Lewes council declares climate emergency and aims to become carbon neutral

This Extinction Rebellion sign appeared on the Cuilfail sculpture in Lewes SUS-190407-080508008
This Extinction Rebellion sign appeared on the Cuilfail sculpture in Lewes SUS-190407-080508008

Lewes District Council has laid out plans to reach carbon neutrality after becoming the latest council to declare a climate emergency. 

At a full council meeting on Monday (July 15), councillors unanimously backed a motion for the authority to declare a climate emergency and become carbon neutral by 2030.

The motion, put forward by the council’s freshly-appointed cabinet member for sustainability Cllr Matthew Bird, laid out seven actions the council should take to achieve these goals.

Introducing the motion, Cllr Bird (Green, Lewes Priory) said: “I think this the most important challenge and crisis facing us today - and has been facing us for quite a while.

“There was a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last December, which set out evidence of the need to keep global warming within a 1.5 degree rise to really reduce the chances of the worst impacts of climate change from occurring. 

“We are a very long way from this, in fact there was a report last week that said if we enact the policies we should be enacting, then we have a very little chance of staying a two degrees. 

“As a council we don’t know what emissions we are emitting, because we don’t measure them. We don’t know what are priorities are in tackling climate change, because we are not coordinating our actions with an evidence-based framework.

“We don’t know how our council and our district will adapted to the 2030 climate, because we have not prepared enough yet.

“There have been some important actions, which have been identified recently by the climate action group. This is a good start but we have to do much more and we have to do it now.”

The seven actions laid out in the motion included: drawing up a comprehensive climate change strategy within the next 12 months; setting up a scrutiny panel to monitor this strategy; and creating a community climate change forum, which would seek views from local communities, parish and town councils, businesses and community groups. 

The motion also calls on the council to be proactive in seeking views from young people on climate change, to review the council’s investment in the fossil fuel industry and ensure that the council’s 2020/21 budgeting reports take into account potential climate change implications.

The final action included in the motion will see Cllr Bird to call on the UK Government to provide ‘powers, resources and funding’ to support the council’s bid to go carbon neutral.

The motion received the unanimous support of councillors, however a note of caution was raised by Conservative group leader Isabelle Linington over the potential costs of the works.

Cllr Linington, who had been voted out from her position as council leader earlier in the meeting, said: “I have previously said I would support a motion [declaring] a climate emergency, so I’m happy to support this and I think my group will be.

“The only thing that slightly worries me about the motion as presented is there are no costings within it. I look forward to those being worked up.”

Lewes is the third council in East Sussex to commit to carbon neutrality in recent months, following on from Hastings Borough Council in February and Eastbourne Borough Council last week. 

Wealden District Council is also considering the move, with the matter to come before its cabinet on Wednesday (July 17). East Sussex County Council is also expected to consider the matter in the near future.