County council declares climate emergency despite disagreement on carbon neutrality target date

Campaigners outside County Hall in Lewes
Campaigners outside County Hall in Lewes

East Sussex County Council has become the latest local authority to declare a climate emergency, although some were left unsatisfied with the date of a carbon neutrality target.

On Tuesday (October 15), East Sussex county councillors unanimously backed a motion calling on the council to declare a climate emergency and commit to becoming carbon neutral before 2050.

The decision came as a result of a cross-party motion between the council’s Conservative and Labour groups, with both parties having agreed to combine separate motions on the issue at a scrutiny committee meeting last month.

While overall aims of the motion were broadly supported by other councillors in the chamber, there were calls from other political groups for a more ambitious target of 2030.

‘Are we being sufficiently ambitious?’

Arguing this case as part of a wider amendment, Liberal Democrat group leader David Tutt pointed out that the original Labour motion had set its target as 2030 – a date in line with the majority of the council’s district and borough councils.

He said: “The question for me is whether we are being sufficiently ambitious in terms of  2050. I don’t believe we are. 

“Eastbourne, Lewes, Rother and I believe Hastings, have already gone for targets of 2030. That’s four fifths of East Sussex already saying ‘we will work towards a target of 2030’.

“I’m conscious of the fact that politics breeds an adversarial climate and I don’t want us to get in to that. If we are going to actually achieve carbon neutrality and protect the planet for future generations then we all need to work together on that. 

“The question though is are our actions, if we are working towards a deadline of 2050, going to be sufficient to actually bring about the change that is required to secure the planet for those future generations.”

Cllr Tutt also said the amendment – which also included calls for environmental impact assessments of all council decisions – was “not intended as a wrecking motion” and was instead intended to strengthen the original.

‘Good way forward’

However, the decision to compromise on the target date was defended by Labour group co-leader Godfrey Daniel.

He said: “I’m not surprised we’ve got an amendment from the Liberals, because I think they are feeling fairly left out of late.

“I think this is a good way forward. We are not all going to achieve 100 per cent of what we want but if you look at the original Conservative motion and our motion, you will see we have beefed it up considerably. 

“We do that with logical argument, persuasion and with the understanding of getting everybody on board with this debate.”

Cllr Daniel also argued the target would not stop the council from moving towards carbon neutrality in the shorter term and said the target would be due for a review in 12 months time.

‘We are leading the way’

Council leader Keith Glazier, also criticised the Liberal Democrat amendment, saying the target date was “as soon as possible” with 2050 as a deadline.

He said: “I question this fixation with ‘30 when as soon as possible might be ‘20. Are we going to complain about that? It might be ‘32.

“To actually stick a target date in that you have no idea, any more than I do, whether it is actually achievable or not. We would do it as soon as possible.

“What I would also say is words mean nothing. Look at the actions of this council and the actions we will continue to take in the future. We are leading the way.”  

Following further debate the Liberal Democrat amendment was voted down, with the original Conservative-Labour motion unanimously approved.

‘They’ve blown it’

The decision, however, drew criticism from some campaigners present at the meeting, many of whom had taken part in a protest alongside a petition calling for the council to divest its pension fund from the fossil fuel industry.

They included Green Party activist Julia Hilton who described the climate change motion as “breathtaking hypocrisy” in light of the council’s response to the petition.

Speaking on behalf of Divest East Sussex, Mrs Hilton said: “It’s breathtaking hypocrisy for East Sussex County Council to declare a climate emergency while continuing to invest in the very  companies that are driving the climate crisis – and a clear sign of its contempt for all those of us who’ve been demanding urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.

“This was a litmus test for whether the council is serious about tackling climate change and they’ve blown it on the day of their declaration.”