Last week saw hundreds of Cambridge school children strke in protest of inaction on climate changeJiawei Peng

Following a petition which attracted the signatures of over 2,000 local residents, the Cambridge City Council has declared a ‘Climate Emergency.’

The declaration was made at yesterday’s Full Council meeting, during which government, industry and regulators were called on to make the changes necessary for both the city and the UK as a whole to achieve a goal of net zero carbon by 2030.

The council called on the government to ensure the availability of the resources and policies needed to tackle the climate crisis, including investment in clean and efficient national-level infrastructure to facilitate a reduction in CO2 emissions and the use of renewable energy, funding for energy efficient measures in the home and financial backing of affordable, energy efficient public transport across the country.


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Hundreds of Cambridge schoolchildren strike in protest of climate change

They also agreed to establish a ‘Cambridge Climate Charter’ which would seek to encourage all organisations, businesses and individuals in the city to establish their own carbon reduction plans and therefore contribute to the overall effort to achieve the city’s net carbon-zero goal.

The council also reiterated its commitment to reducing the carbon emissions produced by its own buildings and projects, plans for which were laid out in its Carbon Management Plan for 2016-21. These plans are part of the council’s larger Climate Change Strategy 2016-21, which outlines the key objectives for how it will tackle the issue. Included in this are schemes to reduce energy consumption by and emissions from homes, businesses and transport in Cambridge by promoting behaviour changes and sustainable alternatives, and support local businesses and residents in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

In order to support citizens of Cambridge in reducing their carbon emissions the council announced plans to implement a number of the measures detailed in the Climate Change Strategy including, amongst others, altering taxi licencing regulations to encourage a shift away from diesel vehicles, increasing investment in city cycleways and bus networks and ensuring that, where possible, sustainability standards are met in any new council housing developments.

Councillor Rosy Moore, the Executive Councillor for Environmental Services and City Centre, welcomed the declaration but noted that “real progress towards net zero carbon can only come from major changes in the way that energy is generated, distributed and used at the national level.”

To this end, she said “We call upon the Government to give us greater powers and to provide the national policies and the investment in renewable energy sources, home energy efficiency, public transport and low-emission vehicles needed to reach net zero carbon by 2030.”

However, the declaration has drawn criticism from those who argue that it does little to alter the plans and deadlines of the Climate Change Strategy. This means that it leaves in place a 2050 deadline for the achievement of the net zero carbon goal, and, critics argue, passes the buck for achieving this at the earlier date of 2030, to national government.

At the meeting, Liberal Democrat Councillor Rod Cantrill proposed a motion suggesting that Cambridge enact the goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. This was, however, side-lined, and no substantial policy change was made. Whilst supportive of the declaration in principle he said: “It is though really disappointing that the Labour administration materially watered down campaigners’ central demand for a target date by amending my motion that called for Cambridge to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“As a result, the council has ended up patting itself on the back and blaming the government and others for the problem. This hardly reflects a good response to an emergency with the council taking the lead on behalf of the residents of Cambridge.”

The Cambridge branch of the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion criticized the council for not going far enough, noting that the petition submitted called for net zero carbon targets to be reached by 2025. Instead of amending their deadlines to an earlier date, they say, the council made no concrete commitments to achieving these goals any sooner: “Scientists say the entire world needs to be zero carbon by 2050. A city with the resources and skills of Cambridge can and must hit zero carbon long before then.”

The group also slated what they saw as the council’s view that without different leadership in national government, there was little hope for progress, commenting that “It is not good enough to argue that meaningful action on climate change is subject to a change of national government. This is an abdication of the council’s responsibility to protect its constituents. Politicians have played the climate politics blame game for far too long and it has put us on track for catastrophic climate change.”

Instead, they called on the council to demonstrate a greater commitment to providing in the face of the crisis, saying “The council must act like the climate emergency they have declared in real. Unfortunately, the council last night did not announce action consistent with a state of emergency.”

This sentiment was echoed by the University’s Zero Carbon Society who described the declaration as “watered-down” and the 2050 goals as being “far too late”, again calling for a new and substantiated 2030 target in order to ensure that we “stay below 1.5 degrees warming and avoid catastrophic climate breakdown”.

They added: “We joined the tens of thousands of students striking last Friday to call on the Government and the University to deliver a zero carbon future by 2030. Failing to tackle the climate crisis with the urgency it requires will have disastrous consequences, disproportionately affecting countries in the Global South and the world’s most marginalised communities for which the declaration of emergency comes 20 years too late.”

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