Why the Conservatives will take action on Climate Change

At the Full Council meeting on the 24/7/19 there was a notice of motion put forward by Cllr Johnston on climate change. Unfortunately, the motion had asked for things we in Gosport do not have. He wanted the Executive and scrutiny functions to review items however we do not operate under an executive, we have committees that make decisions. He asked for a council scrutiny panel to consider the impact, but again such a panel does not exist. He then went on to ask the Executive Portfolio holder with responsibility for climate change, a position that does not exist.

There was much to support in the motion but I thought I would just take you back to 2008 when this was discussed and what had been achieved to date. In 2008 the council:

  • Signed up to the Carbon Management Programme
  • Produced a Climate Change Strategy
  • and signed the Nottingham  Declaration on Climate Change

Working groups were set up and we even had a member sponsor, Labour Cllr Mrs Cully.

There was a Climate Change and Energy Group which would oversee the Carbon Management Programme and Climate Change activity.

As part of this programme the Council reviewed the Carbon Trust’s ‘top ten carbon saving projects’ and implemented any that were feasible. All projects and initiatives were recorded and where possible calculations for carbon savings made. A new comparison against the baseline indicated 12% reduction over 3 years.

We agreed on a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan

This considered the councils role as a service provider, estate manager, planning authority, policy maker, purchaser of goods and services and as a community leader. So what actions have we taken over the years.

 Actions included:      

  • Establishing a greener office approach
  • We ran Switch off campaigns
  • We introduced green purchasing guides
  • Green procurement
  • Purchasing of ‘green electricity’
  • Introducing eco-driving for staff whose main role includes driving
  • Develop induction material for staff re carbon reduction and climate change
  • Launched a Car sharing scheme
  • Participating in and promoting Green Travel Days
  • Bicycles for staff business use
  • Promotion of bike purchase via salary sacrifice
  • Power down units for PCs
  • Server and printer rationalisation
  • Lighting upgrades/controls in town hall
  • Reducing use of air conditioning
  • Promoting of use of stairs instead of lifts
  • Walking for health campaign for staff
  • Rationalising of kettles/fridges etc and when needing replacing low energy products sought purchasing eco kettles
  • Improving energy efficiency of housing stock
  • Promoting carbon reduction to homes and businesses
  • Moving the agenda forward with electric vehicles through our supplementary planning document in 201

But of course, we recognise we need to do more, but we should do it in a way that is both realistic and achievable and I do not think the target date of 2030 put forward by Cllr Johnstone is either realistic or achievable. Indeed the LD Manifesto states: “Liberal Democrats were the first major political party to call for a zero-carbon Britain; we believe this target must be met by 2045, contributing to a zero-carbon EU by 2050.”

Therefore, I would be interested to hear how Cllr Johnston proposes his vision for the way ahead. Why does he differ from their own LD manifesto? How much would his proposal cost in both financial and officer time?

It is recognised by The Committee on Climate Change who advised against an earlier target at this time, and explained 2050 was an appropriate target based on current understanding, it is the latest date for the UK credibly to maintain its status as a climate world leader and the earliest to be credibly delivered

The Committee on Climate Change Report goes onto explain further that they have considered whether an earlier date than 2050 should be targeted. An earlier date has been proposed by some groups for example, the environmental charity WWF and the campaign group Extinction Rebellion have both suggested that the net zero target could be met by 2045 and 2025 respectively in the belief that it might send a stronger signal to those considering increasing their own ambition, but only if it is viewed as credible.

While the Committee on Climate Change scenarios demonstrate that some sectors (e.g. the power sector) could reach net-zero emissions by 2045, for most sectors 2050 currently appears to be the earliest credible date. Any earlier date would give less time to develop currently speculative options as alternatives to make up for any shortfall from other measures. That could lead to a need for punitive policies.

What we need is to ensure the rhetoric by the Liberal Democrats is matched by their actions as, unfortunately in the past, we have agreed on the way forward to combat climate change only to be let down by them. Over the years we have put forward measures to combat climate change, measures that include Window replacement to the Town Hall, the Implementation of 75 new energy efficient personal computers or the rewiring upgrades to Town Hall and over the last 10 years all have been consistently opposed at budget time, along with the 3 coastal schemes in last years’ budget. If they want to be taken seriously, and I do believe some of them do, then they should also step up to the plate and accept responsibility. As I said in the beginning there is much to support here.

We recognise that this country is in the forefront of delivering the fight against climate change and is recognised as a world leader. I believe we should all work together to help deliver an ambitious yet achievable outcome. It is not only me making such a call.

These calls were examined further by the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee as part of its Clean Growth Strategy inquiry. On 18 June 2019 the BEIS Committee examined the rationale for alternative targets proposed by environmental organisations in an evidence session with Extinction Rebellion, WWF and the Environmental Defense Fund. The Chair of the BEIS Committee (Rachel Reeves) summed up the views as follows in a subsequent House of Commons debate:

“Our Committee took evidence last week, including from the World Wide Fund for Nature, which said that a target of 2045 was eminently possible. We heard other evidence that by 2050 we should be looking not at net zero, but at taking carbon out of the atmosphere, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) said earlier, with a 120% target to do exactly that. I hope that when we have the five-year review we can look at being more radical and going further, so that we achieve net zero before 2050 and continue to be a world leader and ensure that we are at the forefront of creating green jobs and taking the opportunities that meeting this target will offer.”

With that in mind I do not think Gosport could go it alone and try and deliver something which is quite frankly not possible, not achievable and would take a considerable amount of officer time and vast sums of money. However, I do accept we should be doing our bit and we should be working with our colleagues both at an area, regional and national level to help move this agenda on. With that in mind I also believe that a climate change champion be appointed to ensure we have representation at all levels.

And so, the Conservative group put forward the following recommendation

“That Gosport Borough Council:

  1. recognises the need to remain fully engaged with the issue of climate change, and shall pay close heed to the action taken by many other Councils and organisations in the UK and globally,
  2. commits to develop an action plan that takes into account the Government’s world leading ambitious target so as to provide a meaningful and effective set of measures to such extent as shall be considered to be affordable for the Residents of the Borough, to ensure that Gosport moves towards any proven need for carbon neutrality by 2050 and developing yet greater resilience to the effects of climate change.
  3. appoints a Climate Change Awareness Champion.
  4. Sets up a working group to move things forward

Furthermore because of the widespread public and member interest in this matter, that Gosport Borough Council unanimously support this bold and ambitious programme.”

This was put to the council and was agreed with all Conservative and Labour councillors supporting the recommendations and the Liberal Democrats voting against.