At last night’s meeting of Newcastle City Council, the Green Party questioned the progress made on climate change over the last decade. Their question followed a public talk in Newcastle last week by Green think-tank founder Rupert Read, who issued an urgent call to action against impending climate catastrophe.
Green Party campaigner Taymar Pitman said “the Council’s Climate Change Strategy, adopted in 2010, is now dangerously outdated and the need for urgent action has grown since it was written.
We need an update on the progress the Council has achieved, and an updated strategy. The climate crisis poses a threat to our health, and our children and grandchildren’s futures - we risk ecological and societal collapse”.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently warned that there are just 11 years left to take emergency action in order to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown .
Newcastle Green Party spokesperson and climate change researcher Alistair Ford explained that “this report by the global scientific community shows we need to take urgent steps to limit global warming below the internationally-agreed 2°C. If we don’t, the risks to humanity from floods, droughts, extreme heat, food insecurity, and growing poverty become much greater, with far worse impacts for the UK and for hundreds of millions more people across the globe”.
Pitman remarked “Council documents recognise that climate change is already bringing more frequent and severe weather events to Newcastle, and in future will pose a threat to infrastructure, critical services, public health, and our economy. The most vulnerable in our city will be hit hardest.
The Council’s strategy does not go far enough, and the Council are failing to report any progress”.
Pitman asked the Council which of the pledges made in 2010, intended to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 34% (from 1990 levels) by 2020, has been achieve with one year to go. As part of the European Commission’s ‘Covenant of Mayors’ agreement, which the Council signed in 2014, carbon emissions should be cut by over 20% from 2005 levels by 2020, with progress reported every two years. Not one progress report has been produced.
Responding to Pitman, Cllr Nick Kemp accepted that the Council’s public Climate Change Strategy “is dated” and that their “plan from 2010 requires updating”, saying they “will be reviewing the implications of 2018 climate projections”. Kemp claimed that “despite the public profile and documents on our website”, the Council has “sustained efforts” on climate change and that Newcastle’s CO2 emissions had “reduced significantly”. However, he did not “feel it appropriate to review the 18 actions covered in the Declaration...as it would tae significant Officer time to collate this information and account for how policy has evolved”, instead of which, he said the council were taking a “forward-looking perspective”.
Taymar responded to express her disappointment that any progress made appears to be largely “down to changes in the [national] energy market rather than tangible actions by the council”.
Afterwards she remarked “It is shocking that our Council are not even monitoring progress toward their own existing targets - so much for democratic accountability. It’s not good enough for them to simply expect the public to take their word for it; we need evidence showing what they have been doing to protect us and a clear time-frame for updating their strategy, not vague future promises”.
In November, Green Party councillors in Bristol succeeded in bringing the city’s target to become carbon neutral forward by 20 years to 2030, committing Bristol to the most ambitious climate change target out of all UK Core Cities. Weeks later, the London Assembly also passed a motion proposed by the Green Party to bring its target to become carbon neutral forward to 2030.
Manchester town hall pledged to ensure that all energy used in Manchester is “carbon zero” by 2038.
“As a leader in the North and one of the UK’s Core Cities, Newcastle City Council must follow Bristol and Manchester, helping to lead the way to a fossil-free Northern Powerhouse and UK”, challenged Pitman. “Newcastle is dangerously lagging behind other major UK cities - the council’s commitments and achievements in tackling climate change are simply inadequate. We must elect Green councillors who are prepared to square up to this critical challenge and show public accountability. Instead of taking us towards a sustainable, more resilient and healthier society, Newcastle Council goes against even its own carbon reduction goals by supporting plans for road building, felling trees and tarmacing over green space to build housing designed around car use” “The good news is there would be numerous added benefits of taking action on climate change now - giving us more resilient and healthier communities, creating new job opportunities, growing the local economy and improving our well-being” said Ford. “Tackling climate helps reduce inequality, as poorer people are worst affected by climate breakdown but will benefit from measures such as improved insulation and transport”.
The Newcastle Green Party is calling on the Council to do more to report on progress and ensure Newcastle plays its role in meeting UK climate obligations, giving the city the best chance of a secure future.
Taymar Pitman’s address and question to Newcastle City Council is available here.
Newcastle Green Party’s press release on Rupert Read’s talk is available here.