Agenda item

Climate Emergency - changes to Budget and Policy Framework

Report of the Cabinet Member for Environment asking Council to declare a climate emergency.

Minutes:

The Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations presented the recommendations in his report, which were made by the Cabinet at its meeting on 10 September 2019 in respect of declaring a climate emergency. The recommendations were subsequently endorsed by the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He said that the time had come for the Council talk about its actions and the climate. There was acknowledgement that any action the Council undertook would not make an immediate impact however it did not mean that the Council should refrain from acting and reducing its carbon footprint. He outlined the ambition to reduce the Council’s carbon footprint was in line with other organisations. He also recognised the need for the Council to act as a community leader by talking with residents, businesses and other public sector organisations. He hoped the Chief Executive’s climate change action group would be set up as quickly as possible, incorporating both Members and officers, to steer the Council to the point it achieves a net zero carbon position. The proposition was seconded.

 

In concluding, the Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations referred to cross-party conversations that had taken place following the preparation of the Council report that had led to the development of a collaborative amendment, which he urged Members to support.

 

The following amendment was proposed and seconded:

 

1.    South Kesteven District Council declares a ‘climate emergency’.

2.    In response to this, that Council:

a.    Confirms the political ambition to reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint by at least 30% by 2030 and to endeavour to become net-zero carbon by as soon as viable before 2050.  This encompasses the Council’s wholly owned companies.

b.    Recognises the importance of the much more far-reaching impact of the Council’s community leadership role to reduce South Kesteven’s carbon footprint (eg residents, businesses, other public sector organisations, visitors/commuters, etc).

c.    Requests the Interim Chief Executive to establish a ‘Climate Change Action’ task and finish group to:

                                i.        identify how the Council’s activities can work towards being net-zero carbon;

                               ii.        consider the latest climate science and expert advice on solutions;

                             iii.        consider systematically the climate change impact of each area of the Council’s activities;

                             iv.        propose relevant performance indicators to monitor progress towards net-zero carbon;

                              v.        establish any budgetary implications; and 

                             vi.        liaise with the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee and report initial findings to the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee in spring 2020.

                    d.        Allocate up to £50,000 to enable external advice and the recruitment of a Climate Change Officer straight away to drive forward the Council’s ambition to be net-zero carbon, as supported by the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet.

 

In proposing the amendment, reference was made to work in a previous term when the authority had begun to develop a Carbon Management Plan, which identified baseline emissions. Comments also referred to international progress that had been made in tackling climate change and how he would favour setting up a citizens’ assembly. Climate change issues were being considered by the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which had recently held a workshop on the subject. The Chief Executive’s task and finish group was welcomed as a mechanism for identifying the Council’s current position and where it wants to get to. The proposer of the amendment concluded by highlighting the differences between the recommendations made by Cabinet and the amendment he was proposing. The amendment was seconded by the Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations.

 

Members who spoke in support of the motion recognised that reducing carbon emissions would require lifestyle changes supported by improved infrastructure. Supporters also stated that the carbon reduction agenda was particularly important to young people and was necessary to safeguard children and future generations. There was recognition that the Council had to lead by example and the suggestion that more should be done to promote greener development through the Council’s Local Plan, specifically in terms of renewable energy and improving air quality. This was reiterated by another Member who suggested it could be possible to seek contributions from developers in support of the carbon reduction agenda or placing requirements on them as part of the planning approval process. One Member requested an update on the Council’s Local Plan at its next meeting.

 

Reference was made to Lincolnshire County Council’s progress in working towards achieving a net zero carbon position. It had achieved a reduction of 20% in its carbon footprint over 10 years. A dual-hatted Member stated that much of this had been achieved through the energy-proofing of its buildings, which made sense both environmentally and financially. Members were also told about a solar project that was being run by Warrington Borough Council. The Local Government Association had also declared a climate emergency at its annual conference and similar steps had been taken by over 280 councils.

 

Those members who spoke against the amendment stated that they did not feel that any steps made by the Council to reduce its carbon footprint would be meaningful, as the problem was worldwide. Some concern was also expressed about the allocation of up to £50,000 to support of this agenda. Those members who supported the investment of up to £50,000 said that the budget was key to ensuring that the Council could deliver what it would be pledging to do if either the substantive motion or the amendment were carried.

