If we are to win the battle against climate change, it will be through our councils
Councils are on the frontline of tackling the climate emergency – Westminster should learn from the pioneers at local level, writes Stephen Morgan MP
In tabling the motion declaring a climate emergency, Labour have shown that they are willing to be the trailblazers when it comes to reducing environmental degradation and safeguarding our planet. Instrumental in this process will be the role of local authorities, many of whom paved the way for the national movement by declaring climate emergencies at local level.
From laying down the rules for recycling to introducing local legislation on air quality, it is undeniable that our country’s councils are on the frontline when it comes to tackling climate change. It is their policy that will affect us most in our day to day lives, and it is therefore integral that support is provided so that they can get it right.
In a bid to map out a blueprint for transforming the nations’ local authorities, I have been visiting daring councils that have shown not just a desire to go greener but a strategy. The ethos needed to tackle climate change is embodied by Labour-run Oxford City Council, who have been taking unchartered strides into climate change territory. Guided by Oxford City Council’s Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Cllr Tom Hayes, I visited the city to see first-hand the successes and challenges arising when a local authority shows demonstrable devotion to the world’s most pressing matter.
The Labour-led leaps with regard to going greener in Oxford are as numerous as they are pioneering, from introducing the world’s first Zero Emission Zone from 2020 to launching a Charter for Cleaner Air that I have gladly added my name to alongside Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The city council is robustly consolidating a blueprint for change that will be integral to proliferating innovation and environmental change.
These initiatives combined with the council-forged collaboration called Low Carbon Oxford, which includes over 40 organisations from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors responsible for over 50% of the city’s carbon emissions, are a testament to the intrinsic role local authorities play when it comes to tackling climate change.
There are councils across the nation leading by example and it is up to ministers and shadow ministers to leave the confines of Westminster to visit the coal face and learn best practice from those local authorities that are going above and beyond.
Having spent over 15 years working for various local authorities as an officer, I have seen the often-unsung work that goes on behind the scenes. I believe that if we are to win the battle against climate change, it will be through our councils.
In my first month as shadow minister I have visited councils in Oxford and Bristol and spent time on the frontline in council services in my own city of Portsmouth, in a bid to fact-find and interact with people so that these ideas can be taken back to Westminster. This is practice that I intend to maintain, and I consider it a true privilege that in this new position as shadow communities minister, I have the opportunity to develop policy for such a vital segment of this nation’s administration.
Stephen Morgan is Labour MP for Portsmouth South and shadow communities minister