Councillors clash over Wokingham’s carbon neutral targets

climate change

THE LIBERAL Democrat group has accused the borough council of “not being honest” about progress in the plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

Cllr Sarah Kerr, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for climate change, said the party thinks the current plan will only achieve around 50% of the goal.

“Not only will the plan get nowhere near the net-zero target, the challenges are being hidden from the public,” she said.

“It’s not clear whether the Conservative leadership simply doesn’t understand this, or whether they think for some reason it doesn’t matter and should be hidden.”

But Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for emissions at the council, said he is “hugely proud” the plan has been “held up as best practice”.

He said it has been supported by Professor Paul Chatterton of the University of Leeds, The South East Energy Hub and Extinction Rebellion Reading. It has had financial support from the Woodland Trust.

Despite support for the plan, the Liberal Democrat group believes there is more to be done.

Cllr Kerr said the plan works on the assumption that national initiatives will lower more than half of the borough’s emissions.

“However, the latest government forecast … is that emissions will reduce by only 23% in that timeframe,” she said. “This is the same data source for the current emissions profile of the borough.”

Cllr Paul Fishwick, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for highways and transport said the difference between the council’s assumption and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy forecast is 176 kilotons of carbon dioxide — 30% of the borough’s carbon emissions. 

“These are not accounted for in the plan,” he said.

Between 2017 and 2018, carbon emissions decreased by 1.4% in the borough, a quarter of what was assumed would happen, Cllr Fishwick added.  

He said the council has “not taken into consideration” the need for local action to support many of the national carbon reducing initiatives.

 “An example of this is the plan’s assumed carbon dioxide savings from the switch to electric vehicles,” he said.

“To achieve the government’s ambition of banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030, the necessary infrastructure will need to be in place to support this, which requires involvement from Wokingham Borough

He said this has not been factored into the action plan.

Responding, Cllr Murray said he wished he could scrutinise a Liberal Democrat Climate Emergency Action Plan.

“As they haven’t actually written or published one I can’t,” he said.

Cllr Kerr said building solar farms in the borough does not reduce emissions, but offsets them.

“The solar farms will accelerate the decarbonisation of the national grid, but the contribution to the carbon dioxide footprint of electricity consumed in Wokingham is tiny,” Cllr Kerr said. 

“The danger of offsetting is that it allows people to continue to emit high levels of carbon dioxide rather than reduce it.”

Cllr Murray challenged this.

He said: “The Liberal Democrats are the party who objected to the development of Elms Field, which looks amazing and is hugely popular,
objected to the regeneration of Wokingham town centre, which is a huge success, don’t understand how to calculate Wokingham’s debt, don’t understand how the National Grid works or how a solar farm will benefit local housing and can’t understand how the need to travel is more of a  cause of congestion than how quickly vehicles can travel through a town.”

Where Cllr Kerr said the climate emergency action plan is “inadequate and misleading”, Cllr Murray questioned whether it was the Liberal Democrats that were “wrong”.

Cllr Kerr added: “We are not claiming to have all the answers to this problem, but we are determined that the true situation is made
clear to the public and that a plan for net-zero is based on sound and realistic assumptions and developed in conjunction with the public.” 

But Cllr Murray criticised the party for “politicising” climate change.

“They are doing just that by timing their concerns during an election cycle and airing them only in the newspaper rather than directly to me, along with supporting evidence,” he said.

“While actual experts have faith in our plan I am not concerned that the liberals don’t.”

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