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Kent County Council declares climate change emergency but pushes back carbon neutral target by 20 years

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Kent County Council has declared a climate change emergency but has still been accused of "letting down" the younger generation after pushing back a proposed target for carbon neutrality by 20 years.

Councillors today agreed to a commitment of "net zero" emissions by 2050 in Kent but the original motion was a target of 2030.

Conservative county councillors claim the initial plan was "unpractical" and the extended target would "give it greater credibility".

Extinction Rebellion has held protests in Kent over climate change. Picture: Extinction Rebellion Canterbury
Extinction Rebellion has held protests in Kent over climate change. Picture: Extinction Rebellion Canterbury

However this extension disappointed Cllr Martin Whybrow (Green), who invited the Extinction Rebellion group of climate activists to County Hall after he proposed the motion.

Cllr Whybrow said: "We are heading towards the cliff edge.

"2050? Really? Have you been paying attention? To remove this deadline is to just put up the white flag.

"If you won't listen to me, listen to others. Listen to our young people, who are out on the streets with their school strikes.

"It is their generation that we are letting down."

Cllr Michael Payne (Con), who proposed the amended deadline, said: "It should be noted Kent is a key player in both driving local policy and leading by example.

"Yet there is more work to be done both by us and our partners.

"We propose setting accelerated targets and an action plan for Kent's own estates and activities.

An Extinction Rebellion protest. Picture: Extinction Rebellion Canterbury
An Extinction Rebellion protest. Picture: Extinction Rebellion Canterbury

"We are all co-inhabitants of this planet. Mere mortals on a journey together. None of us own the land, we are simply the custodian for the next generation.

"We must not let them down and we must take our joint responsibility seriously."

The county council is the second local authority in Kent to declare this kind of emergency after Maidstone Borough Council.

Canterbury City Council has agreed to reduce carbon emissions with the ambition to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) added there is nothing stopping the council achieving this goal sooner than 2050.

He said: "You have to work with the grain, you have to work with what's there.

"There's nothing in this motion that stops you going from this place and attempting to recommit us to doing something sooner, nothing at all.

"The target we set for ourselves isn't the key to this. The key to this is the actions we all take now."

Kent County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Maidstone
Kent County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Maidstone

Schoolchildren across the country have taken days off school to protest against climate change.

Cllr Dr Lauren Sullivan, who was a secondary school teacher said children are "angry and marching on the streets".

She said: "They are prepared to take on this challenge. This is the new grain.

"The momentum is coming with the young people and we need to buck up and do it fast. The time to act is now".

In the face of criticism for the extension, Cllr Catherine Rankin (Con) denied claims the Conservatives are "anti-environment".

Instead she reiterated all members of the council are in agreement this is an important issue for the county and the world.

She said: "I get a bit tired of it being assumed that the Conservatives don't care about the environment and somehow that is exclusively reserved to members of the other side of the chamber.

"We all have children, we all have grandchildren. Some of us have great grandchildren.

"We all care equally about their future. I do not think it's a preserved to the opposition."

To ensure KCC is meeting its commitments, its actions will be included in a Kent and Medway Change Risk and Impact Report by the end of March 2020.

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