County Council's vote NOT to support the CEEB is based on untrue statements

local government Nov 24, 2021

Zero Hour the campaign group behind the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill have sent a letter to all East Sussex County Councillors.  The groups Campaign Coordinator writes that that the decision to not support the Bill was based on statements that were either untrue or countered positions previously stated by the Government. Therefore, it was an act of bad governance. It asks certain Councillors to admit mistakes and correct the record as is customary when such errors have been made. It also asks for the decision to be reconsidered.

The full text of the letter is pasted below;

Dear Cllrs Galley, Bennett, Taylor and all East Sussex County Councillors,

Climate and Ecology Bill (CE Bill) aka Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill

On 12th October 2021 East Sussex County Council voted not to support the CE Bill. That decision was based on incorrect information, false statements and by misleading interpretation of Government policy. To make decisions on this basis is not only wrong, it is bad governance. I am, therefore, writing to ask you to reconsider that decision.

Let us start by considering the words of Cllr Bennett, who said:

‘The Climate and Ecology Bill seeks to audit the UK’s global carbon footprint by including indirect UK emissions from our international supply chains which may have an adverse impact  on developing countries; would involve a reprofiling, broadening and deepening of already  ambitious existing carbon budgets; is likely too proscriptive on the use of negative emissions  technologies; contains difficult to reconcile aspirations around its approach to domestic,  international and inter-generational equity; inevitably imposes a greater burden on UK residents, threatening adverse impacts on their living standards; has recourse to citizen assemblies which are of dubious efficacy and runs counter to our Parliamentary traditions.’

So let us consider his arguments one by one. We will also respond to the comments of Cllrs Redstone and Fox in detail.

  1. Cllr Bennett’s first point: The CE Bill seeks to audit the UK’s global carbon footprint by including indirect UK emissions from our international supply chains which may have an adverse impact  on developing countries.’

Cllr Fox made a similar point, arguing that it was difficult to take into account overseas emissions unilaterally.

Our response: It is strange that Cllr Bennett and Cllr Fox give this as a reason for not supporting the Bill, as it is his Government’s policy stated very clearly in many documents:

  1. On page 67 of its response to the 6th Carbon Budget set by the Climate Change Committee:  ‘DEFRA will continue to publish UK and England-level estimates of our carbon footprint on an annual basis. It is important that we monitor the carbon impact of our activities and account for emissions produced beyond our borders and throughout our supply chains. To support insight, these are broken down in several ways, including by source region, final demand, and product group.’
  2. The above also shows Cllr Fox’s point to be factually incorrect. DEFRA is already doing exactly what he said was ‘difficult’.
  • On page 126 of the 25 Year Plan for Nature, now adopted as the first Environmental Improvement Plan by section 8(7) of the Environment Act 2021: ‘i. Enhancing sustainability As is the case with all our environmental work we set out to be an example for others, focusing attention on how to create and drive up standards everywhere. We will do this by making sure that our consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas.’
  1. In paragraph 4 of The Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, signed by Boris Johnson on 27th September 2020 ‘ b. Supporting sustainable supply chains, significantly reducing the impact on ecosystems caused by global demand for commodities and encouraging practices that regenerate ecosystems.’
  2. On page 296 of the recent Net Zero Strategy: ‘it is important we ensure that our policy interventions support global emissions reductions. The UK is at the forefront of measuring and publishing statistics of emissions generated overseas in the production of goods and services consumed by UK residents.
  3. And again on page 24 of the Net Zero Strategy: ‘Key Policies • Allocating a further £350 million of our up to £1 billion Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF) to support the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains. 
  • And yet again on p 352: ‘28 The model takes account of the direct cost of purchasing, installing, running and maintaining the abatement technologies. The cost of purchasing and installing includes assumed capital costs and the cost of borrowing to pay for the capital. Running costs include the cost of energy supplies, both domestic and any imports.’
  1. Cllr Bennett’s second point: The CE Bill ‘would involve a re-profiling, broadening and deepening of already  ambitious existing carbon budgets.’

Our response: Cllr Bennett’s opinion may well be that the government’s target of net zero by 2050 is ‘ambitious’. But it is certainly not ambitious enough. Consider the following evidence, not opinion:

  1. The Government’s Net Zero Strategy explained on page 14 why it is crucial that we restrict temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial level saying very clearly ‘that if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the floods and fires we have seen around the world this year will get more frequent and more fierce, crops will be more likely to fail, and sea levels will rise driving mass migration as millions are forced from their homes. Above 1.5°C we risk reaching climatic tipping points like the melting of arctic permafrost – releasing millennia of stored greenhouse gases – meaning we could lose control of our climate for good.’
  2. The Climate Change Committee says quite clearly on page 14 of its Net Zero report that ‘achieving net zero by 2050 ‘if replicated across the world, and coupled with ambitious near-term reductions in , it would deliver a greater than 50% chance of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’
  • Note: not a 2/3 chance or a 60% chance but just a ‘greater than 50% chance of averting the ‘more frequent and more fierce, crops will be more likely to fail, and sea levels will rise driving mass migration as millions are forced from their homes’ and the danger that we could ‘lose control of our climate for good.’

Is Cllr Bennett happy with those odds to bequeath to his children and grandchildren? We are not, which is why the CE Bill proposes a target to give us a greater chance.

  1. Cllr Bennett’s third point: the CE Bill ‘is likely too proscriptive on the use of negative emissions  technologies.’

Our response: The CE Bill says absolutely nothing about negative emissions technologies. Not a single word. We attach a copy. Cllr Bennett was obviously looking at a different Bill. We hope, therefore, that Cllr Bennett will correct the record and apologise for advancing a false argument at a formal County Council meeting – as is the convention in Parliament when MPs make incorrect statements.

  1. Cllr Bennett’s fourth point: the CE Bill ‘contains difficult to reconcile aspirations around its approach to domestic,  international and inter-generational equity.’

Our response: we assume that Cllr Bennett does not support the UK breaking international agreements that it has signed. We may, of course, be wrong – perhaps he does believe in the UK breaking its signed agreements – but acting on the assumption that he believes in us keeping signed agreements then he will agree that the UK is under an obligation to keep the Paris Agreement on climate change. As regards Cllr Bennett’s comments we refer him to that agreement.

  1. On page 1 of the Paris Agreement it says ‘In pursuit of the objective of the Convention, and being guided by its principles, including the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.’
  2. On page 2 of that Agreement it states that ‘Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.’

So there is nothing ‘difficult to reconcile’ about these concepts. The UK Government has signed up to them. They appear in the CE Bill. Unless Cllr Bennett advocates that the UK should break the Paris Agreement, we presume therefore that now that we have explained the position, he will support at least that part of the CE Bill.

  1. Cllr Bennett’s fifth point: the CE Bill ‘inevitably imposes a greater burden on UK residents, threatening adverse impacts on their living standards.’

Our response: another strange point for Cllr Bennett to make, as it is completely at variance with the views and policies of his own Conservative government believes that dealing with climate change will have exactly the opposite effect.

  1. On page 68 the Government’s Net Zero strategy says ‘While there are significant costs in reaching net zero, the cost of inaction is much higher. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s recent report showed unmitigated climate change resulting in “debt spiralling up to around 290% of GDP thanks to the cost of adapting to an ever hotter climate and of more frequent and more costly economic shocks’.
  2. And on page 42 the Net Zero strategy says ‘these opportunities show that net zero and levelling up go hand in hand. Delivering net zero allows us to boost living standards by supporting jobs and attracting investment in the green industries of the future, which can be in areas that need this the most.’
  3. Cllr Bennett’s sixth point: The CE Bill ‘has recourse to citizen assemblies which are of dubious efficacy and runs counter to our Parliamentary traditions.’

And Cllr Redstone also had something to say on this matter, too: ‘But the Citizens’ Assembly could be undemocratic and could easily become the equivalent of Insulate Britain undemocratically creating misery for people in Government by trying to bludgeon them till they get their own way.’

Our response: once again a statement by Cllr Bennett, and also by Cllr Redstone, that is at variance with his Conservative government’s views. In response to the Climate Assembly set up in by no less than six  House of Commons Select Committee with cross-party support:

  1. On 10th September 2020 Alok Sharma then BEIS Secretary of State  and now President of COP speaking explicitly ‘on behalf of the Government’ at the launch of the Assembly’s report said ‘I do believe the Climate Assembly  has shown us the benefit of involving with a dedicated group … the report will help shape the work the Government is doing… the Assembly’s report will help to inform our plans.’ recommendations are an important part of the evidence base for developing the Government’s Net Zero Strategy.’ 
  2. And on 6th July 2021 in written evidence to the  BEIS Select Committee the Government stated ‘we welcome the Climate Assembly UK’s recommendations, which demonstrate strong public support for the Government’s intention to deliver a UK economy which is stronger, cleaner, more sustainable and more resilient. We take the views of the Climate Assembly UK seriously as assembly members represent viewpoints that broadly reflect the UK population and they have deliberated extensively on net zero. Findings from the Assembly form an addition to the Government’s evidence base’ (see, What impact has Climate Assembly UK had across your sector, and more widely?). 

Of dubious efficacy, Cllr Bennett? Counter to our parliamentary traditions, Cllr Bennett? Not according to the Government and the President of COP. ‘Bludgeoning ‘  the Government, Cllr Redstone? ‘Creating misery’ for the Government, Cllr Redstone? Not according to … the Government! 

  1. Cllr Redstone also claimed that Citizens’ Assemblies ‘could easily become the ‘equivalent of Insulate Britain’ 

Our response: the facts are exactly the opposite. The Assembly deliberated for some weekends, considering evidence, and making recommendations. Many were accepted by the Government. We suggest Cllr Redstone looks at the statements by the Government quoted above. The reality is that if people feel involved they not only have useful suggestions and assist the Government, but the very sense of involvement makes people less likely to feel driven to the actions taken by Insulate Britain. Citizens’ Assemblies are carefully made to be representative of the population so that all types of opinion - like a microcosm of the UK - would be at the table and discussed.

  1. Cllr Fox, also, had something to say about Citizen’s Assemblies arguing that the CE Bill said that ‘the Secretary of State must consider and seek agreement with the Assembly…’

Our response: we wonder what Bill Cllr Fox is looking at, because it does not appear to be the Climate and Ecology Bill. Here is what the Bill says:

  • It does require the Assembly to make recommendations (clause 3(3)) and in the case of recommendations being supported by at least 66% of the Assembly then the Government’s statutory advisors, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) or the Joint Nature Conservancy Council (JNCC) are required to ‘try to reach agreement’ with the Assembly on that recommendation; and
  • If a recommendation is supported by at least 80% of the Assembly then the CCC or the JNCC must agree to include that proposal in its recommendations to the Secretary of State ‘unless in their opinion there are ‘exceptional and compelling reasons not to’ (clause 3(4)).
  • Where a recommendation has the support of 80% of the Assembly and the CCC or JNCC have agreed to it, then, and only then, is the Secretary of State required to ‘try to reach agreement [not seek the agreement of] with those bodies’ (clause 3(5)).

Note the difference in this procedure to what Cllr Fox said. He claimed that the Secretary of State must ‘seek agreement with the Assembly’ as if s/he was in some kind of inferior status and needed the Assembly’s agreement on his/her strategy. A situation that would, no doubt, alarm councillors. But the reality is completely different.

Furthermore, the expression ‘try to reach agreement’ first appeared in statute in the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, a Bill promoted by Conservative MP Nick Hurd with the active support of the Conservative Party (indeed Conservative Leader David Cameron MP spoke at a public meeting in support of the Bill) against an initially hostile Labour Government.

So, Cllr Fox, it’s a Conservative term, put into law by a Conservative MP and it means just what it says ‘try to reach agreement’ – if that is not possible then the Secretary of State’s view will prevail.

The words used by Cllr Fox do not appear in the Bill – see attached copy, and his one-line description of an involving process is a travesty. We hope, therefore, that he will correct the record and apologise for advancing an argument that is, at best, misleading and at worst untrue, at a formal County Council meeting – as is the convention in Parliament when MPs make such statements.

  1. Cllr Redstone also said ‘nowhere can I find a statement from those supporting this Bill which even gives a rough idea of how this should be taken or the impacts on the residents in East Sussex who we represent’.

This must be for several reasons. Perhaps the plan is not feasible. Or perhaps those proposing it know the plan would be seen as completely unacceptable by our residents. Or worst - those supporting the plan don’t have a clue as to how to achieve it.’ 

Our response: This misunderstands the whole purpose of legislation, as we explain below.

  1. No legislation spells out such detail, that’s not its role. Its role is to set the targets: it is the Government’s role to set the strategy for achieving them. That applies to the Climate Change Act, the Environment Act just as it applies to this Bill (or Act should it become one).
  2. As regards a ‘rough idea’ – much detail (not just a ‘rough idea’) is already contained in the Net Zero Strategy. Implementation of the CE Bill will be based on that. There’s more than a ‘rough idea’ Cllr Redstone.
  • As regards the ‘impacts on the residents of East Sussex’ – as explained in detail in para 5 above action to deal with climate change will, according to the Government, ‘boost living standards by supporting jobs and attracting investment in the green industries of the future.’ There is no reason why this should not apply to East Sussex. Whereas NOT dealing with climate change will see parts of East Sussex underwater, and the Government’s current target will only give a ‘greater than 50% chance’, according to the Climate Change Committee, of avoiding this. A toss of a coin for the residents of East Sussex.
  1. ‘Completely unacceptable by our residents’. A ‘boost in living standards’ says the Government? Job creation? What, we suggest, will be unacceptable is the flip of a coin odds referred to above. 
  2. As Environment Minister Therese Coffey said ‘one in six people in England are already in properties at risk of flooding’. Camber Sands and Pevensey Bay are among the most threatened areas of the UK. We suggest that that is not very acceptable to the residents of East Sussex.
  3. And major insurance broker, Towergate, has pointed out that ‘potential water-related disasters in Sussex and Kent are especially likely, as they suffer from both coastal and fluvial flooding, as well as significant amounts of rainfall … approximately 20% of all commercial buildings in Sussex and Kent are in its flood zones’(see, High 'Flood Risk Areas' in the UK). Is this acceptable, Cllr Redstone?
  • ‘Or worst - those supporting the plan don’t have a clue as to how to achieve it.’ On the contrary, Cllr Redstone, we have many ideas. And we will feed them into the required Government consultation on how to achieve the targets, as, we are sure, will East Sussex councillors. And it’s the role of the Government to decide on the strategy. That’s the proper process, as with all legislation that requires government strategies. The legislation itself does not lay down the strategies. Otherwise it would be thousands of pages long.

Councillors, we apologise for the length of this letter. It is easy to make incorrect statements, as some East Sussex County Councillors did at your meeting on 12th October. It was necessary to go into some detail to show how incorrect they were. 

Your Council has made a decision on the basis of these incorrect statements and incorrect information.  That is bad governance. We hope you will rectify this and think again.


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