North Devon MP against Torridge’s climate action

After voting down the Lords amendment on limiting sewage discharges: how “green” are Devon MP?

North Devon’s MP has spoken out against a climate bill recently endorsed by Torridge District Council (TDC) in claims that have been described as “pathetic” by one activist.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter 

A motion at a full council meeting at TDC calling on the local authority to express support for the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill was passed by 17 votes to 16 after having failed at an attempt in February.

Green MP Caroline Lucas’s private member’s bill in parliament seeks to make it legally binding for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, protect and restore habitats and set up an independent citizens’ assembly to make recommendations on the climate crisis to parliament. It now has the backing of North Devon and Torridge district councils as well as several other local authorities in Devon, including Devon County Council.

More than 100 MPs have backed the bill, but the Conservative member for North Devon Selaine Saxby is not one of them.

She said she is in favour of a number of environmental measures but argued many of them are already going to become law in the government’s own Environment Bill, due to be passed next week.

Ms Saxby is also critical of the idea in Caroline Lucas’s bill for a Citizens’ Assembly that would make policy recommendations on climate. She said: “What the CEE bill does is it fundamentally changes the democratic system under which we operate at Westminster and that is why I cannot support it.

“I’m not in favour of changing our democratic process. If our local councils feel that the democratic process needs changing then I hope that they will put themselves forward for parliament and then try and battle with the legislation.”

That argument has been echoed by councillor Simon Newton (Conservatives, Winkleigh) the leader of the Conservatives at TDC. Speaking at the full council meeting, Cllr Newton claimed the intent of the citizens’ assembly was “to try to take control” of climate policy out of the hands of democratically elected MPs. He said he was against such an idea in all circumstances: “It doesn’t matter what colour the government is, it is the principle.”

However, activists have dismissed these claims. Peter Scott, a member of Zero Hour, a campaign group trying to get the CEE bill passed into law, said the argument that the citizens’ assembley was undemocratic was“pathetic.” He explained that the assembly would only make recommendations and not dictate policy decisions to parliament.

He dismissed claims that the Environment Bill will do enough to protect the environment and address the climate crisis, arguing: “The Environment Bill is a post-Brexit catch-up bill which is designed to preserve environmental standards following the UK’s exit from Europe. It has nothing whatsoever to do with dealing with the climate crisis. In fact, climate change is hardly mentioned in the bill at all.

“It contains purely domestic measures for enhancing nature. It doesn’t deal with the destruction of nature that the UK causes around the world.”

It’s not the first time Mr Scott and the North Devon MP have disagreed. Mr Scott complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation in June claiming an article by Ms Saxby was inaccurate. The regulator disagreed, but Mr Scott is appealing that decision.

Many scientists support the CEE bill. Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor describes it as “very, very important way to take us towards a safer future.”

A recent report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), a United Nations body, found that climate change could not be ruled out as a cause of events like ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes, and unpredictably extreme heat rises could not be ruled out due to climate change.

It said: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” and that global warming is set to exceed the “safe” zone of 1.5 degrees if emissions continue to rise at current rates.

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