There are 418 principal councils in the UK, comprised of 27 County Councils (upper tier), 201 District Councils (lower tier), and 190 unitary (combined upper & lower tier) Councils There are also 11,000 third-tier Town & Parish Councils that have limited budgets and powers, but can be a good starting point to raise public awareness and often have councillors who are also members of a higher tier council.
There are basically two ways to get a ‘Climate Emergency’ discussed in the Council Chamber. A public petition can be presented (with the requisite number of signatures, usually 1% of the population) or two Councillors can propose and second a motion. (The Executive themselves can declare a ‘Climate Emergency’ and have it ratified by full Council, as happened in Stroud. The danger with this is that they will pre-empt a petition or motion by proposing something weaker).
Councillors from any political party can propose a motion to be discussed, as long as they can get a seconder. You can find contact details for all Councillors on your Council website. However, if you get support from the Party that controls the Council you are more likely to get the original motion passed without it being weakened by amendments.
If you do not know any Councillors who might be willing to propose a motion, you can set up a petition on GoPetition.com (preferred as easier to sign, and accepted by some Councils but do check with yours first) or an ePetition on your Council website. Just do a search on your Council website for ePetition or give them a ring and ask how to set one up. You can also run a paper petition, with the same wording and timeframe. Be warned that it will take a team of people willing to stand in the street, go door knocking and share the link on Social Media. Young people in Lancaster needed 1500 signatures for their ePetition and were not getting many online because of the cumbersome signup process. It was only when a team of students spent many hours getting signatures on paper at the University that they reached their target.
What should be in the motion?
You can find copies of all successful motions, both the originals and the amended ones, at www.climateemergency.uk We recommend the following components:
- A target date of 2030
- A Citizen’s Assembly to generate ideas and bring the community with you.
- A working Group, chaired by Cabinet member/Committee chair, involving as wide a participation from local community as possible, to report within 6 months, or at least in time for their recommendations to be funded in the next budget cycle.
- Interim targets and action plan.
- Disinvestment from fossil fuels.
- A call to Government to provide the necessary policy changes and funding available.
- An ethical procurement framework to ensure suppliers reduce their carbon footprint.
It’s on the agenda, now what?
Get your supporters, including everyone who signed the petition, to contact their Councillor and arrange a meeting with them, at their convenience, to brief them on your concerns about Climate Change. If they hold surgeries then you could attend one of these.
It’s really important that you fill the public gallery on the day of the Council meeting. Members of the public can register to speak for up to 5 minutes beforehand, so do get a mix of people, including students and school children, business people and experts to make a speech, emphasising the urgency and also their personal concerns.
The motion passed, now what?
Most Councils will not have staff already in place to take this process forward. Many Councils made their energy & climate change staff redundant when the Government stopped requiring them to report on their progress in reducing their carbon emissions. Some Councils, like Nottingham, on the other hand, increased their staff, making a commercial case for saving energy and reducing their carbon footprint. Your Council will need a lot of support and encouragement (as well as gentle cajoling) to hold a series of meetings and come up with a plan. Encourage them to register for this Climate Emergency Conference in Lancaster on 29th March so that they can network with other councils that are also working on their carbon reduction plans. Make a rota of your supporters to attend every Council meeting and ask a question about how the plan is progressing.