Categories
National Politics

Avoiding the rocks: steering a climate emergency by newspaper headlines is a dangerous course that can undermine the overall strategy.

“How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words”

Greta Thunberg at the UN Summit in New York

Bearing in mind that we need actions more than words to fight climate change, I’m surprised to see this story on the Redditch climate emergency:

https://redditchstandard.co.uk/news/borough-council-last-in-climate-table-despite-saying-its-ahead-on-green-issues/

It says:

REDDITCH Borough Council, which is aiming to position itself as ‘ahead of the curve’ on green issues has finished towards in the bottom of a league table of climate friendly local authorities.

Drawn up by the pressure group Friends of the Earth, each council was assessed in different categories including renewable energy, public transport, lift-sharing, energy efficiency at home, waste recycling, and tree cover to find an overall winner.

We in the Conservative administration of Redditch Borough Council have never been sent any table by Friends of the Earth, but we have seen a Green Party one that actually ranks Redditch quite well:
https://westmidlands.greenparty.org.uk/council-climate-league-table/

CouncilScore (out of 11)Position
Worcester71st
Malvern Hills62nd
Cannock Chase5Joint 3rd
Redditch5Joint 3rd

Also, in the Friends of the Earth methodology there is a fault in calculating tree coverage, which they themselves admit:

Tree cover – this was calculated using GIS mapping to overlay local authority areas over the National Forest Inventory , and from that calculating woodland in each local authority area. The NFI is known to under-report tree cover in urban areas, so Friends of the Earth is carrying out further research to provide a more accurate estimate, which we will publish later this year.  

With around 4m trees in Redditch, we have a very high level of tree cover, but it’s not properly reflected in this table – so yet again Redditch is not getting the proper recognition it deserves.

The Council’s climate change panel has been tasked with setting a target date for carbon zero as part of a Climate Action Plan – which is something Friends of the Earth are calling for, so I do not accept the newspaper’s characterisation that we have “failed” to set a date when actually we are working to come up with a date that’s ambitious and realistic, and we are carrying out what Friends of the Earth has asked us to do.

I personally hope that date is well ahead of 2050, and I even hope we can beat 2030, which the work of the panel will be able to establish rather than plucking a date out of thin air to pander to media headlines. 

There is a real danger that councils will start to operate their climate emergencies based on headlines and perception, rather than doing things that are effective but perhaps not as glamorous. We cannot steal yet more childhoods by warm words and newspaper headlines. The time for action is now – and Redditch Borough Council is embarked on evidence-led action that will make a difference, not aiming for what will win a quick headline.

Finally, I don’t buy that “21 places from the bottom” counts as ‘near bottom’ – bottom 5 would be ‘near bottom’ – if anything we are actually mid-table, which is still not good enough, but let’s not make out we’re ‘near bottom’ when actually we’re not.

Categories
Redditch Borough Council

My Response to Redditch Standard Editor’s Comment on RBC Climate Change Panel

Response to Editor’s Comment, Page 8, 27/09/2019

In response to this week’s Editor’s Comment, I just wanted to explain a couple of things and let residents judge for themselves in possession of both sides of the debate, not just the one.

Actually, by having our Climate Change Panel in private we can have *more* public engagement and participation in its work not less. As a private panel, it has the power to set its own topics and invite key members of the public to come and present and/or give evidence. This means the opportunity for interested people to come and persuade the powers that be is *greater* than it could be in a public meeting.

A public meeting only allows the public to come and ask a question. Questions are usually time-limited and at the discretion of the chair. That’s because the public are there to observe and scrutinise the work of elected officials in a public meeting so they can hold them to account at an election time, whereas in a private meeting they can be elevated to contributors and give their evidence and submissions in what the modern world refers to as a safe space. It’s an important distinction. 

As for the target – the reason why this has been sent to the panel to determine is due to those of us in the Conservative administration having a belief that we can actually set the target to be sooner than 2030, so we want the panel to determine if this is feasible or not. We want them to come back with an answer based on evidence, not political expediency. We know other councils have opted for 2030 or 2050 in response to public pressure, but how do any of us know that actually they could not have done it by 2025 or 2032 or 2038 or sooner? 

I don’t deny that the public mood on this topic has helped us get our skates on. But the local media and local campaigners seem to forget that my colleagues and I are on the same page, we are on board with this and we share that public mood too. We are, after all, representatives of the people.

What’s more, we turn up to the meetings. It’s all well and good to make a big noise about ‘public’ versus ‘private’ but the council has held TWO public meetings on this topic now and there were no Green campaigners or environmental activists in either of these meetings. As I’ve said before, it’s all well and good amassing a crowd outside Town Hall, but you’ve also got to engage in the committee rooms where the decisions are made.

Also in the Letters Page this week…