Wealden District Council declares a Climate Emergency

25 July 2019

Climate protestors at Wealden DC July 24 2019

We’re celebrating today – Wealden District Council has declared a Climate Emergency, thanks in no small part to the actions of our two new Green councillors, Patricia Patterson-Vanegas and Keith Obbard. 

In a full Council meeting yesterday, Wednesday 24 July 2019, Wealden District Council joined councils across the UK in recognising that we need to take action urgently to protect our planet and the life on it from the effects of rapid global heating. The Council voted to cut CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 or sooner – we’re delighted with the progress we’ve made and determined to move that target to zero emissions by 2030. 

Patricia says:

“I am pleased that Wealden has declared a climate emergency in front of more than 50 members of the public, some of whom asked challenging and thought-provoking questions that added to the quality of the debate in Council. What did emerge was a commitment by the Council to pursue carbon zero by 2050 or before. We will continue to work to get these commitments down to real action and keep the ecological message strong.” 

Keith says:

“Whilst I am obviously disappointed that the Council did not accept our amendments, which would have strengthened and focused the efforts towards a CO2 neutral target, at least the issues of urgency and habitat loss were discussed, and the Council has accepted the Climate Emergency Report. This is a good start. 

We have been invited to join the Cabinet Advisory Group which is responsible for the Climate Change issues, and we will use that avenue to encourage the Council to move more quickly towards a net zero carbon goal.”

You can read Patricia and Keith's detailed case for declaring a Climate and Ecological Emergency on our Campaigns page.

Activists bring boats, banners and biscuits - and a serious case for urgent action  

Patricia and Keith were supported by a lively and warm gathering of activists outside and inside the Council chamber in Hailsham. Local Extinction Rebellion groups from Hailsham and Ashdown Forest were joined by Green Party members and the public to make a strong case for action on climate change now.  

Boat and die-in at climate protest July 2019 Wealden

Activists staged a die-in, brought boats to signify the ark, engaged councilors and passers-by in conversation about the climate emergency we face, flew banners, wore costumes, chanted the names of endangered animals, shared delicious cookies, made music, and created a positive and peaceful demonstration of the depth of our concern about this emergency. 

This is only the start of the action we all need to take, and we’ll be working hard within and beyond the council to bring our greenhouse emissions to zero by 2030. 

Wealden DC rejects 2030 as the target for zero emissions

As soon as she was elected, Green Councillor Patricia Patterson-Vanegas proposed a motion to declare a Climate Emergency, with zero emissions by 2030 as recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change. 

The Council’s Cabinet responded with its own report, which superseded Patricia’s motion and this is what the Council voted on yesterday. 

Patricia proposed an amendment to the Cabinet’s report with 2030 as the zero emissions target, but the council rejected it. The main argument by Conservative council members in favour of 2050 was that they didn’t yet know the costs involved in reaching zero emissions so wouldn’t commit themselves to something they might not be able to achieve in 11 years.  

There wasn’t an opportunity in Council to discuss the costs of not cutting greenhouse emissions to zero by 2030 but we intend to make this point strongly and ensure this forms part of the planning that will follow the declaration. 

Wealden rejects including biodiversity in the declaration 

Child with animal poster climate protest

Keith proposed an amendment to the report to recognise the importance of protecting biodiversity, which is severely threatened by global heating. The Council rejected this, partly because some members felt they already did a great deal to protect biodiversity and partly because they felt the main declaration covered biodiversity implicitly.  

We’ll be trying to make sure biodiversity is included in all plans, of course.

We're still aiming for 2030 

As Keith reports, he and Patricia will be involved in Wealden DC’s planning to reach Carbon zero, and this starts immediately. We’ll keep you updated as soon as we have any information, and we’ll be supporting our Green councillors all the way. If you can help, please join us – the more we are, the more we do, the faster our Council will act. 

Patricia and Keith’s speeches for 2030 and biodiversity 

Why 2030?

Patricia’s speech proposing a target of zero greenhouse emissions by 2030 was eloquent and persuasive: 

In recent decades we have been able to sit comfortably as we hear that far awayPacific Islands are disappearing because of rising sea levels…  Meanwhile we applaud the success of wine producers in the south east benefitting from better weather in the UK. 

However, the harsh threats of theclimate crisis are nearer to us now.  

