My part in the North Somerset Climate Emergency story begins at the end of 2018. I’m sharing this as brief tour through a little slice of activism. If this story was to have a moral, it would be to remind you that it’s your right as a citizen to stick your nose in, to ask questions about issues that matter to you, and to get involved in local democracy to drive action.
I was totally inspired by the Extinction Rebellion Declaration of Rebellion held in Parliament Square on 31st October 2018. I can’t even remember how I found out about it – maybe George Monbiot? – but off I went on a cheap coach and OH. BOY.
Clive Lewis MP spoke to us, agreeing with our actions and making me feel proud to be Labour. I had no idea who Greta Thunberg was, I was just immersed in how we all repeated the words back to this young woman so those at the back of the crowd could hear her speech. I knew full well who Caroline Lucas and George Monbiot were, but I was more in awe of the man stood next to me as we both cried following the invitation to feel our grief.
So imagine my joy a few months later when I found out that a freshly formed Extinction Rebellion (XRWSM) was starting to meet.
Here I must briefly declare that I can never be, nor want to be apolitical or non-political. And this is tricky in a group that declares itself in opposition to one of your core beliefs (or is it a value? Anyway…)
There was immediate talk at XRWSM of how to get North Somerset Council to declare a climate emergency. Right up my street. But how to balance my Labour campaigner streak in a group that demands politics is left at the door?
I wanted Labour Party councillors to raise/table the motion (which means suggest it at a full council meeting), whereas other XRWSM members didn’t care who raised it. Does that sound petty? I hope not. Raising motions, which at their best are putting important ideas into action is what politics is supposed to be about, isn’t it? I wanted my party to be evidencing our commitment to the radical action needed to help us mitigate and adapt to climate breakdown.
But it is true that the scale of the action needed transcends normal political divides. So I decided to send the motion to opposition councillors as well as Labour (to anyone who might be able to make it happen apart from the Tories because see above – I will always be political).
I am emailing you as a member of Extinction Rebellion to ask if you will please work with Labour councillors to support a climate emergency motion.
I have been working with Extinction Rebellion colleagues to create a climate emergency motion, and we hope the Labour group will agree the wording later this week. I have attached the draft for your information.
We are also about to launch an online petition. You can find out more about Extinction Rebellion at: https://www.facebook.com/XRWSM
It is difficult to think of anything more important than the need to take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions so that global warming does not exceed 1.5°C. I’m sure you’re all well aware of the problem, but this article explains it well:
We believe this motion needs to be cross-party and hope you agree that it is necessary. Could you please reply to confirm if you are willing to work with Labour councillors to table this motion at the earliest opportunity? I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
It turns out that Labour councillors weren’t quick enough, as Tom Leimdorfer (Green) and Mike Bell (Lib Dem) had already set the ball rolling to propose and second a similar motion. I was very pleased that the reply from Tom (full details for nerds like me in links above) commented that the seconder Mike “agreed that my version (based on your suggested draft) should go forward”.
NB: I was not the only person to send the suggestion to councillors. This isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about people power.
People got the power
We worked together, looking at climate emergencies being declared elsewhere, standing on the shoulders and all that.
We organised a popular petition.
We spoke from the heart during public participation at the North Somerset Council meeting where the climate emergency was declared.
We the people, made this happen.
- Everyone who signed the petition
- Everyone who attended XRWSM meetings
- Everyone who emailed their councillor
- Everyone who came to the protest outside the town hall
- Everyone who came to the North Somerset Council meeting
- Everyone who spoke during public participation
- Everyone who voted in favour of the motion
We the people, made this happen.
Our climate emergency
So what exactly did we make happen?
