Calls for climate change committee and citizens’ assembly in Worthing

‘It’s easy to be the sleeper who’s woken up, seen that the house is on fire, raised the alarm and then gone straight back to sleep’.

Campaigners outside Worthing town hall before Tuesday night's meeting
Campaigners outside Worthing town hall before Tuesday night's meeting

This was the message from climate change campaigners who urged Worthing Borough Council to follow through on its recent climate emergency declaration.

Adur and Worthing councils jointly declared the emergency earlier this month, pledging to work towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

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The campaigners gathered outside Worthing town hall before presenting a 1,055-name petition to the council during an appropriately muggy meeting.

The central theme of the petition was the need for everyone – not just the council – to work together to meet the 2030 commitment.

It asked for a climate change commission to be formed, made up of community representatives, business leaders and the like, to encourage organisations to sign up to the same commitment as the council.

It also asked for a citizens’ assembly on climate change, such as the one recently held in Camden, and a dedicated budget to fund the work.

Presenting the petition, Jo Paul, of Worthing, said: “With every crisis, no matter how terrifying and urgent, as this one certainly is, comes the opportunity for community solidarity.”

She added: “Exceptional measures have to be put into place. Effect on the climate has to be the first question asked about every new planning proposal, every event that’s held, every decision to attract new business.

“And the answer to that question has to be, uncompromisingly, the most important.

“The collective wisdom and expertise of the community has to be pooled and action has to be taken on all fronts as soon as possible.”

The petition was welcomed by members of the council, and leader Daniel Humphreys said the idea of a commission was something they could certainly explore.

He pointed out that the council was already setting up a board to look at the work that could be done both inside and outside the council.

While unwillingly to commit to a citizens’ assembly, he said the council did need to look at how to bring the appropriate people in to help feed into its work.

Mr Humphreys added: “There already is some really good stuff going on here I think and quite a few councils around the country could learn a lot from what we’re doing.”

Members of the opposition called for a citizens’ assembly to be held within three months but that wasn’t supported.

Ms Paul said campaigners were ‘encouraged’ by the support shown for the petition but added: “There remain some concerns that the urgency of the situation is not wholly appreciated, despite the wide-spread acceptance of an ’emergency’ situation.

“Slow and steady will not cut it in the face of rapid and irreversible climate collapse.”

She said comments from UKIP councillor Mark Withers, who said not everyone in Worthing believed climate change was a ‘key thing’, were ‘shocking and disappointing to hear’.

Mr Withers told the meeting extreme climate change policies could be a ‘turn-off and not necessarily chime with the electorate’.

He added: “There’s still disagreement on this issue despite the mainstream media narrative on how much climate change is man-made as opposed to natural cycles.

“I think we have to recognise that. We need to carry Worthing with us because there are a lot of different views out there on this. It’s best to find middle ground.”