Declaring a Climate Emergency

A red barrier in front of a flooded river with a bright yellow sign on it saying

On Wednesday, five members of the Lancaster University Environment Centre were among seven members of the public to argue the case for Lancaster City Council declaring a Climate Emergency.

Speaking before the full debate on the motion, they argued the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, and that the community, especially young people, need to be involved in the process.

The climate emergency motion, which was passed unanimously, committed the Council to involving local people in developing and costing a plan to cut the net carbon emissions of its activities to zero by 2030 - making Lancaster District one of a small but growing number of UK councils to declare a climate emergency.

Lancaster University student Millie Prosser got involved after learning about a petition started by local school student Rosie Mills, calling on Lancaster City Council to consult young people on climate action. Millie decided to help.

“In just four days of concentrated effort, we managed to get the number of signatures from 300 to 1530,” said Millie, who is studying for a BSc in Natural Sciences focusing on ecology and the environment.

Speaking at the Council meeting, Millie said: “I feel passionate that the people of Lancaster District be considered and included in plans for climate action. Especially that the young people,whose futures and livelihoods are at stake, have a voice that is heard throughout the process.

“I implore you not to take the power out of this motion, by lessening the urgency of our proposals you deny the reality of climate change.”

Climate scientist, Dr Paul Young, is associate director of the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business. He told councillors how the science strongly backs the need for immediate action. “The conclusions from our best science is – I would say – unusually clear and plain in communicating the urgency: we need to “bend the emissions curve” if we, as a planet, are to avoid the serious impacts of climate change

“Local communities through local democracy have a fantastic opportunity to create locally-appropriate and socially-engaged solutions to address the climate emergency. A community acts as a tremendous multiplier to scale up solutions that would not provide the same punch if they were adopted piecemeal.” 

Dr Andrew Jarvis, urged the Council to listen to the voice of young people like Millie. He told them that changes to the Treasury Green Book, which offers guidance on how government spending decisions should be made, now allows local authorities to take into account the impact of current actions on future generations. He urged councillors to take advantage of this.

Alison Cahn, a writer and film maker who writes stories for the Lancaster Environment Centre website, spoke about how the district is already being affected by climate change. She quoted from an interview she did in the aftermath of Storm Desmond with John Curtin, a Lancaster University graduate and Executive Director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management at the Environment Agency, in the aftermath of Storm Desmond.

“Here’s what he told me - I quote: ‘It is no longer possible to say these extreme storms are unprecedented. What happened in Flood Desmond was extreme, but it was within the envelope of what we should expect. We need to continue to keep ahead of the game by thinking faster than the climate is changing.”

Martin Paley, who has a BSc in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Lancaster and now works at the University for Green Lancaster, helped councillors to visualise the carbon impact of our everyday activities, using a balloon as a prop.

“This balloon represents 16 g of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a greenhouse gas. The world average CO2 emissions per capita is 5 metric tonnes - that’s 312,500  balloons. Let’s say we want to make a cup of tea - when you boil a kettle with 500 ml of water, imagine releasing 2 balloons from your kitchen. Add another if you decide to have dairy milk in it. Just 1L of petrol, about 10 miles of driving – 197 balloons. An internal flight in the UK – 31,000 balloons.”

Another Lancaster University student, Councillor Oliver Robinson, who represents the University ward on the City Council, tabled a successful amendment to the motion, to ensure that the voice of young people is heard in the process, involving them and other local experts and residents in order to come up with ideas about how to tackle the issue.

Councillors praised the contribution made by members of the public to the debate. Councillor Kevin Frea, who proposed the motion, believes the input of experts and others is vital.

“Councillors focus on the day to day lives and concerns of people in the District so it can be hard for us to take into account longer term but critical issues like climate change,” he said. “People coming to offer their expertise and to let us know what they are thinking and feeling about climate change, means our discussion doesn’t happen in a bubble.

“Climate change is something that is going to take our collaborative best efforts to solve. If this kind of initiative happens in every local council in the country we do have a chance to take meaningful action.”

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