This is a letter from Extinction Rebellion Reading on the council’s performance one year after declaring a Climate Emergency.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) declared a Climate Emergency on February 26 2019, aiming to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions in Reading by 2030.

The declaration was prompted by campaigning efforts from Extinction Rebellion Reading.

Click here for a look at what the council has done in its first year and the views of councillors on its performance.

Here is the letter from Extinction Rebellion Reading:

"Our view is that, although there has been some movement in the right direction, RBC has mostly proceeded on a ‘business as usual’ basis, and has not responded to the existential emergency inherent in the situation.  XR feared the declaration might be a dramatic and fairly empty gesture, and this is looking generally to be the case.

To its credit:

  • The council is proceeding with its programme of reducing carbon emissions.
  • It has created the post of Head of Climate Strategy, and the Climate Action Board to embed carbon reduction strategy.
  • It largely obtains its energy from renewable sources.
  • LED street lighting has been installed.
  • These and other good things are summarised by the paper issued at the last council meeting (attached).

However, the our overall response is that there is too much rhetoric and not enough action. Much of the council’s action is in direct opposition to the aims set out in the declaration of a Climate Emergency a year ago.

RBC’s carbon reduction programme for 2020-25 will not be active until June 2020, 16 months after the declaration of a climate emergency; the practical steps and milestones on the path to achieving net zero carbon are far from clear. Despite many promises that all departments are reviewing their operations and policies and that the results will be implemented, it is not apparent that this review has been completed and the necessary actions taken.

Council policies are being pursued that are blatant examples of ‘yesterday’s thinking’, a cause for grave concern. These include conditional support for Heathrow expansion, the expansion of the MRT system, the third river crossing, and the flood defence scheme which includes substantial tree felling.

Where the council should be showing strength, it is bowing lamely to market forces. It has taken a very weak stand, for instance, on Reading Festival which sends tonnes of discarded tents and waste to land fill, uses diesel generators and where recycling is inadequate.  RBC has defended its policy on Reading Festival, saying it meets high environmental standards although the evidence points otherwise.

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Green policies which could be actively pursued, such as encouraging bus travel, cycling/walking, reuse/recycling etc are not being rigorously promoted.

The Berkshire Staff Pension Fund has not yet divested itself of investments in fossil fuels.

It is not known what resources, if any, will be devoted to supporting the Reading Climate Change Strategy 2020-2025 (RCCS3) and there is no clear vision as to how it will be implemented or funded.

The suggestion of establishing a Citizens’ Assembly, vital to generating interest, leadership and participation is indefinitely ‘under review”.

Immediate and beneficial actions that might be implemented prior to any review, such as the retro fitting of private housing to achieve net zero carbon, and its financing through a Green Bank, are not being prioritised, although neighbouring councils such as Wokingham BC are taking such actions.

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There is a gross lack of communication with the community about these issues, even local issues  such as air quality, flooding, fuel poverty, traffic congestion etc, let alone the global threat. The message must be embedded in every contact the Council has both internally and externally.

It is essential in our view that there is maximum cooperation and communication with other local authorities and effective lobbying of government.  Despite assurances, there is no concrete evidence that RBC is committed to such a path. Defensive rhetoric is their default response to any query, and this old-style way of politics is not suited to the crisis we face. Participation, collaboration and cooperation are an essential way forward.”