Emergency – then what?

The summer climate news is bad. (It usually is these days). This year a combination of record temperatures and flash floods in the UK, heat waves causing speed-melting of Greenland ice and massive wildfires in Siberia reinforce a sense that global change is here, now.

Siberian wildfires from on high

In line with that, our region is seeing more and more declarations of climate emergency, from organisations (such as Bristol University and We The Curious) and local government. South Gloucestershire Council declared a climate emergency last month, the last of the four local authorities in our region to do so (along with Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, and North Somerset). The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) followed on a week later.

But, as the Bristol Post explored here, it isn’t clear what this means, nor how the declaration translates into action. The WECA resolution, proposed by the regional mayor Tim Bowles, is pretty sketchy. It says that:

“The Combined Authority recognises”:

  1. The challenge and threat of the current climate emergency.
  2. The huge significance of climate change and its impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of our residents, and the very real concerns of residents on these issues.
  3. The foresight and leadership shown on this issue and positive actions being taken by the West of England authorities; and welcomes the respective motions agreed recently by these councils on the climate emergency and actively taking up the challenge of achieving carbon neutrality.
  4. That a huge amount of work is taking place across the region and that the West of England has already made a strong commitment to clean and inclusive economic growth.

And it then resolves:

“In recognition of the seriousness of the global climate emergency”:

To declare a climate emergency and continue to work with West of England authorities and The West of England Local Enterprise Partnership to agree an action plan to underpin the West of England Energy Strategy, recognising this will be a key tool in seeking the additional government investment necessary to enable us to deliver the ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2030; progress reports will be brought to the West of England Combined Authority Committee, the West of England Joint Committee and the Combined Authority Overview & Scrutiny Committee on a 6 monthly basis.

We recognise the good intentions here, as in other similar resolutions. But it’s also notable that Bowles highlights economic growth as the allied aim, rather than, say, zero carbon. The proliferation of these encouraging resolutions also means there are more local decision-makers to keep a close eye on to see if they really mean it.

North Somerset, for example, is following through on its own resolution – and last month asked officers to prepare a report “with costings” on actions aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. As elsewhere, that is bound to mean lots of things the authority can’t do by itself, so they’ll need support from all quarters. But their latest progress report (pdf) suggests they’ve made a good start on thinking this through.

In Bristol, where mayor Marvin Rees is certainly saying some of the right things about the hard work of implementation, the imminent formation of a new Advisory Committee on Climate Change should help us all keep tabs on progress. And we reckon it is up to Zero West, and everyone else, to come up with suggestions for moving things in the right direction, rather than just demanding that things change. Lots to do!

(photo credit – Antti Lipponen [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)])

Author: Zero West