At the end of November, the local Green Party wrote to all Swindon Borough councillors warning that the world faces a potential climate catastrophe and asking them for help.
A week later the naturalist Sir David Attenborough said at the United Nations that climate change is humanity's greatest threat in thousands of years. The broadcaster said it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world.
The Greens asked Councillors to back a motion that would declare a climate emergency in Swindon and come up with a plan to put Swindon at the forefront of the fight to reduce our carbon emissions.
Since it started in Bristol, motions to declare a climate emergency have been winning cross-party support in councils and local authorities across the country. Earlier this month SBC namesake, Scarborough, another Conservative-run borough council, also declared a climate emergency and committed to do everything in their power to meet a 2030 target to become carbon neutral.
In his letter to the council, Andy Bentley, their parliamentary candidate for North Swindon, wrote: “This is not a Party-political issue; climate change will affect us all. In Bristol earlier this month, councillors from across the political spectrum joined together to unanimously support a similar motion. Will you help Swindon to do the same?”
At the time, Ken Kimber, the chair of the Swindon Green Party, pointed out that the last four years have been amongst the hottest since records began. “If we don’t stop rising temperatures now, we will see more extreme weather events in the UK and around the world. We don’t want Swindon to sit back and hope that someone else tackles this issue, we need to step up and take local action now.”.
In Swindon, councillors have also answered the call. Within hours of sending out his request, he had offers to propose and second the motion at this week’s meeting of the full council.
Those councillors worked with the Green Party to develop a joint motion that builds on the original to make it more relevant to Swindon and add more detail to the actions needed.
During that time members and supporters of the Party have been joined by other groups, including the Swindon Climate Action Network and Extinction Rebellion Swindon, in lobbying their councillors to ask them to support the motion when it came before the council.
Sadly, rather than come on board with a cross-party motion, the Conservative group proposed a much weaker, spoiler, motion. The hope had been to put Swindon at the forefront of the fight against catastrophic climate change, something that the administration’s motion completely fails to do.
In response to the Conservative motion, Bentley described it as “toothless” and “worse than useless”.
“The motion proposed by Councillor Martin sets no targets for carbon neutrality and absolutely no action on the part of the Council. Instead the administration is sticking its head firmly in the sand and hoping the problem will go away. Their motion fails to grasp the enormity of the problem that we are all facing. In fact, the original draft of their motion talks about avoiding a temperature rise of “more than 2 degrees” when the entire point of the IPCC report was that even a 2-degree rise would be catastrophic.”
On the night Conservative councillors lined up to agree that individuals needed to do more, that government needed to do more, but that Swindon council was doing fine as it is.
The motion that the Greens had been working on with Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues was proposed as an amendment. According to Bentley the steps that it puts forward could have put Swindon in the news for all the right reasons, after the recent debacle when the council floated the idea of just burning our plastic waste rather than recycling it.
Those steps include:
- The declaration of a Climate Emergency;
- A commitment to achieving a carbon neutral Swindon by 2030 and doing all it can to keep warming below a 1.5-degree threshold;
- To require Climate Change Impact Assessments of all council policies, for Planning rules to enforce low-carbon building and for the council to help people to understand what they can do to help Swindon meet its goals;
- To establish a Working Party to report back in 6 months with a plan of the other actions the Council needs to take to meet the 2030 target;
- To work with other authorities and partners across the town and region to deliver this new goal through all relevant strategies and plans;
- To develop our understanding of the likely impacts of climate change in Swindon and work to make the town more resilient to them;
- To call on the Wiltshire Pension Fund to divest the 3% of its funds which are held in fossil fuel companies.
“It’s particularly sad as many of the people who had spoken to Conservative councillors had told us they’d had a positive response. Climate change isn’t a Party-Political issue, we all share the same planet. I had naively hoped that those who did express support for the original Green Party motion, and for Swindon to take a lead in this issue, would have the courage of their convictions and vote for some clear targets and ambitious local action.”
When it became clear that the Conservatives were not prepared to back concrete action, they did at least concede to convene a working group to investigate the issue further.
“Our main objective here is to get the Council to recognise that this is an emergency, and to start to take action accordingly. We’ve waited too long already, we can’t afford to wait any longer. Swindon needs to put itself on course to become carbon neutral by 2030. Hopefully the working group will salvage something, but it’s more time wasted, time that we don’t have.”
“If the council continues to fail to recognise the scale of the impending disaster and act quickly it will be a betrayal of everyone living in Swindon today, and for generations to come.”