13 May 2020
This article was published in the Cambridge Independent on Wednesday 13th May, 2020.
Green Elephants on Parade at Shire Hall.
The County Council chamber on Castle Hill is fairly capacious, but it still is remarkable how many elephants have been smuggled in in the County Council’s draft Climate Change and Environment Strategy. The document was due to have been considered in March, but the meeting was cancelled due to the lockdown. In the midst of the Covid emergency we can forget about the Climate Emergency but it hasn’t gone away and it hasn’t got any less urgent.
It is a significant step forward even to have such a strategy. Declaring a Climate and Environment Emergency, as the Council did last May, is in many ways the easy bit. Now the hard, complicated and challenging work of framing a response begins. Not surprisingly the verdict is that this Strategy is not nearly ambitious enough. It takes time for the penny to drop about just how fundamental and far reaching the challenge of climate collapse is.
There are at least three elephants from which this Strategy averts its gaze.
Elephant 1. Our region’s rivers and chalk streams are in crisis along with the internationally significant ecology that they support. This is due to too much water being extracted. The Strategy acknowledges that this is a problem, ‘The demand for water resources to support growth could place our region’s natural capital at risk.’ (p 32) yet only recommends that the Council and other bodies ‘consider suitable actions to manage this risk.’ This is a pathetically inadequate response. What the crisis reveals is that we cannot even safely supply the houses that we already have, yet there are plans to build thousands more.
Elephant 2. Behind the Strategy is a report produced by a group of Cambridge University graduate students that pointed out that Cambridgeshire has most of the UK’s agricultural peatland. This produces as much greenhouse gas as all other human activity in the County (around 6 million tons of CO2 equivalent). Again the Strategy weakly talks about working with others to address the problem. Now that they have been alerted, what the Council should be doing is beating down doors in Whitehall to get adequate recognition of the crisis.
Elephant 3. The Strategy admits that ‘a fundamental reorganisation of our finance systems and a rethink of how our economy works’ (p 16) is needed if we are to avoid catastrophe. It talks in approving terms of ‘Greening Finance’. Yet it does not once mention taking steps to distance the Council from the oil companies whose toxic activities are literally fuelling the destruction. It would all be a bit more convincing if the issue of pension fund divestment from fossil fuels were on the table.
If Councillors approve the Strategy in its current form they will both be deluding themselves and also offering false comfort to the people they represent that we have the Climate Emergency under control - just like the government told us they had the Covid-19 emergency under control - until the lockdown came.
- Jeremy Caddick -
Jeremy is your Green Party parliamentary candidate for Cambridge. He is a local campaigner and the Dean of one of Cambridge's colleges.