At the AGM of Cambridge City Council on Thursday 27th May Labour councillors voted to amend a motion in support of the Climate and Ecology (CEE) Bill. Given the excellent intentions of the CEE Alliance, the organisation behind the Bill, we thought it might be useful to explain why we proposed the amendments we did, rather than pass the motion un-amended. We also want to set out how we see our role as city councillors in tackling what we all agree is one of the most important issues facing Britain and the world.
We fully support the ambitions of the CEE Alliance. We all agree that action on climate change is needed – urgently. As a council we have declared a climate emergency and biodiversity emergency, have committed to becoming a carbon neutral council by 2030, and have introduced a whole series of measures to cut our carbon footprint and protect the city’s biodiversity.
Sadly, there were some provisions of that original CEE Bill that we really couldn’t support. For example, it stated that the UK must only use “natural climate solutions” to achieve net zero. That would exclude many technical solutions being developed at our universities including methods like carbon capture and storage. We should not rely exclusively on technical solutions either but need to remain open to all available options.
It also argued for the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly, with powers to compel the Secretary of State to implement their strategy. If this were to happen, it would entirely bypass normal parliamentary process and threaten the ability of groups like affected workers and trade unions to be heard in the debate. As committed trade unionists, we could not risk the voices of workers being ignored.
It seems that those MPs proposing the Bill shared those concerns because they have now published a revised version, renaming it the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill and taking out references to natural climate solutions and changing their vision for a Citizens’ Assembly. The revised proposals call for a Citizens’ Assembly to make recommendations for consideration to the Committee on Climate Change and the Joint Nature Conservancy Committee, and then to the Secretary of State. This is a clear improvement, though we would prefer to see definite commitments that this would not reduce in any way the democratic role of our elected representatives in the Commons.
Councillors who proposed the motion on 27th May were asking us to support a piece of draft legislation that even its authors have now accepted was unworkable and not the way to bring about the change that we all need.
We could not do that. It would have been a largely empty gesture.
Neither did the motion as presented acknowledge the excellent work being done by MPs, including our own MP, Daniel Zeichner, to hold the Tory Government to account on their Environment Bill. Given that the Tories have the numbers to put that bill into law, we wanted to acknowledge and support all the hard work Daniel and the Labour front bench team are putting in to amend that bill so that it includes as many of Labour’s demands as possible.
Our vote as councillors has been represented as a vote against the intentions captured in the CEE Bill. That is absolutely not the case. As we’ve said, we fully support the ambitions of the CEE Alliance. We just want to find the best way forward to actually bring about change.
The first version of the CEE Bill would have struggled to achieve that change. However, the latest version of the Bill is much more promising. Whilst we know, and respect, that some committed environmentalists will have different views on the revised version, we feel that as councillors, we are much more able to support this version and we urge its supporters to make the changes proposed.