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Heatwave: The Dragon Asks Local Politicians Has Climate Change Action Stalled?

Published on: 23 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2022

By Emily Inge

Three years after Guildford Borough Council (GBC), Surrey County Council (SCC) and Parliament declared a climate emergency, The Dragon asked our local representatives “has action stalled?”

Local schools closed, roads melted and Guildford residents sweltered in homes ill-designed to withstand temperature extremes.

Fires on Whitmoor Common are frequent now and are likely to increase. Firefighters put out a blaze on Whitmoor Common of 30 acres in 2018.

Official temperatures in Surrey broke national records, and the MET office issued an unprecedented red warning of extreme heat saying “the frequency, duration, and intensity of these [high temperature] events over recent decades is clearly linked to the observed warming of the planet and can be attributed to human activity”.

Angela Richardson MP said the UK’s role was “world-leading”.

Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson defended the government’s record on climate change calling the UK’s role “world-leading” but this was disputed with accusations of continuing support for “expensive fossil fuels” and local authorities being constrained by central policy and “funding cuts”.

And locally, GBC and SCC said they were making progress on their climate commitments; other voices were critical, saying “it is hard to see what our councils have achieved to actually make good on their promises”.

Cllr Cait Taylor said GBC emissions were reduced by 61%

Cait Taylor (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) who replaced Jan Harwood as the GBC lead councillor for climate change in early 2022, said: “We are responsible for about 1 per cent of total borough emissions and have reduced our emissions by 61 per cent.

“We have also fitted solar PV panels in two car parks, installed 20 electric vehicle charging points, improved biodiversity, held a Car-free Day in 2021 and improved collecting utility data.”

Climate Change March Sep 2019. Photo – Mandy Millyard.

Catherine Young (Guildford Greenbelt Group, Clandon & East Horsley) said: “It has been extremely frustrating to witness the lack of progress on our borough’s action plan.

Cllr Catherine Young was frustrated with the lack of GBC progress.

“With a new lead councillor, progress is being made, but it can’t come soon enough. I have tabled questions for next week’s council meeting requesting an update, insisting progress is reported at each full council meeting. We are so constrained by government policy.”

Sam Peters for the Green Party said “GBC is constrained by government funding cuts, but we should be doing more.

Sam Peters, Green Party says the government is “wasting billions”.

“Waverley’s climate plan was ranked fifth of all councils nationwide. I hope closer integration can enable our council to better tackle the climate crisis and the related social, economic and health implications that affect us all.

“This government continues wasting billions, propping up polluting, expensive fossil fuels and both Sunak and Truss have pledged to make matters even worse.”

See: GBC Lags Behind Waverley And Woking On Climate Change Planning Says Independent Assessor (Feb 2022)

SCC Cllr Marisa Heath (Cons, Englefield Green) says “we need to prepare” to adapt.

Marisa Heath (Cons, Englefield Green), SCC cabinet member for Environment said they had a Climate Change Delivery Plan and were developing a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, due in early 2023.

She said: “Heatwaves are one of multiple climate risks. We need to prepare for floods, higher average temperatures across all seasons, droughts and fires and we are doing so. We will be reporting on progress towards our targets in the autumn.”

Sue Hackman, Guildford Labour Party asked what has been achieved by the councils?

Sue Hackman for Guildford Labour Party commented: “Stripping away all the fine words it is hard to see what our councils have achieved to actually make good on their promises. We need a greater sense of ambition and urgency.”

On Monday (July 18), the High Court ordered the government to explain how its net zero policies will achieve emissions targets. Mr Justice Holgate’s judgment stated the government’s strategy lacked detail of how it would accomplish these and had therefore failed to meet its obligations under the Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008.

Guildford MP Angela Richardson, who said in August 2021 climate change was “the greatest threat facing our planet”, responded to The Dragon saying: “This country continues to play a world-leading role in tackling climate change and was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero by 2050, and we are decarbonising faster than any G20 country.

“The independent Committee on Climate Change has concluded that a 2050 net zero target is feasible. By contrast, aiming for zero emissions across the board by 2030 is almost certainly economically unfeasible and risks undermining consensus among other nations.”

Lord Zac Goldsmith, a prominent voice on environmental issues in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, has warned that the Conservatives would be “digging our electoral grave” if they elected a new leader that was prepared to abandon the UK’s net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Abandoning or deferring some climate and environmental commitments is said to be popular with some Conservative party members, including some in Guildford, but Goldsmith said. “If we throw away the UK’s international leadership on the environment, we will lose the support of a broad coalition of voters.”

The Committee on Climate Change, whose purpose is to advise the government on emissions targets, was also communicating concern saying: “Tangible progress is lagging the policy ambition”. Their 2022 report on the UK’s progress concluded:

    • Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk.
    • The UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to these risks, but it has not yet done so. Acting now will be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences. Government must lead that action.
    • Action to address the rising cost of living should be aligned with Net Zero. There remains an urgent need for equivalent action to reduce demand for fossil fuels to reduce emissions and limit energy bills.

The Wildlife Trust Changing Nature report shows average temperatures in Surrey and most of the south-east will have increases in the summer of more than 1.5 degrees.

Mrs Richardson, who has publically supported Rishi Sunak in his bid to win over Conservative Party members to become the next prime minister, did not respond to The Dragon question regarding actions she would like to see from the next resident in No. 10.

The Guildford Conservative Association was also asked to comment.

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Responses to Heatwave: The Dragon Asks Local Politicians Has Climate Change Action Stalled?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 25, 2022 at 2:17 pm

    I have to take issue with Cllr Taylor. GBC has emphatically not improved biodiversity. Through the leadership’s slavish and continuing support for the Tory Local Plan, it is causing massive devastation of biodiversity. The unwanted overdevelopment now happening is the kiss of death to biodiversity across the borough. Just look at the number of trees and hedgerows sacrificed to the green of developers.

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