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.
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”.
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.
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.