So the first rule of attending a conference on climate change and what we can do about it is not to add to the carbon emitted by getting there. So, Milly, Dave and I all traveled up by train to Lancaster to the Climate Emergency conference.

(I love trains but at £118 for the journey, it isn’t something everyone can afford, which is part of the problem in weaning people off their fossil fuel driven cars. Thank you to the regional Transition Network and Transition Marlborough for paying both mine and Milly’s train fares.)

The purpose of the conference was, in a nutshell, what happens after declaring a climate emergency? “Declaring a climate emergency is the easy part – what do we do next?” said Cllr Colin Glover, leader of Carlisle City Council.

It was incredibly well attended by 350 plus local councillors, activists, scientists, researchers, businesses and so on. A fantastic effort and the kind of next step response required by all the climate emergencies declared by local authorities.

What were our takeaways?

Milly (Transition Marlborough):

  • This is urgent. This is Huge. Nothing is more important at the moment. Viable, practiced solutions exist and they must be put in place and scaled up now. The biggest barrier to action is ineffective communication. Be courageous and act now.
  • Attendees were mostly white, middle-aged, middle class – how can we attract more diversity? Or are other people approaching this problem in other ways?

Me:

  • MPs are aware of the climate change issues but don’t feel under pressure from constituents to do anything about it, so said Dr Becky Willis, researcher for Lancaster University and the Green Alliance. “Not enough constituents talk to their MPs about climate change,” she said. Actually I’m going to repeat that in capitals because it’s top of the CCL list of essential actions and anyone can do this and make a difference.
    NOT ENOUGH CONSTITUENTS TALK TO THEIR MP ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
  • We need a template list of actions for local councils to clean up their emissions, which includes what’s in their control as well as when they need to influence central government. I was hoping the conference would provide this but, really we’re still at first base on that front. So, for instance, how can a local council influence local farming and agricultural land use? And we’re back to influencing national policy and EU policy (for the time being at least) and councils having a strong Local Neighbourhood Plan.
  • Once again I was struck by how important the school climate strikes have been in grabbing the attention of young people and turning them into activists. There’s our future leaders in the shape of young people like twelve year old Ada Wood from Carlisle, who read from her inspiring, impassioned and very well composed letter to a minister who tried to belittle her concerns about climate change raised in BBC’s Question Time. “Twelve years is more like two years [referring to the IPPC report]. It takes time to set things up,” and, “I want you to act like your house is on fire – because it is.”
  • “Wouldn’t it be great if the weather report would also tell us how much money the wind was making for the economy?” – Paul Allen from Zero Carbon Britain on wind-generated power.
  • When you wake up in the morning think: will what I am doing today matter in 100 years to wildlife and people? – Cllr Simon Pickering, Stroud District Council
  • The science and the emergency is important, but we need to look after ourselves so we don’t become frozen by the extent of the problem.

Dave (CCL UK / professor of geophysics / expert science witness for Wiltshire Council):

  • There’s lots of source material out there to work out a plan of action.
  • Find an example of success and good practice – Stroud District Council have gone a long way down this road and they aren’t that far away from our area, Marlborough. They have reduced their council emissions by 32 percent and were carbon neutral in 2015.
  • Councils need to set emission reduction targets in their local neighbourhood plan, to legally lock in commitment. They can review an existing local plan if there is a ‘substantial change’ – declaring a climate emergency counts.
  • Local government by law have to consult Natural England when they make changes to their local neighbourhood plan.

My job at the conference was to connect with other activists and spread the word about carbon fee and dividend. Local governments can clean up their act – and, of course, this is very important, especially with regards public transport and energy generation – but, ultimately, there is only so much they can do.

To change things substantially and quickly enough we need central government to create the right kind of carrots and sticks. Like carbon fee and dividend.

The Climate & Environmental Emergency Conference took place at Lancaster Town Hall, 29 March 2019, and was organised by Climate Emergency UK.

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