Climate emergency and local democracy

29 April 2019 | Posted in Tony Whitbread
Climate emergency and local democracy

Dr Tony Whitbread

Guest blog

We are in a time of climate and ecosystem emergency.  Any dispassionate view of the science inevitably draws you to that conclusion. 

We have little over a decade to address climate change before we run the risk of catastrophic change – although even now we have probably already caused irreversible changes to our climate.  We have rather less time to address ecosystem breakdown – although even now it will take the earth at least 3 million years to recover from losses caused so far.

Climate and ecosystem breakdown are not things of the future - they are with us now.

People are now waking up to this - see for example the South East Climate Alliance.  There is now significant pressure on local and national government to declare a climate emergency.  Some have done so, some have not.  But whether or not a climate and ecosystem emergency is declared the key test is what those in a position of authority are going to do about it.

The UK has tended to rest on its laurels on climate change – claiming to be a climate leader because of our theoretical emissions reductions.  “Creative accountancy” is perhaps the best way to describe this.  Apparent reductions have come from a change from coal-fired power stations to gas (a lower emitter of carbon dioxide), a change that was going to happen anyway.  This is a one-off change not a trend (and ignores increased methane leakage which is a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).  And a new coal mine is due to open shortly anyway!  Also, UK manufacturing industry has disappeared to other countries, apparently reducing our emissions.  But our demand for products now made in China still drives up carbon emissions – which are counted elsewhere.  We also don’t count emissions from air travel and shipping, some of the fastest growing sources.  Not counting them does not make them go away.

Just as creative accountancy does not cure financial crises, creative accountancy will not cure the environmental crisis.  Real progress is needed.

On the 2nd May we have a chance to call elected representatives to account – the day of our District Council elections.  Local Authority elections can have a notoriously poor turnout – few people bother to vote in local elections.  This is a pity.  Our environmental crisis needs to be addressed at all levels of government and this is the local level.  We all should engage in this process and test candidates in terms of their environmental credentials.  What answers do they have for the climate and ecosystem emergency?  You might be pleasantly surprised: candidates, from any political party, may well have strong environmental ethics and lobbying from their electorate may unlock the sort of change that is now needed.

This is democracy - find out who your local candidates are, find out how they plan to address the most important issues of our time, vote for the ones with the best environmental policies and lobby for necessary change to be delivered.

Dr Tony Whitbread is an independent ecologist and former Sussex Wildlife Trust CEO

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