The giant pachyderm in the council chamber

In which we ask Steve Dyke to give us the green view, so he offers us a terrifying vision of our climate future..

‘Brexit’ seems to have dominated the news for years, so some may have forgotten that last October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on the impacts if ‘global warming’ raises the Earth’s temperature by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. At the current rate of increase this temperature will be reached sometime between 2030 and 2052 – and then continue to rise.  Please do not be deceived by phrase ‘global warming’, which suggests something pleasant and harmless, because in reality we are in a state of climate emergency and seem headed inexorably towards a climate breakdown.

The expected 1.5°C increase will have major negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems and bring other significant consequences for humankind, including increased flooding and risks to health, food security and water supply.

However if countries do little or nothing about this crisis, the consequences of an even greater temperature increase will be truly catastrophic. At present the Earth seems to be heading for an increase of between 3° and 4°C. At those raised temperatures large parts of the world will be uninhabitable and the way of life will be altered for ever for the survivors.

The world’s leading climate scientists are saying that we now have only 12 years for ‘global warming’ to be kept to a 1.5°C increase. Beyond that even a modest increase to 2°C significantly worsens the risks of extreme weather events, drought and poverty for a large part of the world’s population.

‘Global warming’ has been made through the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a result of human activity and it is humans who need to cut their emissions of these gases. For the world to keep to just a 1.5°C increase in temperature will require an unprecedented, rapid and radical shift in the way society acts.

The IPCC report is aimed squarely at policymakers, intended to galvanise them into taking the urgent action needed to respond to the threats resulting from this warming planet, as well as ensuring future development is sustainable and that every effort is made to eradicate poverty. It has certainly led to a greater awareness among ordinary people – and young people in particular – of the climate emergency we face, but have our politicians shifted into a higher gear?

I had hoped that that our own local policymakers, Medway Council, would have responded swiftly and positively to the IPCC’s call for action, seeking ways to mitigate the effects of the crisis for the quarter million plus people living in the Unitary Authority and to adapt the Medway area to respond to the challenges faced. However I have found no obvious information about the issue on the Council’s web pages, not even under ‘Environment’. Searching the website for ‘climate change’ does bring up nearly 12000 results, but none of these seems to indicate any recent activity or discussion has taken place.

Have the forthcoming local elections focused the minds of both the current Conservative administration and the Labour opposition on the issue? After all there must be many voters out there who are concerned about what we are doing to our planet?

Medway Labour’s ‘Rebuilding Medway’ manifesto addresses a number of areas, but climate change does not seem to be one of them. The document does note that “traffic congestion and emissions are causing misery”, but only in the context of problems being caused for motorists and of premature deaths due to poor air quality. Labour does indicate that if in power they will take action to cut vehicle emissions and invest in sustainability, but there is no detail of what this will mean in practice.

If I found the Labour manifesto disappointing in terms of a commitment to taking action on climate change, then the Conservative one page ‘manifesto’ I have seen can be considered a washout. It contains nothing relating to this crisis. Zilch.

Both parties also seem committed to ‘growth’ without acknowledging that there might be any constraints to this resulting from the need to tackle the climate emergency.  If we are to reduce and then stop emissions we need to end the pursuit of endless economic growth on a planet with finite resources. We will all need to make tough decisions regarding our lifestyle, with significant reductions needed in both economic growth and material consumption.

The climate emergency is the elephant in the room – or the giant pachyderm in the council chamber. The next Medway Council administration, be it Tory or Labour, should not just acknowledge its presence, but be ready to give leadership on tackling this issue.

Over 40 councils throughout the UK (including Bristol, Brighton, Manchester and Sheffield) have passed motions declaring a climate emergency and setting net zero carbon emission targets for their areas – in many cases by as soon as 2030. It is to be welcomed that the Labour party nationally has similarly recently declared a “national environment and climate emergency”. Good to see them following the lead of the Green Party on this issue.

While many of these motions have been brought initially by Green Party councillors, they have generally depended on cross-party support for approval. This is appropriate because the crisis is too important to play party politics.

I would like to see Medway Council too declaring a climate emergency. It doesn’t matter to me to what party the Councillor proposing the motion belongs – although I naturally hope that after May it will be a Green one. Such a declaration would only be a first step, but it would be an important one. Targets must then be turned into reality, action must be taken. A cross party group should prioritise develop a plan to make the Medway area carbon neutral, taking advantage of solutions that are out there now, such as sustainable transport, renewable technology and zero-carbon buildings.

The development and implementation of such a plan will never be easy, especially in the current environment when local authorities face budget cuts and other central government policy that often fails to support the radical climate action that needs to be taken. But we have to try – we have no ‘Planet B’.

On 13th March, Green MP Caroline Lucas tabled a motion in Parliament (EDM #2177) calling on the UK Government to “declare a climate emergency and to release the necessary funding, including to local authorities, to enact a green new deal that would rapidly decarbonise the entire UK economy”. So far, MPs from parties across the House have all signed to support the motion. Wouldn’t it be great if our three Medway MPs did so too?

Steve Dyke is a member of Medway Green Party and a previous local election candidate for Strood North and Strood South wards. Born in Northfleet, he moved to Medway aged 5 and has been here ever since.

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One Reply to “The giant pachyderm in the council chamber”

  1. Great article, thanks for writing it.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think it’s time to reconsider our worshipping of economic ‘growth’ and see it for the tumour it really is – no more than the concentrated privatisation of profit while externalities of formidable impact are socialised. The system we live in now is already highly unsustainable, so to think we can keep it ‘growing’ without hitting rather lethal snags on the fairly short term is ludicrously stupid.

    It is sickening but not surprising to know that neither of the main parties have considered the survival of our communities past the immediate future in their manifestos.

    Caroline Lucas’ proposal for a general emergency declaration is a very constructive and measured approach, and if our council wants to make Medway a leader in anything, it should be focusing on putting us at the forefront of this singularly viable strategy for the survival of our species and of those we haven’t yet driven to extinction.

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