Below is the motion presented by Cllr Leimdorder and Tom and Cllr Bell taken from the approved minutes of the full council meeting on 12th February 2019, and the subsequent amendment made during the meeting by Councillor Ashton, seconded by Councillor Ap Rees which was unanimously resolved (which means passed, or approved).
|Motions by Members (Standing Order No. 14)|
Climate Emergency Motion (Councillor Tom Leimdorfer and Councillor Mike Bell) (Agenda Item 6.1)
Motion: Moved by Councillor Leimdorfer, and seconded by Councillor Bell
“This council recognises:
1. The challenge and threat of climate change to residents and global community.
2. That to keep global warming below 1.5°C we must operate within a global carbon budget. In order to reduce the chance of runaway Global Warming and limit the effects of Climate Breakdown, we need to reduce our CO2eq (carbon equivalent) emissions from their current average of 6.5 tonnes per person per year to less than 2 tonnes as soon as possible.
3. Individuals cannot be expected to make this reduction on their own. Society needs to change its laws, taxation and infrastructure, to make low carbon living easier.
4. North Somerset Council has already shown foresight and leadership when it comes to addressing the issue of climate change, having reduced CO2 emissions by 28.5% between 2005 – 2015 and setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the equivalent of 5.8 tonnes per person, to 2.9 tonnes per person by 2035. (1)
5. Unfortunately, current plans and actions are not enough. The world is on track to overshoot the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit before 2050 (2). The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming (3) describes the enormous harm that a 2°C rise is likely to cause compared to a 1.5°C rise, and told us that limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C may still be possible with ambitious action from national and sub-national authorities, civil society, the private sector and local communities.
6. Councils around the UK and the world are responding by declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and committing resources to address this emergency. (4)
This council will:
1. Declare that it recognises a ‘Climate Emergency’.
2. Take active steps to make North Somerset carbon neutral by 2030, taking into account both production and consumption emissions. (5)
3. Call on Westminster to provide the powers and resources to make the 2030 target possible.
4. Set up a cross-party Working Group to bring forward proposals and work with partners across the region to deliver this new goal through all relevant strategies and plans.
5. Report to Full Council every six months with the actions the Council will take to address this emergency.”
In speaking on the Motion, Councillor Leimdorfer referred to an amendment to be put forward by Councillor Ashton.
Amendment: Moved by Councillor Ashton, seconded by Councillor Ap Rees
“that this Council
(1) recognises the serious global Climate Challenge Emergency;
(2) asks officers to prepare a report on the actions North Somerset Council could take with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 with an idea of costings, aiming to bring back a report to Council around June; and
(3) asks the Chief Executive to write to the Government minister on our achievements and asks for resources when we know what the detailed proposals might be.
A little watered down, but an achievement nonetheless.
Though, please note that point 2 of the original motion “Take active steps to make North Somerset carbon neutral by 2030, taking into account both production and consumption emissions” (my emphasis) was removed. I’ll come back to this.
The state of play
Since the climate emergency was declared, we have had local elections and a new ‘rainbow coalition’ is in power. Credit where it is definitely due, a new executive post has been created, and the newly elected Green Party Councillor for Backwell, Bridget Petty has been named executive member for climate emergency and environment.
Just this week, Bridget announced the Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan, which was approved by North Somerset Council on Tuesday 12th November 2019. You can download it below, or access it here. Skip to page 8.
The report outlines multiple actions aligned to seven key principles.
There will be public consultation after the general election, so keep an eye out for ways to get involved. In the meantime, if you’re part of any kind of environmental group in North Somerset then please email email@example.com to join the network they are creating. The first meeting is being held on 2nd December 2019 19.30 to 21.30 at the Clevedon Town Council Offices, 44 Old Street, Clevedon, North Somerset , BS21 6BU.
“We’d like this to be a network and hope that you will take up champion roles and act as communication conduits into your communities, such as youth groups (schools, Scouts, Guides etc), Faith groups, and Parish and Town councils who are looking for help with Climate Emergency activity. The intention is provide a conduit for communication amongst the existing groups, sharing best practise, reducing duplication and supporting each other to make us all (and the Council) more effective.”
Nerd alert. I’m gonna get into the data now.
Feel free to stop reading here. Go get a cuppa and have a look at the climate strategy and have a think about the part you could play. Get ready for the public consultation. But you never know, this might be important…
I’m really interested in measurement. The report states that progress will be measured as follows:
- The Climate Emergency Action Plan is aligned to the seven key principles of this strategy, with multiple actions for each principle all aligned to our level of influence and the scope each action will have on emissions (scope one, two or three).
