Lewisham Council declared a “climate emergency” last week, backing the need for urgent action on the environment – but neighbouring Greenwich rejected the same calls, saying it was already doing enough.
After a February day in which temperatures in SE London reached 19C, the two councils discussed the issue of what they could do about the over-heating climate – one in a motion from councillors, the other after a series of questions from the public.
But while Greenwich rejected the idea, Lewisham councillors supported calls to make their borough carbon neutral by 2030.
Dozens of local authorities across England and Wales have passed motions calling on leaders to declare the state of emergency over carbon emissions, with more due to follow. London mayor Sadiq Khan did the same in December, following city leaders in Bristol and Manchester.
It is part of a wider campaign to encourage councillors to force authorities to act against climate change in the wake of warnings from the UN over a future climate “catastrophe”.
At Lewisham Town Hall on Wednesday, a motion calling on elected mayor Damien Egan and his cabinet to “do everything within their power” to make the borough carbon neutral by 2030 was unanimously passed by councillors, who all represent Labour.
Crofton Park councillor Tauseef Anwar, who introduced a motion, said: “We are the first generation to realise [the effects of climate change]… and we are the last to be able to to something about it. It is time to panic.”
Lewisham should now prepare a draft action plan on climate change before April next year. It also draw up a communications strategy to help residents make low-carbon choice, while a senior council officer will be tasked with ensuring emissions are being cut.
The council should also help residents access funding for improved heating and insulation, and to ensure the climate emergency is “adequately reflected” in strategies and plans.
Anwar called on “central government to provide us with resources to deliver this succesfully”.
Five miles up the South Circular Road at Woolwich Town Hall, climate activists – including a Plumstead branch of the Extinction Rebellion group – asked a co-ordinated set of questions to Greenwich Council from the public gallery. They have already gained over 300 names on a petition.
Greenwich Green Party coordinator Caolán Byrne said: “You say you take best practice from other councils, and you’re a planning authority that delivers zero-carbon objectives.
“How is this possible that large retail outlets people drive to are being approved and that this council still backs the Silvertown Tunnel project which will put more vehicles on the roads?
“How can my two-year-old’s nursery do more to combat climate change than this council?”
But Denise Scott-McDonald, the cabinet member for the environment, said the council was already implementing a climate strategy it approved in 2016.
She said: “I have looked at what other councils are doing, and it is not one size fits all. Different councils have different definitions of what an emergency is. One thing I did notice is that many put in place a climate change strategy to address issues in their area. In Greenwich we have had a strategy since 2016.
“In that strategy it is broken up into six key areas, and it does give some guidelines. I would encourage you to engage with the strategy and if you have suggestions I will take them on board.
“There are lots of ideas in this document. Engage with the strategy and we are more than happy to talk about it.”
Despite both being Labour councils, the two authorities have taken different public stances on environmental matters. In 2015, Lewisham passed a motion to oppose the Silvertown Tunnel, a project Greenwich has long backed. 853 understands that on Monday, Greenwich Labour councillors reaffirmed their support for the tunnel at a behind-closed-doors meeting of the ruling party group.
This story features material from Bridie Witton, the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham, and Tom Bull, the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. Find out more about how 853 uses material from the Local Democracy Reporter Service.
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