Climate Change is too important for gesture politics

Doing more in Liverpool to capture solar, water and wind energy must be an important consideration for our City Council debate

Of all the issues which face the people of the World by far the most important is climate change. The planet is on a countdown to fundamental changes in our eco-systems that could well mean the extinction of our species within centuries if not sooner.

Everyone accepts this apart from a handful of deniers, whose principal cheerleader is Donald Trump who just cannot see the evidence in front of them or choose to ignore it. They see valid scientific evidence from thousands of scientists from a range of disciplines and ignore them because they want to believe a handful of cranks with pseudo-scientific theories.

I think that the actions of school pupils in having a day off school to gather at public places and challenge the establishment to take action is absolutely marvellous. Their passion, knowledge and enthusiasm has shamed many an old bloke like me. I too bunked off school occasionally to campaign for a cause I believe in. I believe that (unlike me perhaps) those young people will spend their lives doing great things to motivate and enthuse people to take up good causes of which environmental concerns will be at the forefront.

I am not so sure about the eco-warriors continually taking action in London. Their action is too extreme and simply puts many people off their cause when they need to be engaging with people to convince waverers not only of the facts of climate change but the need for urgent action. Stopping people from getting home by efficient public transport systems is unlikely to achieve this. If your journey home has been doubled by such actions it will be too easy for many to say, “why should I listen to these people”. The knee jerk reaction will either be that they are wrong or that they are simply making a fuss.

We have a similar situation in Liverpool where the Green Party are desperate to get the Council to agree a motion which includes the Council declaring a “State of Climate Change Emergency”. In fact, it has seven other items some of which may be a good idea as part of a major plan but in the form that they are currently proposed are just gesture politics.

Instead the Mayor and I have agreed a different and more productive way forward (we do sometimes agree!0. We are proposing that the Council devotes the whole of a council meeting in July, apart from statutory business that we have to get through, to a 2.5-hour debate solely on climate change. Not only Councillors will speak but also people from our Universities, green groups and, I hope, a representative of the Young Climate Change activists.

We will do so against a background of a report which will have been prepared by our officers and others and discussed beforehand by our Regeneration and Environment spokespersons. At my suggestion the report will, after a description of the effects of climate change on Liverpool, focus on three key areas:

  1. What do we need to persuade the Government to do?
  2. What won’t the Government try and prevent us from doing?
  3. What can we start doing tomorrow?

At the conclusion of the council meeting a summary of key actions will be provided and officers instructed to work on bringing forward a series of hard actions for political approval and sign off.

In some ways the last of these three is the most important. It is too easy, to do as the potential Green motion does, to implore others to take action without having committed ourselves to firm action.

Liverpool Council can be a mover of opinion and actions not only in Liverpool but could also set an example to the rest of the UK if we are prepared to go forward together to take the hard actions which are within our power or influence. If we do the right things now, we can change things for the better within the UK but it will take nerve and determination because it will need to do some things that are going to be unpopular.

We will need to look at:

  • Cars and bus use in the City Centre
  • No traffic zones around schools
  • Tree planting programmes
  • More effective environmental uses of some of our green spaces
  • Reintroduction of more bus lanes
  • The development of better cycling facilities and more cycle lanes
  • Working with retailers on packaging reduction campaigns
  • Education programmes in schools
  • More food production inside the City and City Region
  • The use of the Cruise Terminal by liners using heavily polluting bunker fuel.
  • More effective rail connections.

There will, of course, be some political disagreement about some of these and in particular the priority which the Council will place on doing them in the light of our poor resource situation. Somehow, however, we need to get as much political agreement as possible on a wide range of initiatives that together will make a fundamental difference in Liverpool.

When we have done that, we can lecture others. But perhaps we will not need to. I want my City to inspire the Country and the City by being the best in tackling the worst problem we face – climate change.

So, let’s declare a climate change emergency in Liverpool but only do so when we have shown not only that we can talk the talk but that we can walk the walk.

Details of our environmental and other proposals can be found in our 2019 Local Election Manifesto – “Liberal Democrats Demand Better” at http://www.liverlibdems.org.uk. We are still the only Party to produce a manifesto for this election.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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