 

Other Members who spoke did not feel that the amendment went far enough, suggesting that the targets should be more challenging.

 

The Chairman of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee made a commitment to look at the feasibility of all ideas. If an idea was not currently feasible because the necessary technology was not available, it would be revisited in the future. Any suggestions would also be considered in the context of value for money.

 

In summing up on the amendment, the proposer of the original motion stated that the funding would not just buy consultancy but an officer to help oversee how the Council develops its profile and work in relation to carbon emissions. He acknowledged that the impact of any action taken by the Council would be negligible in the global context, a small effort by millions of organisations could make a large difference. He addressed the comments that had been made by those Members who did not feel the targets were sufficiently stretching, stating that it would be nearly impossible to achieve a net zero position by 2030 because the necessary infrastructure was not in place. He did say that part of the Council’s response would be lobbying the government to push for innovation and infrastructure improvements. Specific reference was made to electric vehicle charging points and a national shortage. Members were advised that following a tender exercise, electric vehicle charging points would be put into the district council’s car parks. South Kesteven was also the only council in Lincolnshire that had electric vehicles within its fleet. He also drew comparison between Lincolnshire County Council’s 20% reduction in its carbon footprint in ten years, compared to SKDC’s target of reducing its carbon footprint by 30% over the same period.

 

On being put to the vote, the amendment was carried and became the substantive motion.

 

An amendment was proposed and seconded, which would reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint to become net zero carbon by 2030.

 

The proposer and seconder of the amendment felt that the target set by the Council should be challenging. The seconder referred to fracking, and how the government policy contradicted the drive to reduce carbon in the environment. It was noted that there were experimental fracking sites in both Melton and the Vale of Belvoir; both were in close proximity to the district. The speakers also drew attention to the level of flood risk across the district and how the coastal areas could not cope with increases in the water level.

 

16:26 – as the meeting had been in progress for three hours, it was proposed, seconded and agreed that it be extended for a period of one hour.

 

Comments made against the amendment welcomed setting an ambitious target however, Members felt that there was sufficient flexibility in the wording of the substantive motion, with the intimation if it was possible to reach a net zero carbon position before 2050, then the Council should strive towards this.

 

The proposer of the original motion said that the national infrastructure was not sufficient to be able to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. He did, however, find the sentiment expressed by Members positive, as it indicated that there was an appetite to drive the carbon reduction agenda forward.

 

The amendment was put to the vote and lost.

 

The Chairman agreed to accommodate a request to separate voting on the substantive motion to give those members who did not support providing funding of £50,000 the chance to vote in favour of other aspects of the proposition.

 

A vote was taken on point 1, which was carried. A second vote was taken on points 2 a) to c), which was carried. A final vote was taken on recommendation 2 d), which was also carried. Council therefore AGREED:

 

1.    South Kesteven District Council declares a ‘climate emergency’.

2.    In response to this, that Council:

a.    Confirms the political ambition to reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint by at least 30% by 2030 and to endeavour to become net-zero carbon as soon as viable before 2050.  This encompasses the Council’s wholly owned companies.

b.    Recognises the importance of the much more far-reaching impact of the Council’s community leadership role to reduce South Kesteven’s carbon footprint (eg residents, businesses, other public sector organisations, visitors/commuters, etc).

c.    Requests the Interim Chief Executive to establish a ‘Climate Change Action’ task and finish group to:

i.     identify how the Council’s activities can work towards being net-zero carbon;

ii.    consider the latest climate science and expert advice on solutions;

iii.  consider systematically the climate change impact of each area of the Council’s activities;

iv.  propose relevant performance indicators to monitor progress towards net-zero carbon;

v.    establish any budgetary implications; and 

vi.  liaise with the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee and report initial findings to the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee in spring 2020.

d.    Allocate up to £50,000 to enable external advice and the recruitment of a Climate Change Officer straight away to drive forward the Council’s ambition to be net-zero carbon, as supported by the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet.

Supporting documents: