Hackney Council has pledged to back up its recent declaration of a climate emergency with “deeds, not words” as a motion passed at last night’s full council meeting promised a 45 per cent reduction in 2010 emission levels over the next 11 years.
Not all councillors were impressed by the impassioned statements made in the chamber on the global crisis, however, with three Conservative councillors voting against the plans, one of whom openly denied that man-made climate change exists.
The Town Hall was also challenged on its own record at the meeting, with the chair of the pensions committee grilled by a member of the public over its choice of investments in fossil fuels.
Cllr Polly Billington (Lab, De Beauvoir), who proposed the motion seconded by Cllr Gilbert Smyth (Lab, Stoke Newington) said: “Saying there is an emergency is not enough. Deeds, not words are what we need. Hackney must and will do more.
“When we talk of an emergency, it feels odd to talk of targets so far off that I will be in my dotage when those deadlines are hit. We can’t wait for the inspirational younger generation of climate strikers to grow up and act.
“I too was once one of those eager, young impatient campaigners. When they are my age it will be too late. It is our time to make the shift. This crisis demands the active involvement and support of everyone.”
Cllr Jon Burke (Lab, Woodberry Down), cabinet member for energy, waste, transport and public realm, added: “We are, by an accident of fate, alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.
“This is our moment, and I call on this council to show the bravery and vision required to commit to the transformational goals that this motion sets us, so that future generations know that when our moment came we did the right things, the hard things, never the easy things.”
The motion formally commits the council to achieving net-zero emissions by 2040, in line with a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which warned of the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
The Town Hall will be lobbying the government to provide the power and resources to make its targets possible, with the skills, economy and growth scrutiny commission to look into supporting Hackney businesses to make the transition.
Annual updates are to be presented to full council meetings on the council’s decarbonisation progress, along with yearly citizens assemblies of local residents scrutinising the Town Hall’s progress.
The council got a taste of such scrutiny in the same meeting, with resident Bea Pitel asking what changes the pensions committee felt it had achieved by continuing to engage with fossil fuel-producing companies.
Cllr Robert Chapman (Lab, Homerton) said that while the council took climate change “extremely seriously”, the role of the pensions committee, which he chairs, is “highly specific”.
He said: “While we are able to take other factors into account when making investment decisions, our first priority must always be to the financial health of the fund.
“This means we think about climate change in terms of the financial risk it poses to the fund. We can take action to address the risks of climate change, but cannot base our decisions on moral or political grounds alone.”
The Town Hall is currently committed to a 50 per cent reduction in its pension fund’s exposure to fossil fuel investments by 2022, though Cllr Chapman was unable to say precisely how much of that target had been achieved on further questioning my Ms Pitel.
Despite calls from Cllr Billington for opposition councillors to join the council in its fight to tackle the global climate crisis “for the sake of their children,” the borough’s Conservatives remained unmoved and voted against the motion.
Cllr Harvey Odze (Con, Springfield) said: “As I’m sure it’s no surprise to anybody here, I oppose this motion. We have a point of agreement – there is such a thing as climate change, but climate change is not manmade. It is a natural phenomenon which has been growing since 5,779 years ago.
“I will not allow you Stalinists to prevent my schools from teaching that as part of their science lessons, because it is a scientific fact.”
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville (Lab & Co-op) ironically applauded Cllr Odze’s speech.