Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
A war of words broke out during a discussion around climate change between a panel of Leeds city councillors – including Farnley & Wortley Green Party member Ann Forsaith.
The council’s emergency board was discussing its annual report to Leeds City Council, which warned about the dangers of global temperatures rising by four degrees.
But some members of the board claimed mentioning this was pointless, as projected temperature increases were much lower.
Many Conservative members made the argument that Leeds was only a small corner of the world, and any tangible improvements at a local level would be outweighed by the cost of such an undertaking.
One councillor even claimed China was responsible for “90 per cent of the world’s emissions”, despite published research putting the figure closer to 30 per cent.
The foreword of the report, which was written by panel chairman Coun Neil Walshaw (Lab), stated: “We must do everything we can do to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. A four-degree warmed world is one of chaos and destruction. Currently we are on track for around two and a half.”
Speaking in the meeting, Coun Barry Anderson (Con) said: “I do disagree with the justification for mentioning the four degrees. You are effectively saying all the work that the council has done so far has been for nothing. You are now arguing that the council has gone backwards.
“I personally cannot support the reference to four degrees. That might be true nationally – that might be true internationally – but as a city, I think we have made a relatively good start to the work that has been done.
“You are trying to give a geopolitical view to this, rather than reporting back on Leeds as a city. We are talking about Leeds the city. You may or may not feel that nationally there are problems – there probably are – but we are here to talk about us as a council, not trying to get involved with running the world, which is what you are trying to do.”
Coun Walshaw responded: “It’s just flat out wrong. Nobody is doing down the city. Nobody is saying we are going backwards.
“The solutions to climate problems come from thousands of policies around the world. We are building a wall and we are part of that wall.
“It’s both wrong and irresponsible to suggest building those blocks is somehow a waste of time – that’s extremely unwise for an elected member of the city council to say, and it is flat-out wrong.”
Coun Ann Forsaith (Green) said: “We are absolutely right to put it in. I can’t agree with what a four degree rise in temperatures would bring about. At four degrees, it’s an unliveable world – and that’s not just because of rising sea levels. People still have to be reminded why it is that we have got to do what we have got to do, very quickly indeed.
Coun Paul Wadsworth (Con) said: “I can’t agree with Coun Forsaith on the four degrees. It may be that that world is unliveable, but the policies that we are working to are 2.7 to 2.8 (rise in degrees).
“We may be a brick in a very big wall, but we are a very small brick. We are a Leeds committee and when we lay foundations, we have to get them right.
“We have to go over the facts rather than the social media comments. A lot of social media comments are misleading.”
Coun Paul Wray (Lab) responded by suggesting some councillors believed Leeds was “its own little universal island” with its own exclusive climate.
He added: “If you take the opinion that ‘it might not be as bad as global climate scientists are saying’, then you are telling the general public not to worry, and that they shouldn’t change their lifestyles too much. You are actually giving the scope for people to do less.
“You have to be honest about the worst case scenario. To want to ignore the fact that the world’s leading scientists say four per cent would be disastrous for people on this planet – and Leeds is part of this planet, it hasn’t moved somewhere else in the multiverse – it will be their businesses that fail and their livelihoods destroyed.
“It’s not being doomy, it’s not being unreasonable – it’s telling people the facts, and if we don’t get a grip of this, the civilisation and standard of living they have got used to is gone. If that’s not being honest to the people who have elected us, then why are we here?”
Despite the impassioned plea, Coun Neil Buckley (Con) said he believed other places have far more to answer for than Leeds.
He said: “The theme that we are all living in this big world, that’s right, but the point is we are not responsible for the world – we are responsible for the people of Leeds. This report is supposed to be about Leeds – what we should be doing and what is sensible and proportionate.
“Look at China. I know I mentioned this two or three meetings ago, but people said ‘you can’t talk about China’. Oh no, they only produce 90 per cent of the world’s emissions.
“We can do nothing whatsoever to influence what China does. We have no chance on this matter. It’s all about Leeds.”
The “90 per cent” figure appears to originate in a debunked claim that had been shared widely on social media back in 2019. According to research papers by both the Rhodium Group and Our World in Data, the figure is thought to be around 30 per cent.
Coun Buckley added: “People haven’t been educated about the costs and how much poorer, if a lot of these measures would be carried out, than they would be otherwise.”
Leeds City Council announced a climate emergency back in 2019, and pledged to lower carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030. As part of the climate emergency announcement, the council set up the Climate Emergency Committee to advise the council on environmental issues.
The conclusion of its annual report reads: “The Climate Emergency Advisory Committee has considered the key barriers to implementation at pace this year including funding, communications and engagement as well as further area specific investigations such as jobs and skills and climate education.
“CEAC continues to provide challenge and oversight to the on-going work of the council on achieving net zero as well as identifying potential new opportunities and developing policy direction in response to numerous consultations.”