Chris Padley: What Lincoln council can do now it declared a climate emergency

Last night the City of Lincoln Council approved a climate emergency motion. The city’s former Conservative MP has also acknowledged that “the effects of climate change are there to be seen all around us” and “there is an urgent need to reduce our nation’s and the world’s reliance on fossil fuels” (see Karl McCartney’s column). These are encouraging signals at a time when we need all politicians to come together in the face of what really is an emergency — not only a national one, but a global emergency.   

It is tempting for those of us who have been in the Green Party for many years to say “we told you so”, but we have not been the only ones. It might surprise many people to know that as long ago as 1990 Margaret Thatcher was making the same warnings. In a speech at the second World Conference on Climate Change, she said: “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations”.  

Perhaps it is because she was one of the few world leaders to have a proper science degree that she understood the seriousness of the problem. But, since then, little has been done. Targets have been set but globally carbon emissions continue to rise. Karl McCartney, writing last week in The Lincolnite pointed out that we in the UK have led the world in reducing our CO2 emissions, but while this is true in a sense, it is a very partial truth. We have outsourced so much of our manufacturing that the Chinese now produce our global warming gases for us. We blame them for it, but it is still our consumption which is responsible. 

Karl also correctly points out that the Labour City Council has not yet done much, and there is little one city can do in the face of the total global problem. Both are true, but that’s no reason to criticise the council’s  change of heart and its attempt to do better.  The whole world is composed of lots of cities, towns and counties, and if each one does nothing, then the whole world will do nothing. 

The more cities that make the start – and many are doing that already – the more will follow.

To be in the lead on this is not only the morally right thing,  it will be good for the morale and motivation of the city, something that could and should bring people together in a common purpose to make a better world.   

Some of Karl’s criticism of the city’s previous actions are valid. Building a huge new car park in the city centre will encourage further growth in car use, and to build a new bus station which is too small for even today’s bus traffic is ridiculous at a time when improved public transport is needed.  But Karl should remember that it was Network Rail – effectively a Government body – that blocked the more sensible plans for a true road and rail transport interchange. 

But where Karl is badly mistaken is in believing that you can build your way out of traffic chaos by building more roads.  It has been demonstrated time and time again in this country and throughout the world that new roads generate new traffic and any easing of congestion will be short-lived. After all, you don’t cure obesity by loosening your belt.

We need to follow the Dutch and Danish models of city transport planning, not the North American one. This involves big investment in public transport, walking and cycling, and, most of all, planning the city on the principle of minimizing the need for travel.  

It is difficult for any local council to do these things, because the planning system and the major part of transport funding are largely dictated by central government.  But the city council does have some freedom to act and it must do what it can. There are short term gains, like fitting solar panels to its own buildings, and reducing its own energy and car use.  It can use its planning powers to require developers to build genuinely zero carbon buildings, and incorporate renewable power generation in all developments.  Underpinning everything the city council, before it does anything, must ask the question “will this increase or decrease our carbon footprint?” and only do the things that will decrease it. 

Inevitably, the city will find itself hamstrung by the government failing to take the lead. A good example is in recycling and reuse. The energy used in collecting and recycling waste would be hugely reduced if packaging was designed to be reused and recycled. We should be doing things like using returnable bottles, but the widespread use of mixed-material packaging makes it impossible to recycle the single-use containers which we have no choice but to buy.  

To tackle this requires central government regulations on packaging so, come on Karl, where is the movement on this from the Conservative government?  But there is still much that the city could do now to improve recycling. There are new blocks of flats in the city where the residents cannot recycle any of their household waste because the developers have been allowed to design the buildings with no facilities for this. 

The most important thing is that politicians of all political parties are saying they understand the urgency of taking action on climate change.  We must all be proposing things that can be done, and also accepting that we must make substantial changes. Saying “it’s difficult” is not the answer. We all have to say that it can be done, and that we will do whatever it takes.   

If the city council does not seem to know exactly what it is going to do at this stage, then the answer is to take a positive role in explaining and suggesting what it can do. If you don’t know what changes we need to make, then ask your children. They will soon tell you. You could calculate your personal carbon footprint online and see how you can reduce it.

So, let’s not throw up our hands in despair. As long as we all work together – Council, businesses, residents and national government – and make the effort to find out what we need to do with an open mind and a sense of urgency, we can be successful. That is what matters.  

Chris Padley

on behalf of Lincoln Green Party

— Christopher Padley is a Lincoln Green Party member and former Market Rasen councillor.