Barnet Council’s Labour administration vowed to press on with its carbon reduction goals after the government delayed measures designed to meet its own climate targets.
Labour councillors recommitted to their net zero pledges and resolved to write to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to “reiterate the need to re-establish the political consensus” on the UK’s 2050 target to reach net zero.
It comes after the prime minister set out a “new approach” to net zero in a speech last month, pushing back a series of measures designed to reduce carbon emissions, including delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.
Barnet Council has pledged to become net zero by 2030 and make the borough net zero by 2042. By next year, it hopes to have installed more than 2,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging points to help slash emissions.
Labour’s Giulia Innocenti called for the recommitment to zero-carbon goals during a full council meeting on Tuesday (17th). She told the meeting the delays announced by the prime minister risked “undermining business confidence to invest” in measures such as EV charging.
In addition to writing to the PM and continuing to install EV charging points, Cllr Innocenti called on the council to make a joint statement with other local authorities on EV charging “to assure the industry that the effect of the prime minister’s speech on investment will be minimised”.
Cllr Innocenti said: “We cannot afford to lose this investment […] Investing early will help to reduce the cost of energy for everyone in the long term, in addition to all the other benefits around climate and energy security.”
Conservative councillors backed the PM’s new approach, which he claimed would enable the UK to meet its international commitments and hit net zero by 2050 while reducing the financial burden on households.
Conservative councillor Lucy Wakeley welcomed the roll-out of EV charging points but said electric vehicles were a “big investment” and it would take time for costs to come down. She said motorists should not be penalised for failing to switch to electric vehicles.
Cllr Wakeley said: “What the prime minister did was make sensible and rational decisions to ensure that families are not paying the price for environmental policies. If you force people to make rapid changes against their ability, you won’t be able to bring everyone along with our aim of being net zero.”
Her colleague Nick Mearing-Smith said he didn’t accept the evidence that extreme weather conditions are linked to climate change. He then claimed it would cost around £100billion to provide capacity for EV charging points across the country, which would then require new power stations – and all of this would not be feasible by 2030.
David Longstaff, deputy leader of the Conservative group, said the council had declared a climate emergency but was not acting seriously about it. He added that if countries such as China and India did not take action soon “we are in serious trouble” and the council should start preparing for “climate armageddon”.
Labour councillors backed the motion. Kath McGuirk said it was “not an attack on those who genuinely rely on their car but a move to save our planet and all those who want to live in a safe and healthy Barnet, London, UK and the world”. She claimed the Tories were denying there was an issue with climate change and there would be “huge economic costs” for failing to act.
Responding to Cllr Mearing-Smith’s climate denial, cabinet member for environment and climate change Alan Schneiderman quoted from a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating that it is “an established fact that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions have led to an increased frequency and/or intensity of some weather and climate extremes”.
Cllr Scheiderman added: “The evidence is clear. That is why in Barnet we are going to do our best to tackle climate change and reach net zero.”
Following the debate, Labour councillors voted in favour of the motion, with the Conservatives voting against.