- For each action we ask: what will success look like? These success measures form the basis of the Climate Emergency Data Dashboard. The Data Dashboard measures our progress on a quarterly basis.
- Also included in the Data Dashboard is an overview of North Somerset’s carbon emissions, both by tonnage and per capita. As we progress against our Action Plan we will measure the progress towards our aim of becoming a carbon neutral council and a carbon neutral area by 2030.
What exactly is being measured?
According to the report:
What does this mean? What exactly is being measured? Or rather, what is not being measured? Let’s dig into the data.
The report states that progress towards being carbon neutral across North Somerset will be reported in the Data Dashboard through “an overview of North Somerset’s carbon emissions, both by tonnage and per capita.” The source of this data as cited in the report appears to be ‘UK local authority and regional carbon dioxide emissions national statistics: 2005 to 2016’ (data up to 2017 is now available, might have been a typo on the report as 2017 appears on the strategy document).
This is what is measured in those statistics:
|Industrial and Commercial|
|Military Transport (Air & Water)|
|International aviation and shipping|
(For anyone else wondering LULUCF is a) one of the most ludicrously long acronyms I’ve ever seen and b) stands for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry)
How carbon emissions are counted
Of the ten categories above, all appear to be our production or territorial emissions, which ignores our consumption-based emissions, or imports. Consumption-based emissions are measured in the UK’s carbon footprint dataset by DEFRA (but only nationally, not regionally like the territorial emissions cited in the Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan).
What’s the difference, and why does it matter?
The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee in 2012 described the difference between territorial and consumption-based emissions as follows:
(As an aside the DECC no longer exists, and is now the Department for
Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy who still measure using territorial emissions).
I am not here to argue against the territorial method of accounting. I understand that this is an internationally agreed measure used by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and as the basis for Paris Agreement negotiations.
My concern is based on reading the recent Committee on Climate Change calculations “The UK’s consumption emissions were estimated at 784 MtCO₂e in 2016, around 56% higher than territorial emissions (including international aviation and shipping) of 503 MtCO₂e”
Just to hammer the point home – when our consumption-based emissions are taken into account, if we were ‘carbon neutral’ as a nation we would still be responsible for 281 MtCO₂e every year (based on 2016 figures, the most recent available).
Back to the Energy and Climate Change Committee who make the problem clear “The UK’s territorial emissions have been going down, while the UK’s consumption-based emissions, overall, have been going up. The rate at which the UK’s consumption-based emissions have increased have far offset any emissions savings from the decrease in territorial emissions. This means that the UK is contributing to a net increase in global emissions.”
Time to measure our consumption?
It is unclear to me if the scope three emissions mentioned in the North Somerset Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan cover our consumption emissions, I am doubtful (but very willing to be proven wrong).
The lack of any reference to consumption-based emissions and the citation of the ‘UK local authority and regional carbon dioxide emissions national statistics: 2005 to 2016’ dataset in the report leads me to think that only our territorial emissions are being taken into account.
Is this good enough?
(I should note, I have emailed the authors of the report and asked them to explain the indicators that scope three emissions cover, maybe I’m worrying about nothing and consumption is being taken into account. I’ll report back. But assuming it’s not…)
Of course it would be harder to become carbon neutral if we took consumption-emissions into account.
But wouldn’t it be more honest? Wouldn’t it open up important conversations about our offshoring of emissions to countries who may have less stringent environmental regulations and therefore be contributing more pollution while making stuff we largely don’t need?
We cannot afford to ignore the knowledge that our increased consumption-based emissions have been rising as we celebrate our territorial emissions decreasing, far offsetting any emissions savings from the decrease in territorial emissions.
As wealthy citizens, we are responsible for a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions.
As wealthy citizens we have the luxury of being able to reduce our consumption.
I suggest that needs to start by making sure our consumption-based emissions are first measured, and then targeted by any Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan. Unless we start taking consumption-based emissions into account, we are lying to ourselves about the scale of the problem and the part we have to play.