Two more neighbouring boroughs declare climate emergencies after Greenwich’s refusal

Extinction Rebellion protesters
Extinction Rebellion protesters, who want more demanding targets than those set by the Climate Emergency campaign, occupied Waterloo Bridge last week

Two more of Greenwich’s neighbouring boroughs have declared climate emergencies, weeks after it rejected a call to do so because it said it was already doing enough to deal with climate change.

Tower Hamlets and Newham, both Labour-run councils, both joined Lewisham in pledging to make their boroughs carbon neutral by 2030.

Lewisham made the declaration in February, the same night as Greenwich cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald 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.”

Tower Hamlets passed a motion last month, while Newham approved the move last week. Newham has pledged to undertake a “green audit” of all council services, to provide air quality monitoring devices to all school, to remove single-use plastics from council buildings, and to publish annual reports on how well it is doing in reaching its targets.

Newham’s elected mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, said “phase one” would be tackling air pollution: “Under this administration this is going to change.” Her deputy, John Gray, thanked campaigners on his blog: “Many thanks to Fossil Free Newham. Now to implement.”

In Tower Hamlets, elected mayor John Biggs wrote on the LabourList website: “We found that children’s lung capacity in Tower Hamlets can be up to 10% below the national average. This statistic is a call to action.”

He added: “We are investing in improving neighbourhoods through a Liveable Streets fund to make it easier to get about by foot, on a bike and on public transport, and installing 300 electric vehicle charging points across the borough. An air quality fund is giving small pots of money to innovative groups in the community who want to do their bit.”

In February in Lewisham, councillors passed a motion pledging “do everything within their power” to make the borough carbon neutral by 2030, with the councillor who brought the motion, Tauseef Anwar, declaring: “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.”

Lambeth and Southwark – also Labour-run – have also called climate emergencies, as has London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Among south-east London’s Labour councils, only Greenwich and Croydon have not followed suit. In February, Scott-McDonald told campaigners that the council already had a climate strategy from 2016; this does not commit the council to being climate neutral from 2030, a key aim of the Climate Emergency campaign.

Extinction Rebellion protesters demanding stronger action occupied Waterloo Bridge and other key sites in central London last week. They want the UK to reduce carbon emissions to “net zero” by 2025. And today, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who has inspired a series of school strikes to protest about inaction on the environment, addressed party leaders – except the current prime minister, Theresa May – at Westminster. “You are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before,” she said.

Also today, Greenwich and Lewisham London Assembly member Len Duvall criticised the Westminster government for not calling a climate emergency – seemingly unaware that the council he used to lead has also refused to carry out such a move.

Campaigners hope to present their petition for Greenwich Council to declare a climate emergency in June, after which Scott-McDonald will be able to reveal what Greenwich’s definition of an emergency is.

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