Havering Council to revisit climate emergency issue two years after rejecting declaration

Havering Council will consider again whether to declare a climate emergency, almost two years since councillors first rejected the idea.

At a meeting on Thursday February 18, councillors were told a newly-formed Climate Change Topic Group would “consider what action, if any” the council should take regarding Havering borough.

Other neighbouring boroughs, such as Waltham Forest and Redbridge, were quick to declare a climate emergency in 2019.

However, in July 2019, Havering councillors at a full council meeting rejected the idea, despite a gathering of Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters outside the town hall.

Conservative Cllr Michael Deon Burton (South Hornchurch) argued the council should not declare a climate emergency “simply because other local authorities have done so”.

He said: “We all accept that the matter is of the greatest importance and I also suspect we are all in agreement that we need to give it the necessary sense of urgency.

“But there’s a difference between that and formally applying the epithet ‘climate emergency’. We are here actually to look at the facts.

“That particular epithet should not be applied just, for want of a better term, because it’s fashionable.”

He added that he was concerned about which external experts would be called to speak before the new topic group, seemingly referring to members of the XR protest group.

He said: “I believe there are genuine people who have quite sincerely held thoughts about the climate situation but, at the end of the day, we are her majesty’s local authority of Havering.

“If we have people who openly admit to indulging in criminal behaviour… I do not think it’s appropriate that those self-same individuals are called before us and that we ally ourselves to them.”

In 2019, Havering councillors voted against declaring a climate emergency but accepted a motion for the council to renew its policies regarding environmental protection.

Havering’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) protestors gathered outside the town hall on Wednesday, July 10, ahead of a full council meeting.

The motion to declare an emergency was moved by the Upminster and Cranham Residents’ Group, who also called on the council to measure its carbon footprint and improve the recycling rate.

Cllr Gillian Ford said: “There has been a top down recognition of the pressure to act now on climate change.

“104 councils have already declared a climate change emergency, 13 of those being in London.

“We need to empower our residents and their role in a circular economy approach, with recycling, reusing and repairing.

“Havering is the first local authority not to adopt a climate emergency motion.”

Noleen O’ Leary, who set up the Havering XR group, said: “We are gutted, however it makes us want to fight Havering Council more and bring more education and awareness to our residents about the climate and ecological emergency we are in.

“We won’t stop until the council declares a climate emergency, acts upon it, creates a citizen’s assembly for climate and ecological debate and is carbon neutral.”

At the meeting, the Independent Residents’ Group argued calls for a climate emergency were misplaced because man-made climate change is an “elementary scam”.

Their amendment, which was voted down, said that to believe man-made carbon dioxide emissions determine climate is a religious rather than scientific conviction.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter