Friday, 27 September 2019

Climate Emergency - Will Kirklees take it seriously?

Speaking at the Climate Strike demo in Huddersfield
At last weeks Kirklees Full Council meeting I attempted to submit a Green Party motion on the £100 million of regional funding from West Yorkshire Combined Authority that is being used to support the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport. The Combined Authority is Labour Controlled and Kirklees Labour Leader Shabir Pandor sits on the Authority. There is a clear conflict with the statements by Leaders supposedly supporting the calls for a Climate Emergency. In the meeting I requested that a Green Party motion that was the first motion on the agenda be substituted for our motion on Leeds Bradford Airport that was much later on the agenda. I made the point that we have declared a climate emergency and as such this was an important issue that we ought to debate and as we were simply substituting one Green motion for another there was no detriment. The Labour Party Councillors voted down this change in the agenda. They clearly did not want to debate it. In the end no motions were debated at all as Council was guillotined at 9.00pm.

This has been the month when millions of children and adults from around the world have been demonstrating to show the need for urgent action given our deteriorating climate. Only days ago Greta Thunberg in the United Nations has berated those politicians who have failed to act in the face of undeniable evidence from climate scientists saying that the need for action is urgently required.  Commendably Leeds City Region has stated how it aims to be carbon neutral by 2038 however a study by researchers at the University of Leeds has shown that Leeds City Region Carbon Targets could be blown completely by Leeds Bradford Airports expansion plans.

My reading matter this week.
In the next few weeks Kirklees Climate Emergency Working Party, of which I am a member, will be reporting on its recommendations for action by the Kirklees Labour Cabinet. We have heard a lot of evidence from Council officers and some input from relevant local businesses. I hope the recommendations from the Working Party will be challenging but realistic. Of course realistic can be radical, realistic can be cutting edge and realistic can be pioneering but it requires political will and being prepared to take risks. Mediocrity on climate action is not acceptable and is completely ineffective.  I have been concerned to hear leading Labour politicians talking of being ‘realistic’ when what they really mean is doing the bare minimum. I feel that the voices of the Labour Old Guard hold sway. Those who at worst don’t really understand the threat of climate change and at best don’t recognise the opportunities we have to make significant change. A change that could really show the way for other  Local Authorities across the country.  If we are led by dinosaurs we will simply go the way of the dinosaurs.

Hearing the Labour Cabinet Member with responsibility for Climate Change speak at the Climate Strike Demonstration in St Georges Square on Friday claiming, hopefully through ignorance, that we were the first Council in the country to declare a climate emergency was particularly concerning. We were actually about the hundredth in the UK. We weren’t even the first in Yorkshire. It’s not that it was Green Councillors who successfully proposed the first climate emergencies that concerns me ( in Bristol, Nationally and Scarborough, Regionally) but that Kirklees Leaders have such a lack of self awareness as a Council that we don’t  recognise that we are no longer one of the Leading Authorities on action on Climate Change. There’s no shame in that if we have positive plans to improve but not recognising reality is not a good place to start from.

There is an urgent need for politicians in Kirklees to ‘step up’ and provide a radical and inspiring plan showing how we can be local leaders on climate action and not simply take the easy path that is destined to achieve very little. I remain hopeful and I will do my best to advise Kirklees on what action it should take but I believe that perhaps the most useful thing would be to play Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations before the next Kirklees Full Council meeting. That should help focus Councillors minds.