SURREY County Council has followed neighbouring authority Hampshire’s example in declaring a climate change emergency, after protesters staged a “die-in” outside County Hall this week.
Councillors voted to provide a “strong unified voice for councils” to lobby for support and address the concerns.
It has also come just three months after ruling Conservatives watered down a similar motion and refused to back a pledge to meet targets and declare an emergency.
Climate change campaigners and members of Extinction Rebellion groups from Farnham, Godalming, Guildford, Reigate, Redhill and Dorking lay on the ground outside the entrance to the offices.
All wore animal masks with drums beating and sounds of birds tweeting being played as councillors arrived for the 10am meeting.
The motion for the vote was put forward by Conservative councillor Mike Goodman, cabinet member for environment, and seconded by Lib Dem cllr Will Forster and almost received unanimous cross-party support – apart from one councillor who abstained.
This was a u-turn from the Conservatives after they voted down a motion to declare a climate change emergency put forward by Green member cllr Jonathan Essex in March.
To applause from a packed public gallery as the protesters moved inside to watch the debate, councillors stated their support for action.
Cllr Goodman said he didn’t support the tactics of Extinction Rebellion but he did support their causes.
Waving a copy of a climate change report he read while on holiday abroad, he said: “I didn’t understand quite as much as I understand now when we first debated it. We need to make this a priority as our residents want it.”
Cllr John O’Reilly, Conservative, said backing a climate change emergency would be a “political decision” with it becoming a priority on decisions meaning some things might be pushed down the agenda.
While Cllr Chris Botten, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said declaring the climate change emergency would be “incompatible with the Heathrow expansion”.
The motion says the council will commit to working with the Government and Environment Agency to meet 2050 climate change targets as well as deliver a strategy in 2019/20 to outline the actions it will take as well as support businesses and local authorities to lobby for help.
Welcoming the declaration, cllr Essex said after the meeting: “Surrey is now among the group of Conservative controlled councils – including Kent, Dorset, Suffolk and Devon – which have voted for urgent action on climate change, which is something the Greens have been pressing for. That’s a step up.”
Two other motions were also passed with the council pledging to review its policy on tree planting and roadside verges.