Metro mayor Tim Bowles says ambitious plans to tackle the global climate crisis at a regional level are being backed up with “real investment”.
The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) officially declared a climate emergency at City Hall on Friday, July 19 – a move that was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers from the public gallery.
WECA has followed the lead of four other local councils, as well as The University of Bristol and We The Curious, in making the declaration, which recognises the threat of climate change and its impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of residents.
The decision was made as a five-day protest led by Extinction Rebellion drew to a close on Friday.
WECA’s committee, comprising Bowles, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and the leaders of South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) councils, Toby Savage and Dine Romero, voted unanimously in favour of the motion.
Speaking at the meeting, Rees told WECA committee members they now needed to focus on the “less glamorous” details of how the region’s carbon emissions could be reduced.
He said: “We’ve got to get down to some specifics.
“The less glamorous side of doing this is actually signing contracts, doing deals, ordering buses, getting planning permissions through.
“Sometimes that stuff does not look like much but it’s the stuff that counts.
“Saying what needs to happen is good but actually saying specifics of how you get there is better.”
He said tackling a climate emergency was not just the responsibility of local government.
“We have two big universities in Bristol, they’re like small towns in this city,” said Rees.
“The NHS is the fifth biggest organisation on the planet, we have a huge private sector, and government does not have command, control and power over these institutions.
“So if we’re serious about this, we have to talk about the cumulative impact of all those institutions and start thinking about decisions made not just in this room but by boards right across the region.”
Bowles told the meeting: “It is important we recognise the huge amount of work across the region and our commitment in taking that further.
“In recognition of the seriousness of the global emergency, we’re happy to declare a climate emergency and we continue to work with the individual authorities and West of England Local Enterprise Partnership to agree an action plan.”
Speaking after the meeting, the metro mayor said recent figures “clearly demonstrate that economic growth can be achieved alongside ambitious carbon reduction if we work together as a region”.
He added: “Climate change is a challenge recognised by all the leaders of the combined authority and we’re already backing our ambitious plans with real investment to build upon our early successes and ensure a clean, sustainable future for everyone.”
He said WECA’s energy strategy would be a “key tool” in seeking more government cash to deliver the ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2030.
Speaking outside the meeting, WECA overview and scrutiny committee chairman Steve Clarke, who was among Green members who lobbied for the move, said: “I will now try to ensure that we scrutinise all future decisions and plans made by Weca in the light of this declaration.
“Weca is sitting on large amounts of money and has responsibility for transport, education and skills and housing across the whole region.
“So this declaration must be followed by actual spending plans that support the green economy and create the future we need.
“We have declared an emergency — we need to act like it is real.”
Six-monthly progress reports will be brought to WECA’s committee, West of England joint committee, which also includes North Somerset Council, and its overview and scrutiny committee.
At its meeting on Friday, the WECA committee also approved a £250,000 investment to develop pilot projects – through its energy strategy and climate change action plan – supporting the region’s move to a low-carbon future.
Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol