“We are facing extinction and all anyone can talk about is Brexit – yes, it’s important but there’s no point in finishing it if we’re all dead.”
These were the words of a Year 6 boy who appealed to a West Sussex councillor to support calls for a climate emergency to be declared in the county.
While the emergency was not declared, the entire county council came together and pledged themselves to step up work to combat climate change.
That work will include:
• Attempting to make the county council carbon neutral by 2030;
• Raising awareness of the issues and telling residents and businesses what they can do to help mitigate climate change;
• Looking at ways the council’s policies and work can take into account their impact on climate change, setting up a task and finish group to look into the matter in greater detail.
Before today’s meeting (Friday April 5) members of numerous climate action groups and political parties marched on County Hall.
At the meeting itself there were passionate statements from members of all parties.
Proposing the Notice of Motion, Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) said: “There is an overwhelming need to do as much as we can now.
“Securing real effective action in the short term – ideally crash programmes of emissions reductions or decarbonisation – are more important than ambitious programmes for the more distant future.”
That sense of urgency was one shared by every councillor who spoke – not just for West Sussex but for the world.
Andrew Lea (Con, Lindfield & High Weald) warned that even a small change in sea temperatures would destroy the planet’s coral reefs, adding: ‘We are the cause of one of the biggest and most rapid mass extinctions ever.”
David Barling (Con, Bramber Castle) said: “This is probably the most important motion that has come before this council.”
Mr Barling tabled an amendment to the motion, which was approved and recognised as strengthening the points brought forward by Mr Jones.
Calling on councillors and residents alike to do more, he said: “None of us must leave this to anyone else – we are all responsible.”
Kirsty Lord (Lib Dem, Hassocks & Burgess Hill South) also tabled an amendment, though this one was not accepted.
She told the meeting that West Sussex needed to do more than most to bring about change.
Quoting a report from the county’s environment and change board, she said the average West Sussex resident produced 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year, compared to the UK average of ten.
Ms Lord added: “There’s loads to do and we have very little time left to play with.”
Viral Parikh (Con, Bourne) certainly took the call to action to heart, pledging to cycle to all future council meetings – a pledge he realised he would probably regret.
On the subject of pollution, Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) suggested that this could be one of the root causes of autism and dementia.
Sharing the letter from the Year 6 lad in his Chichester North ward, Jeremy Hunt said: “We owe a duty to these young people – and I’m thrilled there are young children who are debating this in schools now.”
The amended Notice of Motion received unanimous approval.
Emma Cameron, of Worthing CAN, said that, while appreciating the passion shown by the councillors, campaigners were disappointed that they stopped short of calling a climate emergency.
She added: “We believe that is essential that the council does so in order to highlight the severity of the issue of climate breakdown and show local residents that it will take all necessary immediate action to bring down carbon emissions, invest the pension fund in renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, address air pollution and biodiversity loss.
“Young people are relying on those in power to take immediate and decisive action.
“Merely noting a climate emergency does not go far enough.
“We will continue with our campaign.”