Last night Luton council voted to declare a climate emergency and announced a target to reach net zero by 2040 – ten years before the national target.
Where some councils have declared a climate emergency and then gone away to think about it, Luton have chosen to do the strategy first. So yesterday we also saw the publication of a broad timeline for how those carbon cuts will be acheived. It includes more use of public transport, walking and cycling, and encouraging electric vehicles. There’s a cycling audit underway in the town. A council operated bus company has been proposed to serve routes that commercial firms aren’t covering, paid for by a workplace parking scheme.
The council is already working on housing, improving energy efficiency in its own housing stock. There will be new schemes for home insulation, and transitioning away from gas boilers. Climate change will be incorporated into all council operations, and all new schemes will be assessed for their impact on climate change. A new scrutiny group will be formed to keep things on track.
The council’s target also includes the airport. While it doesn’t include the flights themselves, this is still an unusual step. Other cities that control airports have made climate plans and left their airports out. Luton Airport, in conversation with Luton Council, have agreed that they will bring their efforts in line with the town and aim to be carbon neutral by 2040.
I live in Luton and have been working on this over the last few months, along with many other local citizens, activists, and council staff. Members of the local branch of Extinction Rebellion have been outside Luton Town Hall every friday. We’ve held protests and marches in the town centre, met with the council and sent letters. We’ve taken part in meetings and given feedback on the plan, and we will be part of a climate change forum taking place next month.
Speaking to BBC Three Counties this morning, Councillor Tom Shaw, chair of Luton’s cross-party climate board, mentioned the work with XR Luton. “Extinction Rebellion – people say a lot about them – but they’ve worked alongside us, preparing the report, and they’re going to be part of the future.” He mentioned the school strikers too, who were out in Luton last year.
It would be unfair to say that Luton’s announcement is because of direct action in the town, because there are so many dedicated people who have been working on the climate agenda for years. But we have certainly put it on the agenda, made it impossible to ignore, and helped to empower those in the council who work on climate change.
There’s a lot of work to do from here of course. There are still a lot of people to convince. 2040 feels like a long way off. And we still have the airport expansion to stop. But today, I’m proud of the ambition that Luton Council has shown. Let’s get to work.