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Council to engage with households and businesses this year to work towards net zero carbon Cambridge

News release from 11/02/2020

CAMBRIDGE City Council today set out its plans to engage residents and businesses across the city in working together towards a zero carbon Cambridge.

The council recently met Extinction Rebellion representatives to explain why this approach, rather than their demand for a Citizens’ Assembly, is its plan for urgently addressing the Climate Emergency in 2020. 

The council is continuing to deliver against its third Climate Change Strategy, following 12 years’ continuous action since 2008. The strategy covers the council’s own emissions and the ways it can influence others across the city. 

In recent years the council has, for example:

  • Invested £1.4m in energy efficiency and other measures through its dedicated internal Climate Change Fund, and continues to explore ways to reduce its own energy usage and generate green energy from its assets;
  • Used its licensing powers to set a policy to ensure all taxis licensed in Cambridge are Zero or Ultra-Low emission by 2028;
  • Used £2m of Government Green Deal for Communities funding to improve the energy efficiency of 433 private homes.

Responding to two recent meetings at the Guildhall with Extinction Rebellion and their demands for a Citizens’ Assembly on climate change with binding decision-making powers, Councillor Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “Cambridge City Council has been working to address climate change for at least 12 years, and is determined to play its part in tackling the climate emergency. But the only way to work towards a net zero carbon Cambridge is for us to persuade all households and businesses across the city to take the same kinds of future actions as we will, and for Government to make the system changes required at the national level.

“The council has taken action which has contributed to its own emissions, from the buildings we manage and the vehicles we operate, falling by 25% over the last five years. The council’s emissions now account for just 1.1% of all emissions in the city.  

“But we are not complacent, and we will be developing a new Climate Change Strategy over the course of the coming year. We are keen to involve residents in that strategy development through a wide-ranging process of engagement. We want all residents, including young people, and those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, plus businesses of all sizes, to have the opportunity to express their views. 

“We also want to help everyone in the city be clear on the actions they can take, as individuals, families, community groups, organisations, and businesses, to reduce their own emissions, and save themselves money.

“The council’s draft budget for 2020/21 sets aside additional funds for this communication and engagement work this year. We are developing ideas which might include informal ‘People’s Assemblies’ that are open to all sections of the community, which is a proposal that came out of our discussions with Extinction Rebellion when we met them twice last summer.  

“We also plan to hold targeted workshops for people to learn about where emissions in the city currently come from, and share their ideas on what needs to be done to help us all move towards net zero carbon, including on using low carbon public transport, and adapting existing homes to cut energy usage and switch from dependence on gas heating.

“We respect the importance of peaceful protest providing it is clear on its purpose and proportionate. We regret that, despite two lengthy and positive meetings in 2020 and two more last year, we have been unable to persuade Extinction Rebellion to consider other options than a full week of city roadblocks. 

“Extinction Rebellion’s suggestion of a binding, decision-making Citizen’s Assembly is an interesting one, but not one we can implement. The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) used a Citizens’ Assembly last Autumn as a useful way to help generate ideas and consensus for tackling the specific issues of congestion and air pollution in the city – but it didn’t have the binding, decision-making powers that Extinction Rebellion are now demanding of us.  

“We might want to use the GCP-type model at some point in the future if there were similarly specific and contentious issues that we had powers to affect, and which we needed to seek public agreement on.

“Extinction Rebellion’s demand for binding, decision-making powers, however, would be a very different proposition. In our view, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us as the democratically-elected representatives of the city to surrender our decision-making powers to a body that has no legal basis and is not subject to the controls and accountability that we are.  

“We welcome everyone’s input – but ultimately it is councillors who are accountable to voters and taxpayers, and we need to make sure that any decisions we take have been properly assessed for unintended consequences, technical deliverability, legality, affordability and equality impacts.”

Councillor Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Climate Change, Environment and City Centre, added: “We are also conscious that where Citizens’ Assemblies have been used (even without binding decision-making powers) in other cities, these have sometimes cost upwards of £100,000 to run. We would rather develop more open and inclusive ways of involving our communities, that enable more people to have a voice, and yet don’t cost so much to run.

“It’s important to recognise, too, that the city council does not have all the powers that will be necessary to drive system-wide change in our society on this issue.  While everyone must play their part (and we will continue to use all the powers and resources we have) most of those transformational powers lie with other bodies, primarily the national Government. 

“We would ask everyone who genuinely cares about urgent action on the Climate Emergency to join us in calling on the UK Government to bring forward the legislation and funding necessary to ensure that the infrastructure is put in place, and the incentives and rewards are sufficiently powerful, to see lasting and radical change to the way we live our lives, the way we use this planet’s scarce resources, and the emissions we produce.”

Cambridge City Council also provides ‘Sustainable City’ grants to voluntary organisations in the city to advance the objectives of its climate change strategy, and is using some of this funding to pay for a new Cambridge Climate Charter to be developed this spring.  

This online tool will allow families, individuals, businesses and organisations to calculate their own carbon footprint, and to identify and make pledges on the actions they will take to reduce it.

The council will also work with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Climate Commission that is being established by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough  Combined Authority this year, and with neighbouring councils, businesses and others, to explore further ways to reduce emissions through collaboration and joint actions.