Top 5 Tips for declaring a Climate Emergency in your Town or Village

By Ros Hathorn, Histon and Impington

1. Work out why this is important to you personally and what is it that motivates you to do this. This is really important as there will be times when people question what you are doing and if you are clear about your personal reasons for doing it you can respond truthfully and with clarity and this is very persuasive. Other people will have other reasons and that is fine.

For me the reasons were twofold, firstly I am absolutely terrified by the world my children face. I no longer imagine them possibly going to university I just think of how much the climate will have changed irrevocably by the time they leave school and how much worse it will get within their lifetimes and what my life time of inaction and allowing the status quo to exist has condemned them to. This compels me to think about climate change a lot, to change how I live and to consider how my actions can be as effective as possible. If I live a zero carbon life it will have no impact if I can persuade others to do this with me then we start to make a difference.

I wanted a Climate change emergency declared and action taken in Histon and Impington because when I look at the UK parliament I see politicians who are too cowardly to effect the laws necessary to make the serious reductions in carbon that have to happen. No one dares stop building roads or to even really question the road building lobby because they think they won’t get elected next time. There is no duty on aviation fuel. There are so many examples of bad environmental policy. No one dares to take the big action necessary because everyone is too worried about losing power. So politicians act to appease people and try to keep the status quo rather than take the bold decisions which are necessary. This is a consequence of the political system so if we want to see change we have to make it explicitly clear that the country at large demands the government take climate change seriously and make those bold decisions. At local government level I see the same issues within local government; an inability to take the really hard decisions because Councillors are scared about the repercussions at the next election. So what can we do as citizens? We can protest and we can also demonstrate at a really local level that people want someone to make these tough decisions and that we think climate change is a vitally important issue. If enough of us do this at a local level then that gives the higher levels of government the confidence to start to make the bigger, bolder decisions it is absolutely critical that they take.

2. Talk to a receptive audience – I knew I wanted to try to get our village to declare a Climate Emergency so I posted this thought on the Cambridge Extinction Rebellion group and got a lot of support and advice. It was great because I kind of knew that this community would be supportive of this idea so if subsequent steps were met with more negativity I had a community I could return to get advice and to bolster my belief that this was important. They were a supportive, encouraging community who could also offer practical advice.

3. Talk to people in my own community and the Parish Council. I was incredibly lucky as Histon and Impington Parish Council were really receptive to this suggestion and after my post on the Cambridge Extinction Rebellion Page a local District Councillor had got in touch to say that the Chair of Histon and Impington Parish Council had been talking about this very thing. So I got in touch with the Parish Council Chair who was very happy for this to be a motion at the next Parish Council Meeting.

4. Work out how declaring a Climate Emergency works and what you believe the key things are. I asked this question on the Extinction Rebellion page which has a lot of members who know a lot. I read some other Climate Emergency Declarations. In our case a Parish Councillor wrote the Climate Change Emergency and I got to make comments. I asked for dates to be included so that we had a specific time frame in which to attempt to do things. At this stage we also removed the words Environmental Emergency from our particular declaration not because we did not think it was an environmental emergency but because there was already an environmental committee and it was important that tackling the Climate Emergency was not just subsumed into a current committee but was something new and vital which worked together across the whole community in a way the Parish Council Environment Committee does not.

5. Talk to people in my community outside the Parish Council and try to gain support. Again I was really fortunate as there is an active Youth group HIYEC in Histon and Impington who were prepared to come and speak at the meeting, I also asked a number of other people and there were about half a dozen members of the community prepared to stand up and speak at the start of the meeting. I am not an expert on attendance at Parish Council meetings but I am lead to believe that this level of public engagement was unusual and consequently impressive. I know a number of Parish Councillors were really inspired by the passion of the children.

And what happened….. The motion was passed with a single abstention which was a brilliant outcome but for me was met with dread and apprehension as the nervousness of getting the motion through had now passed and the really hard part of getting the community to become carbon neutral would now begin.

The abstention was on the basis that the Councillor did not see that Climate Change was an ‘emergency’ and that there were loads of ‘emergencies’. This was an interesting response. My thoughts on this now are that there are many, many crises in our country at the moment; a crisis in mental health, a crisis in youth mental health, a crisis in social care, a crisis in democracy perhaps but in all these cases it is conceivable that with real focus, effort and sufficient investment these things could all be overcome by those within that profession in a number of years (which is not to say that that will happen). The scale of the climate change issue is completely different. It cannot be solved in a few years with a bit of extra cash and few people working hard. Which is why Climate Change is an emergency and not a crisis. Combatting Climate Change will require a supreme effort which will impact on every one of us significantly (although not always negatively). Turning this thing around will require effort of a kind akin to that last seen by society in the second world war. In the second world war life changed over night and the way we lived was completely transformed. This is the way we need to approach climate change to see real reductions in carbon. At the moment we are nowhere near this but I am absolutely clear that to be effective our response to Climate change has to be of the scale of a national emergency. This is why on September 16 2019 Histon and Impington Parish Council, Cambridgeshire declared a Climate change Emergency and I was part of that happening.