Last Friday (22 November), Dorset Council took the decision to amend its Climate Emergency, so it is now a ‘Climate and Ecological Emergency’ declaration.

The newly-titled ‘Climate Change and Ecological Emergency Executive Advisory Panel’ met on Friday afternoon to agree the change to their terms of reference, as well as discuss the work that has taken place so far and sit down with local students to discuss their thoughts on climate change.

Earlier this year members of the panel met with local activists to discuss the change to the wording of the emergency declaration so that the protection and enhancement of Dorset’s natural environment and wildlife biodiversity is also considered in the Council’s climate emergency mitigation work. While agreed in principle at the time, the panel needed to establish the formal process for making this change, which has now been applied.

The panel were then given feedback on Low Carbon Dorset’s recent Town & Parish Climate Emergency Advice Seminar (pictured), which took place on Tuesday 19 November.

The Low Carbon Dorset programme has received an influx of applications from town and parish councils who have declared a climate emergency and need help to develop a plan and deliver against their climate emergency declaration.  This event was an opportunity to get them all under one roof to provide guidance on creating a plan and give pointers on what they need to consider when responding to the emergency.

With over 100 attendees, the event was a great success. Presentations were warmly received, providing information on the climate emergency and what needs to be considered when creating a climate emergency plan. Soapbox sessions took place to provide ideas on what town and parishes could be doing through their services and/or influence over the community, and everyone had the opportunity to talk to the speakers to find out more about their topic area.

All attendees were sent a post-event feedback survey and a carbon foot-printing toolkit, the latter to help estimate the carbon footprint of their operations, assets and whole area. Officers will review the survey responses before planning their next actions.

The panel were also updated on the Council’s Task & Finish groups’ progress, covering four key areas of work (with a Leadership & Influence workshop to follow). Notable points and ideas included: –

  • Buildings – Accounts for over half of Dorset Council’s carbon footprint, so big opportunity for significant savings. Potential commissioning of energy surveys as part of office reviews. Investigation of policy changes, enforcing minimum standards for new projects, using Dorset Council Local Plan
  • Natural Environment – Establish an information hub with guidance on best practice. Maximise use of existing Biodiversity protocol and Pollinator action plan. Investigate how we can make better use of our county farms
  • Waste and Energy – Introduction of Single Use Plastic policy and better waste segregation across all Dorset Council sites. Commission study to look at how Dorset energy system could work. Investigate building our own renewable energy facilities
  • Transport – Lobby for a national plan on transport. Planning must reduce need to travel and encourage uptake of sustainable travel. Greener travel policies should be embedded in current key strands of work, including our Assets review, Local Transport Plan and Local Plan.

Officers also presented their timeline for a wide-reaching ‘Call for ideas’ engagement exercise, which will launch and be publicised as soon as the current purdah period is lifted. The aim is to allow the public to submit their ideas for tackling climate change, with a few selected to present directly to the panel early next year. Further details will follow in the coming weeks.

Finally, the panel sat with students from local schools to hear their views on climate impact and what could be done to tackle it. In an emotive session, councillors heard how young people felt that climate change is the most urgent problem humanity has ever faced and how they were fearful for the future, already changing their lifetime plans and ambitions considering a deteriorating climate.

There were concerns that the urgency of action needed to tackle climate change was not being emphasised in the current curriculum and that general awareness amongst the public needed to be improved. The children also spoke of how they wanted to see sustainable transport, tree planting, litter-picking and subsidisation of waste reduction and recycling schemes improved by the Council.

Panel members thanked the students for their time, reassured them that young people will continue to be listened to and that decisive action will be taken by Dorset Council to tackle climate change.

Antony Littlechild, Sustainability Team Manager at Dorset Council, said:

“The protection and enhancement of our natural environment has always been vitally important to Dorset Council and its predecessor organisations, so adding Ecology to our Climate Emergency declaration is a logical progression of our work. We cannot hope to improve our natural environment through carbon reduction alone, so we need to consider other management options also.

I’m really pleased with the continued progress of the panel and our Task and Finish groups. We’re developing some ambitious ideas that we’re looking forward to sharing with the public and the wider Council. It’s highly important that we take the time to ensure that our action plan is achievable, but please rest assured that we are working at pace and with real urgency.

I also think I speak for all councillors and officers who were there on Friday when I say that we were incredibly moved by what the students had to say about their fears regarding how climate change will affect their future. We will reflect on their remarks as we continue our work, making sure we set realistic but ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions and preserving our natural environment.”

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