Cross-party climate emergency motion set for County Hall debate

County Hall Lewes, East Sussex County Council HQ SUS-150925-134850001
County Hall Lewes, East Sussex County Council HQ SUS-150925-134850001

East Sussex County Council may be set to declare a climate emergency, if a cross-party motion receives the support of councillors next month.

The motion, expected to be debated at a full council meeting in October, calls on the local authority to set out a plan to reduce its carbon emissions and commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

It comes as a joint proposal from the council’s Conservative and Labour groups, with both parties agreeing to combine two formerly separate motions. 

Details of the combined motion were discussed at a meeting of the council’s place scrutiny committee on Wednesday (September 18). 

During the meeting, Cllr Nick Bennett, the council’s lead member for resources and the councillor behind the Conservative group’s motion, said: “From my perspective the [joint proposal] takes away nothing from the original motion I put forward.

“The Labour group may feel they want to defend a couple of points that have been removed from theirs, but the proposal that it is a joint Labour/Conservative motion is certainly acceptable to me.

“I don’t really see this as a political issue so much as a social issue, where we have a responsibility to work even harder than we have been over the last two years.”

The original Labour motion had called on the council to achieve carbon neutrality by the more ambitious target of 2030, rather than 2050.

However, this change in date posed little concern for Labour group co-leader Godfrey Daniel, who argued it could be changed once the council had a better grasp on its plans. 

He said: “We are in danger of agreeing violently on this one. The only, perhaps slight, disagreement might be about the target date for 2050 in this final motion, where our preference and that of many other councillors will be 2030.

“That said, I would rather have something agreed in principle and that date could be reviewed in future. 

“We are looking at setting up a climate working party anyway so I am not going to worry too much at this moment in time, [but] maybe that debate can take place at full council.”

Cllr Daniel also suggested a further amendment to the joint motion suggesting that the target date should be reviewed each year, with the aim of bringing forward the council’s plans if possible.  

Several other councillors also shared their views on the proposals during the scrutiny meeting.

They included Cllr John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) who raised concerns about the council focusing exclusively on carbon dioxide emissions, when other emissions may actually pose a greater risk. 

This, he argued, could see the council increase its emissions (of potentially more harmful gases) elsewhere in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality.

Cllr Barnes drew particular attention to the use of sulphur hexafluoride – an inert gas widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents. Over a 100-year-period, the gas is considered to have a global warming potential of 23,900 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Cllr Pat Rodohan (Lib Dem, Eastbourne Upperton), meanwhile, drew attention to similar climate change motions brought forward by the county’s district and borough councils in recent months.

Most of these councils, Cllr Rodohan said, had set a carbon neutrality target of 2030 (Wealden District Council set its target at 2050) and all had agreed to declare a climate emergency.

The motion is set to debated by councillors at a full council meeting on Tuesday, October 15.