Local activists are lobbying their councils up and down the country to declare a climate emergency and take more robust action on the climate. Lots of local authorities have made a declaration, but a shift in policy is harder to detect. Planning carries on as before, continuing to lock in carbon intensive infrastructure. There is little sense of urgency, and the language of a climate ’emergency’ is often just words.
Councils may find their minds focused a little this week when they receive a letter from lawyers at Client Earth, an organisation that fights for the environment through the legal system.
Client Earth have been writing to councils in Britain to warn them that if they do not include adequate responses to the climate crisis in their local plans, they will be risking a legal challenge. Councils have been asked to explain their plans within eight weeks, and ensure that they have science-based emissions targets. If their plans aren’t up to par, they will be in breach of their legal obligations. This isn’t a threat – I don’t think Client Earth are interested in dragging councils to court up and down the country. It’s more of a reminder that local authorities have responsibilities on climate change, and it isn’t a nice extra for those that are interested.
“There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change” says environmental lawyer Sam Hunter Jones. “Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government. Clearly central government needs to do more, as the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) progress reports stress. Yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. All of these decisions will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.”
At the moment councils can secure themselves some good PR by calling a climate emergency, without really having to back it up. Client Earth are adding some accountability to the movement around climate emergency, and hopefully the carrot and stick approach will result in some concrete measures to tackle the climate crisis locally.