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Disappointment as Derbyshire County Council fails to declare a climate emergency

Matlock4Climate protesting in Matlock

Climate change campaigners and local residents say they are deeply disappointed at Derbyshire County Council's failure to declare a climate emergency.

At a full council meeting on 15 May 2019, the local authority decided to replace a motion proposing a Declaration of a Climate Emergency with what campaigners say is just enhanced “business as usual”.

At the meeting, the Conservative-controlled authority pledged to work towards the goal. But it was accused of 'ripping the heart' out of a call by Labour leader Anne Western for Derbyshire to declare a climate emergency.

More than 100 people from across the county – including young student activists – demonstrated their support for Councillor Western's proposal, gathering outside County Hall in Matlock before the meeting with banners and placards.

A petition drawn up by Derbyshire Climate Coalition – made up of groups throughout Derbyshire – also calling for a climate emergency to be declared has so far been signed by more than 2,000 people.

Watered down

While the Tories' commitment to eliminating greenhouse gases – and reporting back within six months on how that would be achieved – was welcomed, there was also anger among campaigners and opposition councillors that Anne Western's original motion had been watered down by Conservative amendments which removed the reference to a climate emergency.

The Labour leader's speech stressing the urgency of the climate problem received a standing ovation from the public. She noted that many of the actions on climate change were things that people wanted – such as better public transport, better air quality and communities safe from fracking.

Councillor Western said that Derbyshire was the birthplace of the industrial revolution which started the rise in carbon levels in the atmosphere and Derbyshire had a duty to do something about it

Councillor Irene Ratcliffe, who seconded the motion, said it was “a time for leadership and a time to be brave”.

Champagne controversy

But campaigners were bitterly disappointed by the response by council leader Barry Lewis, who – although saying he was supportive of the motion – claimed that carbon dioxide levels would increase despite our best efforts and that reducing carbon dioxide was “out of our hands in Derbyshire”.

Councillor Lewis – who owns a local wine company – also sparked controversy by claiming that climate change would benefit Derbyshire by making it possible to grow grapes for champagne.

Experts say that climate breakdown is likely to create erratic weather, floods, hurricanes, extreme, unseasonal frost and drought – none of which will benefit wine growing in the UK.

Global threat

The council's failure to declare a climate emergency comes in the wake of a major UN report last year, warning that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels requires unprecedented action – and that temperature rises above this threshold would be catastrophic. To avoid this, global carbon emissions must be halved within 12 years.

Matlock4Climate protestors

Meanwhile, another watershed UN report this month highlighted an “unprecedented” decline in nature, with around 1 million animal and plant species now threatened with extinction, many within decades – more than ever before in human history. Climate change is one the key culprits fuelling this threat to global biodiversity.

Members of Derbyshire Climate Coalition voiced their frustration that the council had not followed the lead of 60 other councils up and down the country. In Derbyshire, Wirksworth, New Mills and Belper Town Councils have already declared climate emergencies.

After the meeting, Councillor Western said: “It is bitterly disappointing that the Conservative councillors would not support the climate emergency motion.

“However, the positive outcome is that the urgent need for action on climate change has gained a much higher profile. The Labour Group at Derbyshire County Council is committed to working with groups and individuals who are concerned about this existential threat to our planet and together we will keep up the pressure to move the county council forward.”

Derbyshire Climate Coalition is also taking its campaign to all eight of Derbyshire's district and borough councils.

The coalition will continue to lobby Derbyshire County Council to declare a climate emergency and come up with concrete actions and quantitative targets towards net zero carbon as soon as possible.

Anne Thoday, from Clay Cross Against Fracking, said: “One of the councillors said that this was the most important issue that they had ever discussed in council. They are right – this is the biggest threat facing life on this planet and councils have a responsibility to act in the public interest. We now need to hold the politicians' feet to the fire until they start taking meaningful action that can reduce emissions.”

Mary Ann Hooper from Peak Extinction Rebellion said: "Councillor Lewis has said climate change 'may well become an existential threat'. It clearly is an existential threat right now. He displays no sense of urgency, which is what is needed if we are to move off a trajectory that takes us towards possible extinction.”

Student action

Following Derbyshire County Council's failure to declare a climate emergency, more than 100 school students from Matlock4Climate marched through Matlock town centre to Derbyshire County Council's offices on Friday 24 May, staging a 'die in' in the reception area, and calling on the local authority to taken stronger action.

Matlock4Climate protestors stage Die In at County Hall, Matlock

The students, aged 13-18 years old, joined global protests over climate change that took place in more than 120 countries – part of a growing worldwide youth movement demanding more effective political action on climate change.

“We want Derbyshire County Council and Matlock Town Council to follow the lead of dozens of councils across the UK in declaring a climate emergency. They also need to reduce local carbon emissions rapidly, with the aim of becoming carbon neutral as soon as possible,” said Izzy Bunting, 18.

The students had previously demonstrated at County Hall in April, again urging the local authority to declare a climate emergency.

Emily Bush, 17, said: “The last five years have been the hottest global years on record. The government's lack of action on tackling the climate crisis has forced students like us to take action ourselves.”

Climate change – the facts

In April, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough said that humans have at most 20 years to prevent the complete destruction of the environment.

During the same month, the BBC broadcast the acclaimed documentary 'Climate change – the facts', in which Sir David looked at the science of climate change, the damage it is causing already, and potential solutions to this global threat. The documentary can be watched on BBCiPlayer here.

Matlock4Climate protestors © Izzy Bunting