COUNTY Durham councillors have declared a “climate emergency” after backing calls for urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.

At a full council meeting this week, a motion was launched calling for council bosses to recognise the impact of climate change and work with partners to develop a “green economy”.

This includes adopting a target to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2030 and to investigate actions to make County Durham ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050.

The motion also called for the council to work with partners to develop “clean industries”, lobby government to provide resources and report back to full council in six months on actions to meet targets.

Labour councillor Stuart Dunn, presenting the motion at Durham County Hall, praised the council’s track record of surpassing its own targets to reduce carbon emissions.

This included reaching a 42 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in 2018, over a target of 40 per cent by 2020.

Against a backdrop of increased demand and potential funding cuts, Coun Dunn explained, the motion “intended to deliver.”

“The government has shown no meaningful commitment or tangible support for local authorities to tackle climate change,”he said.

“Durham County Council’s adoption of these targets will help residents and businesses to reduce their carbon footprints and working with key partners in public,education, health and private sectors, we can help support them in reducing their carbon footprints and move them towards carbon neutrality.”

The move follows dozens of students protesting in Durham’s Market Place last week joining thousands of schoolchildren across Britain who ditched classes in a mass demonstration against climate change.

Under the motion, Durham County Council will work with other agencies and bodies within the UK and internationally to limit global warming to less than 1.5°C.

While the motion was backed by the majority of councillors, Lib Dem Coun Mark Wilkes called for councillors to adopt a 2030 target for carbon neutrality.

He argued that other councils who had adopted the motion, or a variation of it, had stuck to the 2030 target which could leave County Durham “20 years behind everyone else”.

“We should be leading the way on this issue as we have been on plastics and so many other areas, he said.

“This is an opportunity not a noose, the noose however will tighten from 2030 onwards if we don’t address the categoric climate change heading our way.

“I will not sit by and allow this council to delay something that is this important, my child has his third birthday next week, in 2030 he will be 14 years old and if this council isn’t at least carbon neutral by then, everyone, including me, will have failed him and every other child in this county.”

During debate, councillors raised concerns about the difficulties of committing to a 2030 target.

Leader of the Conservative group on the council, Coun Richard Bell, said the “real gap in the motion” was information on how it was going to be achieved.

Coun John Clare (Labour) said working to make County Durham ‘carbon neutral’ would be influenced by wider factors around infrastructure, transport and farming.

He added that the Durham County Council was already developing a low-carbon strategy to tackle the issue but stressed a “achievable date” was 2050.

Following debate, an amendment by Coun Wilkes was defeated with 23 votes for, 67 against and two abstentions.

Coun Dunn added the original motion would help inform the council on the issues and its actions going forward.

“This is the most important motion this council will consider, I think it’s something that will have to cut across everything we do,” he added.

“We can make a real change, we need to make a real change and I would encourage all parties and all members to get behind this initiative and support this motion.”

Following debate, the motion was voted through with 87 votes in favour, four against and one abstention.

As the motion was passed, environmental campaigners from the Extinction Rebellion Durham group were escorted from the council chamber after standing and speaking to the meeting.

While thanking the council for working on the motion , they said “2050 is decades too late”.

“Climate breakdown is an emergency now, action is needed now to avoid catastrophe,” they said.

The motion will see the council agree to several pledges and reads:

Full council agrees to:

Declare a ‘Climate Emergency’;

Immediately adopt a new Durham County Council target of 60 per cent by 2030 making significant progress towards making Durham County Council and County Durham carbon neutral taking into account both production and consumption emissions;

Investigate what further actions are necessary to make County Durham Carbon Neutral by 2050 and pledge to achieve this;

Call on Westminster to provide the powers and resources to make the 2030 and 2050 targets possible;

Work with other agencies and bodies (both within the UK and internationally) to determine and implement best practice methods to limit Global Warming to less than 1.5°C;

Continue to work with partners across the county and region to identify opportunities for innovation, develop clean industries and a green economy and ensuring we have the right infrastructure for our communities to deliver on these new targets through all relevant strategies and plans;

Report to full council within six months with the actions the council will need to take to achieve the new 2030 target and supply an initial report on what actions would be required to achieve a carbon neutral County Durham by 2050.