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Row over new climate Bill prompts Extinction Rebellion to throw green paint over Labour HQ in Cambridge

Labour have condemned vandalism by Extinction Rebellion on their Cambridge headquarters, which came after the city council voted against support for the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.

Green paint was thrown over Alex Wood Hall by its youth activists and a message was spray-painted on it, saying ‘Climate Inaction is Social Injustice’.

Paint daubed over Alex Wood Hall. Picture: XR Cambridge
Paint daubed over Alex Wood Hall. Picture: XR Cambridge

Labour called on all members of the council to condemn the action and said it had reported the matter to police and handed over CCTV footage of those responsible.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cambridge said the paint symbolised “greenwashing” by Labour councillors.

The activists said that despite declaring climate and biodiversity emergencies nearly two years ago, councillors have so far committed to eliminating just 1.1 per cent of Cambridge's greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 - a reference to the council’s vow to cut out its own contribution towards the overall carbon footprint of Cambridge.

Paint was daubed over Alex Wood Hall. Picture: XR Cambridge
Paint was daubed over Alex Wood Hall. Picture: XR Cambridge

XR Cambridge said: “By failing to respond proportionately to the climate and ecological emergency, Labour have shown their lack of interest in the causes of social and global justice. Climate breakdown is already harming the most vulnerable, locally and globally. We need to see real action - not just more meaningless individual change initiatives.”

But Cllr Herbert, the Labour leader of the city council, said: “We’re really disappointed to see this act of vandalism, especially when we have a record of action on reducing carbon emissions in Cambridge. As a party we remain committed to open, constructive dialogue and working together to find the best way to tackle the climate emergency.

“Alex Wood Hall is not only used by the Cambridge Labour Party but also a local charity supporting vulnerable individuals – our first thought has been to make sure that the building is usable and secure for them. We’d also like to thank our neighbours for their words of support, including those whose own cars were needlessly damaged.

“From the messages we’ve received it’s clear that Extinction Rebellion don’t represent the majority of Cambridge residents – or the many committed and excellent climate activists we have here in the city.

Paint was daubed over Alex Wood Hall, HQ of the Cambridge Labour party, by Extinction Rebellion Cambridge, after the city council did not express support for the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. Picture: XR Cambridge
Paint was daubed over Alex Wood Hall, HQ of the Cambridge Labour party, by Extinction Rebellion Cambridge, after the city council did not express support for the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. Picture: XR Cambridge

“All parties here in Cambridge agree that we face a climate and biodiversity emergency, and that we must work towards being carbon neutral by 2030.

“We are fully committed to tackling climate change. We now source 100 per cent the council’s energy from renewable sources, we’ve reduced our carbon emissions by almost 30 per cent since taking control of the council, and we’ve also invested heavily in making our council homes and swimming pools more energy efficient.

“There’s lots more to do of course, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on now – the job we were elected to do, which is looking after the city of Cambridge.”

Last Thursday, the Labour-led city council voted down a motion by newly-elected Green councillor Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley to express support for the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, which has been developed nationally with input and support from Extinction Rebellion.

Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley and Naomi Bennett won two out of three of the city council seats in Abbey ward at the May 2021 elections
Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley and Naomi Bennett won two out of three of the city council seats in Abbey ward at the May 2021 elections

The Bill calls for a stronger plan to deal with the UK’s share of emissions, including its overseas territories and demands active conservation and restoration of nature, with recognition of the damage caused through imported goods.

It also calls on the UK not to depend on future technologies to reverse the trend and proposes a citizens’ assembly to drive forward climate action.

Introduced by Green MP Caroline Lucas in September 2020, the Bill has the support of 109 MPs, from nine political parties, including the Liberal Democrats. Although 53 Labour MPs are also in favour, it has not earned front-bench support from the party, meaning Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner has not expressed his backing.

Key to Labour concerns are the potential that the citizens’ assembly could bypass parliamentary democracy. It is also a ‘presentation Bill’, a type of private members Bill introduced without debate in the House of Commons.

Tabling an amendment to Cllr Copley’s motion at last Thursday’s council meeting, Cllr Rosy Moore (Labour, Coleridge), the executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said: “The planet is warming at an alarming rate and as average temperatures rise the impacts on the environment will most likely create a snowball effect so that the rate of increase itself speeds up.

“This means that swift and decisive action is needed to reduce emissions now and although I agree with almost all of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, and certainly with its aims and principles, I believe it is the Environment Bill which will create action that this country and this planet needs.”

She called on the government to support amendments strengthening the Environment Bill, and added: “Although I agree we cannot rely on technological advances alone, we must use whatever solutions are available to us and that is the heart of our concern with this CEE Bill.”

The Liberal Democrat opposition had supported the Greens’ original motion.

Cllr Jamie Dalzell (Lib Dem, West Chesterton) welcomed Labour’s reminder of the importance of the Environment Bill, and need to strengthen it, but said: “It is counterproductive to belittle one campaign, versus the other, when both, given the current parliament,serve to provide an alternative and apply pressure on the government. These two paths are not mutually exclusive.”

Afterwards, the Greens were critical of Labour’s “wrecking amendment”, which withdrew support for the CEE Bill.

Cllr Naomi Bennett (Green, Abbey) said: “Greens are not interested in playing party politics. We see being councillors as being a service to the community and to the planet.”

Matt Howard, a campaigner and Green Party candidate, said: “We must start facing up to the fact that the last 200 years of planetary history are a total break with the previous 10 million. Biological and atmospheric rates of change on the planet are at 1000s of times the background level. Modern life as we know it is not sustainable. The CEE Bill is currently the only legislative option to address the crisis with enough urgency to keep global warming within manageable bounds.”

James Murray-White, a filmmaker and activist, added: “'I am appalled that this new city council here in Cambridge has not today supported the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, as put forward by Green MP Caroline Lucas. We are a forward thinking city, aware of the effect our species is having on the planetary ecosystem, and we need to make urgent amends now - today. What would Charles Darwin think? This greenwash by our council is not good enough and will not stand.’

And Green party member and academic Dr Emma Garnett added: “I am angry and disappointed. Cambridge is a very progressive and green-leaning city. Green candidates received 20 per cent of the vote in the local elections this month. By following Daniel Zeichner's stance for party political reasons, Cambridge Labour councillors have slammed the brakes on action to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies at a local and national level. It’s an awful example of how politics as usual is failing us.”

Mr Zeichner told the Cambridge Independent: “The CEE Bill is a presentation Bill - it will never be discussed in Parliament and so has no chance of becoming law. This is rarely explained by those promoting it. There are very good elements to it, which is why I personally promoted those parts in amendments to the Environment Bill which, sadly, were voted down by the government.

“There are also problematic elements such as the insistence that technological solutions should not be use to tackle the climate emergency, and an undermining of representative democracy.”

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