Borders council declares climate emergency despite dissenting voices

Bosses at Scottish Borders Council have declared the region’s climate to be in a state of emergency despite reservations being voiced by some members of the authority’s ruling executive.

By Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 25th September 2020, 4:13 pm
Extinction Rebellion activists staging a demonstration outside a Scottish Borders Council meeting in January.
Extinction Rebellion activists staging a demonstration outside a Scottish Borders Council meeting in January.

Councillors approved a motion declaring a climate emergency, following the lead of more than half the UK’s councils, at a full meeting held via video-link today, September 25.

Galashiels councillor and council depute leader Sandy Aitchison spoke in favour of declaring a climate emergency, telling the meeting: “We need to get our own house in order so that we can be an example to others.

“There is now overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to climate change caused by global warming.

“The declaration of a climate emergency is the first and very important step to publicly acknowledge that such an emergency does exist and that we are now producing a plan going forward to ensure that we even better the Scottish Government’s timings and certainly the UK Government’s.

“The news makes us very aware of the challenges globally, and some people have been cynically questioning how the Borders can make any difference to global effects, but I assure everybody that unless we play our part, how can we expect others to play theirs?

“I am 100% committed to this agenda, aiming to be carbon-neutral as soon as possible.”

However, there was some disagreement within the ruling Conservative-led administration, with fellow Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine calling for an amendment that would ensure council services are not adversely affected by the finance needed to fund sustainable development and combat climate change.

He said: “We are not in battle – we are in a war with climate change, but is it time to hit the panic button?

“What is a wartime motto that encapsulated the spirit of the people? Keep calm and carry on.

“When I say keep calm and carry on, I do not mean that we give this drastic problem the cold shoulder. It means we act calmly and decide rationally.

“If we act now in a way that is irrational, we could make mistakes that will cost the region further down the line.

“I believe that climate change is a very, very important issue, but there is no quick fix.

“We are already moving in a direction that will hit targets and of course we can move quicker and do better.

“However, I think for us to call a climate emergency and cause hysteria in the midst of a pandemic is wrong.

“I’m also worried that if we call a climate emergency the other United Nations sustainability goals, such as tackling poverty, will take a backseat.

“If we declare a climate emergency, that will be the main focus of our capital and investment budgets going forward.

“Declaring an emergency on climate is great for headlines, but we cannot live on words.

“That’s why instead of a climate declaration, I’m calling for a robust climate plan. Let’s get away from buzzwords and soundbite politics. We should go for action. We must act calmly and rationally.”

Jedburgh councillor Sandy Scott went further, expressing scepticism about man-made climate change, but still urged councillors to support declaring a climate emergency.

He said: “There are some very strong views on what is happening to our planet.

“Firstly, I prefer the term climate change as opposed to global warming. Why? Because we’ve had warmer periods before.

“Grapes used to be grown at Clovenfords. Woolly mammoths used to graze the Arctic tundra. Of course, we’ve had an ice age as well.

“Trendsetters tend to take pretty extreme views. Not so long ago, say 30 years ago, we were heading for another ice age, then things changed and we were all going to drown as the sea level rose. The Maldives were going to be lost underwater.

“These concerns, of course, were mitigated when it was pointed out that water expands as it freezes, so when icebergs thawed, there would be no rise in sea levels.

“Ice caps and glaciers are, of course, another matter.

“Rising temperatures are not all bad. There are benefits – heating bills are reduced, more plant growth, warmer winters etc.

“CO2 in the atmosphere is about 0.04%. Plants gobble it up. Large swathes of Africa are becoming greener. The downside to this is that large swarms of locusts are eating it up, but the upside is that other wildlife that feed on locusts are having a field day.

“That said, I think there’s a huge amount we can do to make the environment better.

“We can reduce habitat loss, reduce noise and light pollution, clean up our waterways and seas and many more things. I’d like to support this paper.”

Council leader and Tweeddale East councillor Shona Haslam said: “You, like me, will have a very full inbox, with people contacting us to support this paper.

“It just goes to show the strength of feeling about this in our community.

“The report goes through all the scientific facts that back up the need to declare a climate emergency.

“Unless we act now, our environment will continue to change.

“Improving our environmental credentials does not mean increasing the financial burden on the council.

“We’re also looking at how technology can help us, such as introducing smart bins that tell lorries when they need emptied and fitting road sensors to our vehicles so they can check road conditions as they drive about every day.

“All of this will save the council money in the long term and help save the environment, which is a win-win.

“I know some of my colleagues in the administration want to water this down, to not talk about a climate emergency and instead talk about a climate challenge.

“I completely disagree and want to distance myself from that view. They are expressing a personal view and not that of the administration.

“This is an emergency. We have to act now and continue to act.”

Mr Jardine’s amendment was voted down by four votes to 27, with only Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Tom Miers and Galashiels councillor Harry Scott supporting it.