Councils declaring climate emergency: new hope for climate action?

Scientists make it clear - we're facing a climate emergency

On 8th October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a vital report on the state of climate science. They warned that if the planet warmed by 1.5C there would be some devastating consequences, such as the loss of most coral reefs, and increased extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods. Yet the consequences of allowing 2C warming would be truly catastrophic. Given that the planet is currently heading for 3-4C warming, keeping to 1.5C requires a radical shift across across energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems to reduce emissions, unprecedented in history for its speed. 

On 29th October, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, set out his budget. It did not mention climate change.

Local councils setting targets for going zero carbon

In November, the councils of two major cities, Bristol and Manchester, passed motions declaring a 'climate emergency' and setting targets aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2038 respectively.

Since then, there has been a wave of Climate Emergency declarations by around twenty councils across the UK - see full list below, updated 28 January.

What you can do if your council isn't on the list

Why not try and get it on there? Talk to local groups, and sympathetic councillors, and start a petition. 

Current climate emergency petitions.

Upcoming votes

Wednesday 20 February: Somerset County Council (meeting starts 10am)

West Berkshire vote expected in May (date tbc) following a successful local petition

What can we hope for from Climate Emergency motions? And what next?

We are used to politicians proceeding with 'business as usual' in the face of increasingly desperate warnings from scientists. So local councils adopting a more reality-based approach is heartening. Many of these motions have been brought by Green Party councillors, but importantly, they have generally depended on cross-party support. In Conservative-led Scarborough Borough Council, campaigners said "if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere". In Cornwall, where a motion was brought by a Lib Dem councillor, amended by a Labour councillor to strengthen it, and after a two hour debate to a packed public gallery, councillors from different parties voted almost unanimously to support the amended motion.

The largest authority to vote to declare a climate emergency is the London Assembly, who have called on the Mayor to declare a Climate Emergency and for him to put together a plan with specific actions needed for London to be carbon neutral by 2030. This has been accepted by Sadiq Khan, but with no additional commitments so far.

Are Climate Emergency motions just paying lip service to the radical action needed? This is of greatest concern where some motions have been amended to remove specific targets and dates. But in all these councils, campaigners' continued efforts will be crucial in turning abstract targets into reality.Local action will still face central government policy that is often far from supportive of radical climate action, for example maintaining a block on new onshore wind energy, and severe budget cuts. But they must be held to account for planning decisions. In the same meeting that they voted to declare a Climate Emergency, Oxford City Council voted against supporting a major road-building project, the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. In Bristol, councillors will soon be deciding whether to give planning permission to a gas power station.

Are the targets achievable? Public support will be vital, and of course national policies will still make a big difference. One of the smaller authorities so far is Machynlleth in Wales, where the Centre for Alternative Technology have been working for years on what 'zero carbon' would look like in the UK, as set out in their Zero Carbon Britain reports.

Climate Emergency Conference

Whether your council is on the list below or not, you might wish to attend this conference in Lancaster on 29 March about how local councils can help lead the climate emergency response could be extremely useful.

Councils which have already passed motions declaring a Climate Emergency: 

Bristol City Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Manchester City Council - (carbon neutral by 2038)
Frome Town Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Forest of Dean District Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Oswestry Town Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Scarborough Borough Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Stroud District Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Totnes Town Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Trafford Council - (carbon neutrality traget TBC)
Greater London Authority - (call for the Mayor to declare climate emergency)
Brighton Hove City Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Machynlleth Town Council - (carbon neutral asap)
Cornwall County Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Kirklees Metropolitan District Council - (stick to IPCC carbon targets)
Bradford Metropolitan District Council - (90% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2030)
Lambeth Borough Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Nottingham City Council - (carbon neutral by 2028)
Milton Keynes - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Oxford City Council - (carbon neutrality target TBC)
Leicester City Council - (carbon neutral by 2025-2030)
Lancaster City Council - (carbon neutral by 2030)
Sheffield City Council - (carbon neutral asap)
(Any missing above? Email

Some of the commitments that have been made as part of 'climate emergency' motions

Bristol (Carbon neutral by 2030)

  • Reduce Council Carbon Dioxide emissions from 6.5 tonnes per person per year to 2 tonnes 
  • Call on Westminster to provide powers and resources to make the 2030 target possible
  • Work with governments both within the UK and internationally and implement best practice methods

Full text

Scarborough (Carbon neutral by 2030)

  • Reduce Council Carbon Dioxide emissions from 6.5 tonnes per person per year to 2 tonnes 
  • Call on Westminster to provide powers and work with governments both within the UK and internationally and implement best practice methods
  • Submit a bid as part of the Councils budget setting process for an additional £80,000 to fund a Sustainability Officer Post to champion the scoping and delivery of the 2030 commitment

Full text

Manchester (Carbon neutral by 2038)

Manchester adopted this target based on work by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research at University of Manchester. The council has committed to developing a draft action plan by March 2019 and a final detailed plan by March 2020 setting out how the city will ensure that it stays within the proposed carbon budget. An initial report was produced 'Playing our full part'.

  • Energy supply: Commitment to accelerated grid decarbonisation.
  • Domestic buildings: Reduce energy demand and shift to lower carbon heat
  • Commercial buildings: Reduce energy demand for heating, cooling, hot water and appliances along with shifting away from gas heating.
  • Transport: Shift to ULEVs in addition to reducing travelling distances and shifting to healthier modes of transport.
  • Waste: Reducing waste whilst maximising recycling and enhancing the circular economy as well as recovering resources to support bioenergy opportunities.

In January the The Greater Manchester Combined Authority announced that all new buildings and other infrastructure built within the region would be ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2028 

Bradford (Carbon neutral by 2030)

  • Reduce Council Carbon Dioxide emissions from 6.5 tonnes per person per year to 2 tonnes
  • Requests the leader of the council reports back within 6 months with an Action Plan and roadmap to ensure Bradford stays on track
  • Requests the leader of the council establishes a ‘Bradford District Climate Change Board’ before the end of 2019.

Full text

Kirklees (Carbon neutral by 2050)

  • Recycling target of 55% by 2025
  • Council to consider Environmental Impact as part of any new policy
  • The Council to seek to collaborate with other Local and Regional Authorities on emission reduction projects as appropriate. The Leader of the Council to write to the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry requesting that national policy is urgently developed to reflect the seriousness of the current emergency and to release funds to local authorities that would allow them to take the necessary measures at local level.