CLIMATE action campaigners have “cautiously welcomed” Shetland Islands Council’s unanimous decision to “recognise” but not “declare” a global climate emergency.
Prior to Wednesday’s meeting of the full council five members of Climate Action Shetland handed over a petition to council convener Malcolm Bell calling on the council to join hundreds of other local authorities from around the world in declaring a climate emergency.
In a short presentation ahead of councillors discussing the SIC’s own response to climate change, campaigners warned that the world was at “tipping point”, and urged councillors not to shy away from declaring an emergency.
Following half an hour of discussions, councillors agreed with their political leader Steven Coutts that “the evidence [on climate change] is irrefutable and the science is clear”.
Councillor Coutts’ motion continued: “As a council we must demonstrate the community leadership. Action is required. We must act and engage the community to ensure that Shetland can and does play our fair and just role in tackling this global emergency.”
However following the meeting campaigners said they were not quite clear what ‘recognising’ the climate issue exactly meant, while political leader Steven Coutts responded that he didn’t want to be sidetracked by semantics.
He added that ‘recognising’ was actually stronger than ‘declaring’ because the council had decided on a clear plan of action to tackle its own carbon footprint and also acknowledged its role in leading the community in reducing its carbon emissions.
Climate campaigner Brian Ashley said: “We welcome that they [councillors] have recognised that there is an emergency. They appear to be stopping short of declaring a climate emergency and we would welcome clarification on that.
“But we don’t want to get bogged down in semantics, so we can cautiously welcome this shift in approach and we are really looking forward to seeing that shift being reflected in the council’s own pace and urgency.”
“The difference from yesterday [previous council meetings this issue has been discussed this week – see our reports] to today shows that they have seriously considered the issues involved and have come up with a considered position today, and that can only be a good thing.”
Campaigner Jim Sutherland added that a plan to reduce Shetland’s – and not just the council’s – carbon footprint needed to be discussed with all sectors of the community.
“This is a tough challenge for Shetland. I think the council has a huge role in encouraging the community and businesses to think about this. I think it is very important that we have something like a citizen’s forum which would allow everybody to input into this,” he said.
“If well managed I am sure we will come up with some really good answers. We have to do that and have to do that quickly.”
Isla Johnson of Eco Youth Shetland added: “We all keep on pushing, keep the conversation going and make sure that everybody tries their hardest to reduce their own emissions and change their lives to sustainable options.
“We are a strong community here, so we should be able to use that to our advantage and find a more sustainable lifestyle for everyone.”
Both campaigners and councillors recognise that the SIC is responsible for just 10 per cent of Shetland’s overall carbon footprint. Of that ten per cent half of the greenhouse gas emissions come from its diesel powered internal ferry fleet.
Coutts said: “Effectively what we did today is recognise that there is a global climate emergency that requires action.
“And the one thing I was keen to do on a local level is to show that leadership. In recognising that there is a problem we are actually going to act on it.
“We have committed financial resource to this project and we have prioritised it (…) so that Shetland can play its role in responding to the global climate crisis.”
Coutts added: “We do recognise as a council that we do have a direct impact in terms of carbon emissions but more broadly Shetland has a more significant impact.
“We can affect that change in Shetland if we work together, so the community has to come on board, individuals, businesses, public sector organisations, everybody has a role to play.”
More detail on what Shetland Islands Council proposes to do can be found in our previous reports on the issue:
The council’s reports on its programme in response to climate change can be found here.
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