In October 2019 members of the RBWM CEC submitted a petition to Councillors. The petition, launched in March 2019, was signed by 2,042 individuals who live, work or study in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and asked our council to declare an Environmental and Climate Emergency, ensure all current and future policies are consistent with averting further climate change and ecological collapse, and put in place a plan to reduce carbon emissions in the Borough to net zero by 2030.
The Petition was submitted in October 2019 following the Environmental and Climate Emergency Declaration. We delayed submission in order to encourage councillors to ensure that the Petition demands were fully met; we were assured that the Royal Borough’s Cross Party Climate Working Group would address the outstanding issues. We have not yet (Q1 2020) received a response on a number of the issues raised.
We have written to the council, through the offices of the Head of Governance, highlighting the actions that are still outstanding and setting out our concerns at the lack of progress to date.
Our letter to the council, from our founder Sarah Bowden, is reproduced in full below:
Part 1: Declare an Environment and Climate Emergency
Agreed, the Council did declare this emergency in June 2019. However the rate of mobilisation after acknowledging and declaring the emergency has not been commensurate with an ‘emergency‘*. Such a response would require not only channeling all ‘discretionary’ funds to resilience building and mitigation projects, but also an emergency lens across all operations. Fundamentally, everything would change – rates, roads, rubbish, planning, green space etc. Moreover, a mobilising council would put the climate emergency front and centre in every communication – banners, newsletters, etc. All this would help drive community demands for a climate emergency response from higher levels of government. I acknowledge that councils don’t have the regulatory and economic levers of higher levels of government, but they do have the ability to move more swiftly and can mobilise their communities.
A cross-party working group meeting once every six weeks (and not having their first meeting until the 22nd of August) does not constitute an emergency response. Is your Emergency Planning Service involved in your response? Are you working together with the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum to address this? Are you delivering your statutory obligations under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004? Yes, the emergency timeline is not the same as dealing with a major accident on the M4, but this does not diminish the urgency with which this needs to be addressed. It’s like changing the direction of a super-tanker heading for an ice-berg; you know it will take time to respond so you start immediately and with urgency, you warn the passengers and put in place mitigation measures immediately.
* The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 defines emergency as an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare and/or the environment in a place in the United Kingdom. This is echoed in the Thames Valley Community Risk Register.
I believe that the level of urgency with which the Environmental and Climate Emergency is currently being addressed warrants debate at Full Council.
Part 2: Ensure all current and future policies are consistent with averting further climate change and ecological collapse
This was not debated in June and did not form part of the motion. It is not happening currently (as evidenced by the Sustainability Appraisal for the proposed changes to the BLP). I believe that this warrants debate at Full Council.
Part 3: Put in place a plan to reduce carbon emissions in the Borough to net zero by 2030
The motion passed should result in a draft net Zero Carbon Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead by 2050 Strategy being brought before Full Council by May 2020. As you say, there was an amendment proposed in June, and voted against, to bring the date forward to 2030. However, at the June debate:
- Councillor Carroll asked Councillor Clark “to report back in relation to the third element of the motion, particularly when he had been able to liaise with central government about the practicalities of setting a more ambitious target. This would then enable the council to take a more informed judgement about 2030 versus 2050.”
- Councillor Hilton also stated that as Lead Member for Finance he would “write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask him to explain the costs and consequences of a 2030 target”.
- Councillor McWilliams stated “there was no reason why the council would not be able to find solutions to deliver a 2030 target by writing to the relevant ministers”.
I would like to know how these points have been progressed and when the results will be reported back to Full Council?
As a matter of procedure, I would also like to know how much time would be expected to pass before the public was able to raise the matter of reaching net-zero sooner than 2050 back to council, particularly given the rate at which scientists are raising the level of urgency required to address this?
The members, and partner organisations, of the RBWM CEC will continue to offer full and appropriate voluntary support to the Cross-Party working group in addressing this emergency however if this is not addressed by the Council with the urgency, priority and transparency that it requires, we will not be complicit in such a failure.