South Ribble should aim to become carbon neutral in little more than a decade, councillors have ruled.
The borough authority became the latest council to declare a “climate emergency” – and backed up its statement with a goal to produce net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
But while concern about climate change was cross-party during a meeting of the full council, members disagreed over the practicalities of setting a carbon neutral date which is 20 years ahead of the nationwide target to achieve the same aim.
The Labour-controlled council’s air quality champion Ken Jones accepted that the motion which he was presenting would “not by itself save our planet”. But he said residents and the council could all play their part in tackling the climate crisis by making changes big and small.
“We have committed to plant one tree for every resident of our borough and research [has] found that planting billions of trees across the world is by far the best and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis. So where South Ribble leads, the world follows,” Cllr Jones said.
However, the Conservative opposition group – while commending the “ambition” of a 2030 target date – wanted the wording changed so that the South Ribble’s aim would be to go carbon neutral “in advance of 2050”.
“You have the support of the Conservative group in what you seek to do in tackling the climate emergency,” deputy Tory leader Caroline Moon said.
“But we felt that the 2050 target has been researched and is considered to be achievable…and it would be better to have that target in [the motion], without negating your ability [to achieve carbon neutrality] earlier.”
That move sparked more than half an hour of debate about whether the authority should bind itself to doing something in just over a decade which the country as a whole was not expected to achieve until the middle of the century.
Liberal Democrat group leader David Howarth said climate change now had to be “at the top of all our agendas”.
“This borough runs along a tidal river – and the more our seas rise, the more danger our residents are in. We must identify practical campaigns where people can make a difference,” Cllr Howarth said.
But Conservative member Alan Ogilvie warned against “over-promising and under-delivering”.
“With country-wide dates of 2050 [to become carbon neutral] and 2040 [to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles], what can South Ribble Council realistically achieve by 2030?”
“What restrictions do we dictate to our vital local industry base that they must implement by 2030 when they still have to compete with the rest of the UK working against a target of 2050?” Cllr Ogolvie asked.
But Labour criticised the Conservatives’ “paucity of ambition”.
“My six-year-old daughter understands [there is] a climate emergency – she tells me about the bad cars and she knows about [the impact of] plastic,” council leader Paul Foster said.
“I will happily stand here in 2030 and take it on the chin if we haven’t managed to achieve our aim. But between now and then, we’re going to do everything we can – and if every borough in the country has that ambition, then we can [make a difference].”
Conservative councillor Michael Green – who is cabinet member for the environment on Lancashire County Council – said the opposition group fully supported becoming carbon neutral “as quickly as we can”, but wanted to add “a reality check”.
“Do we ban residents from having cars ten years earlier than legislation sets out? Do we put a barrier on the M6 and M65 because we don’t want cars passing through?
“Clearly we can’t do that, so it’s about doing as much as we can do and putting pressure on others,” Cllr Green said.
As tempers threatened to fray, Cllr Jones said he had actually been encouraged by the general support for his proposition which had been shown during the debate.
“There has been some quibbling over the details, but who cares? If we get this wrong, we’ll all be dead anyway,” he said.
The Conservatives amended motion – which also described climate change as “a serious concern” rather than an “immediate danger” – was defeated and the original Labour proposal passed.
A working group of councillors will now be set up to consider how a local 2030 carbon neutral date can be achieved. It will also have the power to co-opt external members deemed to be able to make a contribution to the borough’s effort.