- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
There are many ways of responding to a major emergency. Among those not recommended is waiting 3 months to begin taking action, and then suspending any further decisions for another four months because of another emergency. Yet that is what our City Council has done since it declared a Climate Change Emergency just over 12 months ago. It is, in some ways, debatable whether the Council – or at least the ruling Party – has really understood the scale and immediacy of the climate crisis, and thus whether their response has been fast enough or determined enough. If there is one thing any experienced crisis manager will tell you it is this: that speed and focus are crucial to preventing an emergency from spiralling out of control. Canterbury’s response so far has lacked both speed and focus.
That is not to say no progress has been made, but if a typical response can be broken down into four key stages – mitigation, control, resolution, recovery – then the Council has barely begun on the first stage. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on the deadline target of zero carbon Council operations by 2030. That irreplaceable commodity, time, is running out.
Nonetheless, with nine years to go there are encouraging signs at last. The key appointment of a Climate Change officer to the Council staff has lit an (entirely metaphorical) fire under the process. Within a matter of weeks the Council has vital data on where its activities are causing carbon pollution, and proposals for a plan to tackle those causes. It has begun to develop a tree planting strategy, to begin moves to improve cycling routes, and to change all taxis and its own small vehicles fleet to fully electric operation. It is looking at how and when to move the much heavier vehicles it uses or which its suppliers use – refuse collection lorries, park and ride buses – to non-carbon fuels by 2030. Above all, the Council is beginning to understand the scale of the challenge to address the biggest source of carbon pollution: domestic heating in its housing estate.
There is, though, a significant difference between knowing the scale of the problem and being able to do anything about it. With an estate of over 5,000 homes you can imagine that the costs of, for example, replacing gas water boilers with electric ones is huge. Is that deliverable at all, let alone over 9 years, for a Council which has been hit as hard financially as this one has by the Covid19 crisis? Has the response to one crisis, climate, now become overwhelmed by a combination of a public health emergency and a financial crisis?
The choice facing Councillors is stark and it is critical.
Showing determination early in the process is key to spreading the cost of change and to mobilising resources to be applied in the remaining 9 year period.
Finances are extremely tight, a situation made worse by the Government’s scandalous backtracking on its previous commitment to do “whatever it takes” to support Councils in responding to Covid19. Government must be lobbied to either provide funding or loosen the constraints on Council’s ability to raise funds through taxation or borrowing, or both. Without that, the choice will be that we have to cut some non-emergency services to free up funding for what is, by most accounts, a crisis that is as threatening to human life as Covid19.
Yet we ought also to be applying some imagination: new developments must immediately become carbon neutral in operation and construction, requiring radical improvements in the design of both houses and developments overall. We must repurpose existing buildings – offices and retail units – and make much more intensive and dense use of “brownfield” sites. We must build for a walkable locality – the fifteen minute city, as some call it – with shops, schools, coworking hubs and integrated cycle and walking routes. We need to help farmers and industry transition from fossil fuels. And we must apply natural solutions to offset and capture carbon, mitigate climate change impacts and aid recovery.
All this is possible. It requires imagination and commitment of resources and staff. Above all, it requires leadership. We can’t afford to wait much longer to find out whether this Council possesses these qualities.