Students demand change on climate emergency as cross-party pledges made

Camden Town Hall.

A group of ‘passionate teenagers trying to make a difference’ demanded action from Camden Council to tackle the climate emergency this week.

Student activist group The Sustainers was one of a number of speakers invited to a themed debate informed by seventeen proposals made by a Citizens’ Assembly on climate change convened by the council earlier in the year.

La Sainte Union school students Hareta and Gabrielle emphasised the need for urgency in tackling the climate crisis, making a number of key demands including:

  • Giving all schools the money and resources for senior leadership teams to tackle climate issues in schools
  • Single use plastic to be gone from schools by January 2020
  • Meat to be banned twice a week from schools from March 2020,
  • The installation of solar panels across schools and public buildings within next few years

Hareta and Gabrielle said: “We want change in our schools, and we are privileged to have Camden Council by our side. As teenagers we are facing the consequences of past generations’ actions, and are forced to clean up the mess that has been made.

“Quite frankly it’s embarrassing that us 13 to 14-year-olds are having this conversation with you, standing here telling you what to do when it should be the other way round.

“How is it fair that we have to be worrying about this from the age of 13? Let’s act like there is a climate emergency. We urge every single person in this room to be ambitious, and please, please don’t let the children down.”

The Town Hall formally declared a climate emergency at the same meeting, with a number of commitments made to work as an organisation to rise to meet the challenge of preventing over 1.5 degrees of global warming.

The Citizens’ Assembly which the council had called on the issue was praised as a delivery mechanism for solutions, with spokesperson Anna Pick saying the group had allowed people to unify “around common threads…in the so-called post-truth era”.

Pick said: “A question often asked by assembly members when we were presented with an array of possibilities at council, community and home levels, was ‘Why hasn’t this been done already?’

“While some progress has been made in Camden, there was a strong consensus that we need more ambitious action, including in areas that represent logistical, financial or political challenges.

“We hope that councillors of all parties will collaborate with each other, adopt the climate action plan to be set out next year, and ensure that Camden leads the way on this urgent issue.”

While all councillors present agreed on the need for action to tackle the climate crisis, one issue that came in for particular debate was the speed at which an action plan should be delivered.

Cllr Siân Berry (Green, Highgate) argued that a year to develop an action plan used a third of the amount of time left to act on the issue, calling on the council to bring forward the timetable to enact change.

Meanwhile Cllr Oliver Cooper (Con, Hampstead Town) agreed with the substance of the motion that the council “take its time to make sure we know what the best and most effective means of ensuring our future are”.

Cllr Adam Harrison (Lab, Bloomsbury), cabinet member for a sustainable Camden, concluded in his remarks that the Town Hall would be striking a balance “between taking the time of get new policies right and actually getting on with it”.

It is understood the council will also be bringing forward a new biodiversity action plan next year.

The meeting also saw calls for change from trade union UNISON, who urged the council to fully divest its pension fund, second or recruit staff for carbon reduction roles within council services, and twin with other parts of the world already affected by the climate emergency.

Cllr Harrison told the meeting that the Town Hall has halved its fossil fuel exposure through its pension investments in recent years, divesting down to less than five per cent of the fund.

Camden Council has already acted on some of the Citizens’ Assembly proposals, including offering low cost solar panels for the borough’s homes, bringing forward segregated cycle lanes, and holding a car-free day in Kentish Town in September.

Councillors present unanimously voted for the assembly’s proposals on climate action, all of which can be found here – https://news.camden.gov.uk/camden-stepping-up-to-climate-emergency-challenge/.

Cllr Harrison said: “Put simply, the climate emergency is the most serious threat that our planet and its people face.

“We have reduced carbon dioxide emissions in Camden by over 38 per cent over the last 10 years, and we were very pleased that Friends of the Earth recently ranked Camden top in London for our climate work.

“But we know we need go further, more urgently – and the citizens’ assembly process helped us sharpen our focus on what needs to be done.

“We now need to translate the proposals into community-led action and borough-wide policies to develop a new Climate Action Plan for Camden and make a radical difference.”