Wigan Council declares climate emergency

Members of Extinction Rebellion
Members of Extinction Rebellion

Wigan Council has declared a climate emergency in the borough and has committed to taking urgent environmental action.

The declaration was made at a full council meeting on Wednesday by Coun Carl Sweeney, cabinet member for planning and environment.

The announcement comes just days after Green campaigners highlighted the "slow pace" at which the borough is becoming environmentally friendly.

However despite the challenges, the council is saying it aspires to be carbon-neutral by 2038 or sooner.

Council bosses believe this can be achieved by promoting a move to a circular economy, recycling 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035 and targeting a reduction in the amount of waste produced overall.

Improving air quality will also be a priority with a commitment to meet guidelines on air quality by 2030 while supporting the UK Government in meeting and maintaining all thresholds for key air pollutants at the earliest date.

Government figures showed the scale of the challenge ahead as between 2016 and 2017 carbon emissions in the borough went down by just two per cent.

That means that at current rates Wigan will not become zero carbon until the 2160s, rather than within the next couple of decades as scientists and environmentalists want to see.

Wigan’s rate of curbing emissions at the moment is also the second slowest out of the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester.

To tackle the major risk that air pollution poses, the local councils in Greater Manchester are developing a Clean Air Plan.

In a bid to put environmental concerns at the heart of council decisions, an Environment Partnership working group will be established to consider strategies that will help achieve carbon-neutral ambitions.

Environmental campaigners have said that the government figures prove that as it stands far too little is happening and progress is too slow.

The data shows 1,371,300 tonnes of CO2 were emitted in 2016 in Wigan, falling slightly to 1,343,500 tonnes in 2017.

In order to become zero carbon, environmentalists reckon emissions need to fall by around 95 per cent.

Pete Hewitson from Extinction Rebellion (XR) Wigan said: “This should act as a massive wake-up call to Wigan, revealing the scale of change that is necessary.

“We plead with the council, for the sake of all our children, grandchildren and future generations, to show real leadership on this issue.

“Extinction Rebellion demands that Wigan Council tells the truth by declaring a climate emergency, acts now to halt biodiversity loss and reduces greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and goes beyond politics to create a citizens’ assembly to lead decision making.”

As part of the new plan, young people will be a central voice in the group to help shape the future with councillors, council officers, climate experts and local businesses also invited to take part.

Introducing the motion for a climate emergency, Coun Sweeney said: “The impact of climate change is already causing serious damage around the world and all governments (national, regional and local) have a duty to act.

“Strong policies to cut emissions have associated health, well-being and economic benefits. This council therefore declares a ‘Climate Emergency’ and commits to taking urgent action.

“We remain committed to working with partners and with our residents to ensure a cleaner, greener and healthier borough for future generations.”

Coun Sweeney said that a number of steps have already been made to help accelerate Wigan's green ambitions, which include:

Investing in walking and cycling infrastructure across the borough

Supporting the development of the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan

Recycling 9,000 tons of plastic between 2017 and 2018 and increasing the borough’s overall recycling rate from 42 per cent to 53 per cent

Plans for Makerfield depot to become carbon-neutral in the next 12 months

Operate a fully air quality compliant vehicle fleet by the end of 2021

Wigan Council will call on central government to provide the powers, resources and help with funding to make this possible.