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Oxford councils diverge over support for Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

Oxfordshire County Council has passed a motion to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which was presented to Parliament by Green MP Caroline Lucas in September. 

The Bill calls on the government to implement  “a clear framework, based on scientific reality, to deliver the UK’s commitments to the 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement and to tighten up current UK legislation.” It has the backing of MPs from seven opposition parties, and calls for an emergency Citizens’ Assembly to aid the government in formulating a new Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy. 

The motion to back the Bill enjoyed majority support at the County Council  meeting, with 51 councillors voting for, five voting against, and two abstentions. The Council has pledged to take into account the aims and goals of the CEE Bill when setting its own strategies, policies, and targets. 

The Bill has also been widely endorsed by academics, public figures, and economists, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, the author Margaret Atwood, and the former Executive Director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo. Naidoo wrote: “The urgency and scale of the response required to tackle the emergency facing life on Earth is in this Bill. Those who are vulnerable are already suffering [and] the Bill provides a route for these communities to define the actions needed to protect them and all that they cherish.”

However, a similar level of support was not present at the Cherwell District Council meeting on 14 December. Green Councillor Ian Middleton brought the motion to support the Bill to the full council meeting, and it was seconded by Independent councilor John Broad. The motion called on the council to take the environmental issues raised in the Bill into account when developing its own policies, and for other Oxfordshire Councils and MPs to support the cross-party Early Day Motion in Parliament. Middleton’s motion failed to pass, with the Conservative group voting against, and the Labour group abstaining. 

Councillor Middleton told the Oxford Blue: 

“I was dumbfounded at the response of the Conservatives in so vehemently opposing a bill that sets out to ensure the UK makes a right and proper contribution towards mitigating global climate change. They were openly hostile to the idea, with some councillors making increasingly bizarre comments about the intentions of the motion. They were also strongly opposed to involving the public in these issues through citizen’s assemblies. As usual it seems that the Conservatives talk a lot about localism but are opposed to anything that puts that principle into practice.”

Middleton added: “Part of their argument was that this was not something that a local council should be involved with, but the proposals in the Bill are all things that can be included in future council actions, particularly on things like procurement, planning and economic policies. I also feel that part of a local council’s role is to register grass-roots support for these kinds of measures, especially as the resultant government policies will have an impact on all of us and the people we represent.”

“As a council that has already passed a climate emergency motion and claims high environmental ideals, I was surprised and disappointed that it did not receive enough support. The Conservatives seemed to see it as a personal affront and sought to turn it into a party-political issue, which I hoped could be avoided, as the Bill itself has cross party support and has already received support in other Oxfordshire Local Authorities, including the City Council. I was also surprised that the Labour group abstained, especially given that they sponsored the council’s original climate emergency motion.”

Cherwell District Council’s Conservative Group have been contacted for comment.