Westmeath latest to agree to declare climate emergency

Westmeath County Council is the latest local authority to declare a climate emergency.

County councillors supported Green Party representative Louise Heavin’s motion at this month’s council meeting that called for declarations of both a climate emergency and also a biodiversity emergency.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Heavin said that “a crisis like this needs an emergency response”, including a standalone climate committee.

“By declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency, we acknowledge the danger we are in and commit to immediate action.

“There is a lot we can do at a local level to reduce carbon production, to assist carbon capture and storage and to stop further biodiversity loss. We can improve our footpaths, cycle ways and public transport links to enable people to travel safely without the need for a car. Children should have the option of walking or cycling to school or their local GAA ground. We could plant more trees on our streets and put a proper tree maintenance plan in place to care for them, work with Irish Water to improve the water quality of our lakes and rivers. We are the Lake County after all. We could stop using harmful and toxic chemicals on our land, do not grant permission for companies to come into our county and strip our bogs for the gardening industry and instead act to conserve our peatlands and restore those already damaged. These are just examples of practical measures that we could put in place.

“Further to concerns raised earlier [at the monthly meeting] about moving away from carbon intensive activities and job losses in certain industries, this is why our government needs to move to put in place transition measures. The Green Party’s ‘just transition’ bill passed through the first stage in the Dáil last week and aims to do exactly that.

“My motion calls for the council to put in place a climate action plan and today we talked about the Climate Adaptation Plan. This is a plan on how to act in the emergencies we will see occurring as a result of climate change, such as extreme weather and flooding. We need to act now to reduce our carbon footprint. We need a mitigation plan,” Cllr Heavin said.

This plan, Cllr Heavin said, needs to put in place measures “to avoid the worst of climate change”.

“Climate action can come from all parts of our council – roads and housing, environment and arts. Our committees should reflect that.

“I am also asking that we update and put in place our Biodiversity Action Plan. Most importantly It is not good enough just to have a plan. We have had this plan since 2014, we need to use it and commit to completing all of the actions in the lifetime of the plan. Our action to tackle biodiversity loss is nowhere near the ambition of the plan drawn up in 2014 and we need to change this,” she said.

Cllr Denis Leonard said that he agreed “very strongly with everything Cllr Heavin said”.

“I think one of the places to start is to look at the existing directives, laws and policies we have within Westmeath County Council and try to make them happen, including our biodiversity and heritage plans.”

Referring to the proposal for a standalone climate committee, Cllr Leonard said he worried about setting up a separate group that doesn’t integrate with other departments.

“My only worry with an emergency [declaration] is like Donald Trump going into California when a forest burns, he goes in and says ‘we have an emergency’ and nothing happens.”