Conservative-controlled Surrey County Council has declared a climate emergency – almost unanimously.
Just one member of the council abstained and no one voted against.
Councillors arriving for this morning’s meeting were met by a “climate die-in” protest by nearly 100 members of Extinction Rebellion groups in Surrey.
Campaigners wearing animal masks and carrying climate banners lay down in front of the entrance to the council headquarters in Kingston.
They were highlighting the loss of species and damage to human life support systems, caused by increasing carbon emissions.
The hour-long protest included the amplified sound of bird song and a model drilling rig.
The county is currently considering two planning applications for onshore oil and gas developments and another is expected soon.
The campaigners later packed the public gallery and applauded the approval of the declaration.
The motion was proposed by Conservative Cllr Mike Goodman, the cabinet member for environment and waste.
“Climate change is not just about the environment. It is about communities and jobs.”
He said he did not support the tactics of Extinction Rebellion but he said he supported the group’s messages.
His motion, which had been amended before the meeting to include the climate emergency declaration, also committed the council to:
“providing a strong united voice for councils in lobbying for support to address this emergency and sharing best practice across all councils.”
Cllr Goodman said he hoped the council would have a draft climate change strategy by spring next year.
He said there also needed to be a review of transport, including more electric car charging points in the county.
Cllr John O’Reilly (Conservative) said the motion, if approved, would raise expectations. He said if climate change and the environment were to be a priority for Surrey it could mean that other areas would be pushed to the back.
Cllr Chris Botten (Liberal Democrat) said declaring a climate change emergency would be “incompatible with the expansion of Heathrow”.
Cllr Jonathan Essex (Green) recommended the council divested its pension from fossil fuels.
Conservative, Ken Gulati, said he would not support the motion because it was not within the council’s competency to deliver.
This was the second time Extinction Rebellion groups had attended Surrey County Council meetings.
The group called for:
- Declaration of a climate emergency and ecological breakdown, and drawing up of an effective climate action plan (1)
- An end to Surrey County Council’s £145million investments by its pension fund in fossil fuels
- The Council to end its business as usual relationship with oil and gas prospectors, by urgently amending its minerals planning policy to reflect the new reality of imminent climate breakdown.
Youth Strike spokesperson, 15 year old Hattie Twigger-Ross, said:
“Youth Strikers and Extinction Rebellion are here today because time is running out. There are 11 years left before we are locked into runaway climate and ecological breakdown. If I am to have a future, you must act now. As our councillors you have a duty to protect us and our environment and you are abjectly failing in that right now”.