Far away from Wealden Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old, leads a global movement of children who question whether they have a future. But these questions are also arising here in Wealden: last week another 16-year-old lobbied me to declare a climate and ecological emergency. He told me he had turned 16 the previous day and he chose to celebrate by going with friends to the riverbanks in Lewes – not to swim as some of us might have imagined - but to retrieve old supermarket trolleys and rubbish, and deliver them to Tesco to talk to the manager, raise awareness and ask for support in protecting Nature. 

We hearabout risk of extinction to animals far away – the elephant, the tiger and the whale – yet close to home we are losing our hedgehogs, water voles and turtle doves. Two months ago I went with friends to Tunbridge Wells at midnight to listen to the nightingales singing before they become extinct. 

So, we are not in times of ‘business as usual’ any more. 

The IPCC Report says to us that we have eleven years to act radically, which takes us to 2030. But that report has already been watered down by political interests.  

Scientists are telling us that the action we take NOW will be much more effective than action taken when we are facing failing harvests or even greater human mass migration and climate refugees. 

I’ll say it again, this is not business as usual any longer.  

This is asurgent in Wealden as it is far away because you see, air pollution doesn’t know age or privilege. Rising sea levels, heat waves and floods will, in the end, not spare anyone. 

And you might be thinking. Carbon zero by 2030. Is that not too optimistic? But this is the wrong question. 

In 1940, Winston Churchill did not ask the people if it was too optimistic to win the war. It probably was. But Instead, he focused the minds and hearts of the nation towards one goal. 

Taking urgent, ambitious and decisive action won the war, and it can also stop dangerous run-away climate change and tipping points from happening.   


The knowledge is already out there. 

There are people everywhere leading the way in finding solutions, new approaches, different ways of living. 

Humans have in the past lived in balance with nature. And we are recovering that knowledge. 

More than 100 councils in the UK have declared climate emergencies.  

Conservative-controlled Bromley Council voted unanimously to do what they can to achieve net zero emissions by 2029. 

We need to focus together ona vision: a dream full of bees, vital Nature and pristine seas. 

Let us harness the energy that Churchill awoke in this country at a time ofemergency and stand up to the challenge of this colossal climate crisis.  

Why not focus on becoming the leading district council in the home counties to deliver a healthy ecosystem? 

I will leave you with an extract from the poem ‘This is a crumbling temple’,written by a 15-year-old in my ward:

“I cry long tears for the steps we could have walked to save our planet.  

Dear earth you are our mother, yet it’s time for our last hug. It’ll begin soft and warm but your grip will slowly tighten, becoming more violent and then stifle us, snuffing our oxygen, our flame, a flame that never shed light, just burned.” 

Please consider declaring a climate emergency and target zero CO2 emissions by 2030. 

We need ambitious action today Woman climate protestor with flowers Wealden July 2019

Why include biodiversity when we talk about the climate emergency?


Here’s Keith’s speech in support of his amendment to include the biodiversity crisis in the declaration: 

I am proposing this amendment to the climate emergency report because we all need to recognise that climate change isn’t only about Arctic Ice melting and losing our Polar Bears, or Tropical Rain Forests burning and losing our Orang Utans. 

It’s about us losing our wildlife too. The flowers, the insects and the many birds and animals that rely on them for food. 

A report published by the UK Wildlife Trusts has some sobering figures: between 1970 and 2013, 56% of British species recorded had declined, and in another report, 15% of the species surveyed are threatened with extinction, or have already gone extinct. 

One report suggests that hedgehogs, which rely on insects and other invertebrates for their food, could become extinct in the UK by 2025 if their decline continues at the present rate.

Some research done in Germany across 63 protected sites from 1989 to 2016 has shown that the biomass of insects recorded has dropped by 76%during the 27 years of the study.

We know that we have lost huge areas of our traditional wildflower meadows, and that our bees and other pollinators are under threat. 

This report to declare a Climate and EcologicalEmergency, gives us the opportunity to turn the tide on these losses by improving the habitat for these threatened species, and at the same time to improve the climate for us.

Every tree protected, every tree planted, every meadow restored, is taking CO2 from the atmosphere and locking the carbon away for years to come. This gives us Oxygen and reduces breathing problems for young and old, as well as providing a habitat for many insects, mammals and birds. 

We should recognise that looking after our local ecosystems and improving the biodiversity around us has multiple benefits, not least in improving our quality of life, not just for us, but for future generations. 

For the sake of the hedgehogs, and for the sake of our Grandchildren, please support my amendment. 

All images © Philip Volkers 2019