LACKING AMBITION: Green councillor urges authority to ‘up its game’ on climate change
Coun Gary Lawson, Green Party councillor for Reddish South, Image: Nick Statham
Stockport’s first ever Green councillor has urged the authority to ‘up its game’ on climate change, as bosses were accused of lacking ambition.
Coun Gary Lawson gave a somewhat withering assessment of the progress made since the town hall declared a climate emergency back in 2019.
His comments, at Thursday night’s full council meeting, came after a Liberal Democrat motion called for a ‘step change’ to ensure the borough meets its carbon net-zero target by 2038.
In response, the Labour administration tabled an amendment calling on members to ‘recognise the progress’ made by the council’s Climate Action Now (CAN) strategy while also pledging to ‘enhance governance and measuring’ of the council’s carbon footprint, among other resolutions.
This also noted the planting of 17,000 trees in the borough and the replacement of all street lighting with LED bulbs.
But Coun Lawson, who was a shock election winner last May, said this did not go far enough.
He told the meeting that the council’s ‘prudent detail’ planning in finance was not yet replicated when it came to the climate emergency – ‘the most important issue facing civilisation at the moment’.
“The science is clear,” he said.
“It is no longer good enough to just to set a target for 2038 and we have planted a few trees, and done this and that and now hope to do A, B and C and hope for the best.
“As COP 26 approaches we need to up our game and move faster.”
The Reddish South councillor said Labour’s amendment was ‘purely aspirational’ as it lacked interim carbon reduction targets. “It’s not robust enough for the situation we find ourselves in,” he said.
His outspoken remarks came after Coun Mark Roberts moved a Liberal Democrat motion urging the council to shift up a gear in its efforts to tackle the climate emergency.
He told the meeting that – while he welcomed the progress that had been made – the council had ‘stumbled at the starting block’ and failed to mobilise itself in the way it did for the pandemic.
“We must do all we can do now,” he continued.
“We must set ambitious but achievable short-term targets that can help us measure our progress, but push us to go further and faster.
“We need to move away from a distant goal on the far horizon and think about our climate budget to reach the goal of net-zero [by 2038].”
The Bredbury Green and Romiley councillor said the more the authority did now on the ‘really easy stuff’, the longer it would have to tackle the more difficult things.
“But we have to be ambitious and lead from the front – bang the drum, don’t shake the tambourine,” he added.
“The people of Stockport will not forgive us if we don’t step up to the mark.”
However, Labour took umbrage with the Liberal Democrats motion, which they felt gave the impression that little or nothing had been done in respect of tackling climate change.
Councillor Sheila Bailey, cabinet member for Sustainable Stockport, said this was ‘not true’ and both members and officers had worked hard on creating the borough’s first ever climate change strategy.
“You can’t just pass a motion one day and come up with a strategy the next, it has to be based on evidence, it has to be based on fact, it has to be based on achievable targets,” she told the meeting.
“Changing the way people do things, changing the way businesses work, changing our approach to everything we do – both here and at home and wherever we go – isn’t going to happen overnight.
“There’s no instant solution that can be plucked out of the air and we can say ‘okay we have done it, that’s it we have passed a notice of motion, job done”
She added that passing the climate emergency motion was the start of a very long and complex procedure, which culminated in the council’s climate strategy and action plan.
The portfolio holder also claimed Coun Roberts had never previously challenged her over the progress being made on climate change – a complaint echoed by Conservative Alanna Vine, who sits on the cross-party working group.
However, the Labour motion was defeated when put to the vote, while the Liberal Democrat’s was carried.
Stockport full council met at the town hall on Thursday night (October 7).
Words: Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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