zero carbon emissions by 2030, at the full council meeting on Tuesday 2 July.
The decision follows a long campaign by the Green Party and other local groups. A petition organised by Steve Masters presented to the council earlier in the year led to a debate by councillors last month and, finally, cross-party agreement on taking this momentous step.
Councillor Carolyne Culver, leader of the council’s Green Party group, told the meeting: “Firstly, I want to pay tribute to Steve, Jackie Paynter and others for their hard work gathering signatures; more than 2,000 residents who signed our petition; the Extinction Rebellion activists and school climate strikers – whose actions the Greens wholeheartedly support and who will be proved to be on the right side of history.
“I welcome the cross-party support that now exists to go carbon neutral by 2030. Where the Greens lead, others follow. For the record, the text before you was drafted by us, with minor tweaks by the other parties.”
She posed the question “can we trust the Conservatives when it comes to the environment?” and pointed out that West Berkshire Tories still supported expansion of Heathrow airport.
“If we are serious about tackling climate change we need to say: no to airport expansion, major road projects, and fossil fuel extraction; and yes to renewable energy, sustainable transport, and carbon-neutral homes.”
Councillor Steve Masters said: “It is reassuring to see that the new administration has embraced the public mood and committed to dealing with what is the greatest challenge facing humanity.
“It is all the more encouraging when you contrast the reaction back in January when the idea of such a declaration was dismissed as hyperbole, and a worthy but ultimately misguided ambition.
“Much emphasis is made by the Conservatives both here in West Berkshire and in Parliament about personal responsibility. And indeed it is important that we all play our part. Personal responsibility, however, should not be used to abdicate responsibility from the main polluters who are mostly international fossil fuel companies. The poor didn’t get us here but they will be impacted the most by climate change.
“This motion is merely the first step. We need to be innovative, ambitious but above all serious in our actions. Half measures won’t cut it. Business as usual won’t deliver on our aspirations. The real work starts here and I will be pushing hard to ensure we deliver real change.”
The council will set up an Environment Board to coordinate its approach to the new policy but it will comprise only Conservative executive members – despite an earlier promise that it would be an all-party body. There will also be an Environment Advisory Group, which will include members of the opposition Liberal Democrats and Green Party.
Councillor Culver said: “We need cross-party representation on the Environment Board. The challenge we face needs us to all work together.”
Councillor David Marsh called on the Conservatives to invite representatives of Extinction Rebellion, the school strikers and other campaigners on to the Environment Advisory Group.
He said: “There is a huge amount of energy and expertise on issues such as recycling out there. The council should embrace the fact that so many people are committed to this campaign and we need to involve them.”
Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the following motion.
This council notes that:
1 All levels of government (national, regional and local) have a responsibility to limit the negative impacts of climate breakdown. It is important for the residents of West Berkshire and the UK that we commit to working towards carbon neutrality as quickly as possible.
2 The consequences of global temperature rising above 1.5° Celsius are so severe that preventing this from happening must be of the utmost urgency.
3 Bold climate action can deliver economic benefits in terms of new jobs, economic savings and market opportunities (as well as improved health and well-being) but will also require changes in individuals’ lifestyles and have a cost implication to both the individual and the state.
West Berkshire Council therefore:
1 Declares a climate emergency.
2 Will create a strategic plan for West Berkshire that aims to deliver carbon neutrality by 2030.
3 Calls on HM Government to provide the council with the powers and resources to make the 2030 target possible.
4 Will work with other authorities to determine and implement, where practicable, best practice methods to limit global warming to less than 1.5° Celsius.
5 Will continue to work with businesses, residents and other stakeholders across the district to deliver this new goal via all relevant strategies and plans.
6 The newly formed Environment Board will provide an interim report to the executive in September 2019 with the progress made to date.
Last month, Newbury Town Council and Thatcham Town Council, which both elected their first Green councillors on 2 May, both declared climate emergencies and also set a target date of 2030 to achieve carbon neutrality – in line with the urgent recommendations of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, and 20 years ahead of the current UK government target of 2050.