South Tyneside Council is the latest local authority to make the declaration in a bid to avert environmental crisis.
At a full council meeting on July 18, councillors committed to a number of drastic measures to be put in place over the next decade.
The move follows national calls to go green following a UN report warning that 11 years remain to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.
Green Party councillor, David Francis, presented a motion calling for the council to become carbon neutral by 2023 and for the borough to follow by 2030.
Crediting the recent climate protest movement, he said young campaigners had “succeeded where previous generations had failed”.
He added that as a coastal community, South Tyneside was susceptible to sea level rises with urgent action needed.
“We may be discussing this down the road from the beach but we simply can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand,” he said.
Independent councillor, Glenn Thompson, also backed the motion.
“Whilst we’re certainly not the first authority to declare a climate emergency,” he said, “I hope we can in time be seen in a leader in how we respond.”
While the Labour group agreed that climate change was a threat, they opted for a 2030 carbon neutral target for the council.
Cries of “too late” and “boo” were heard from the public gallery as cabinet members outlined changes to the motion.
This included scrapping Green proposals for a Citizens Assembly and an interim target of cutting carbon emissions by at least 60% by 2025.
Cabinet member for area management and community safety, Coun Joan Atkinson, defended the council’s record of reducing emissions – but admitted more needs to be done.
She said the new motion would boost actions, embed carbon neutral goals across council operations and call on the government to provide necessary powers and resources to tackle climate change.
“How we will achieve [the 2030 target] needs to be SMART, that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound,” she said.
Labour’s John McCabe said any climate change policy needed to be “realistic, achievable and measurable.”
While cabinet member for resources and innovation, Coun Ed Malcolm, agreed local government needed to be “front and centre in the fight against climate change.”
He said: “The amendment offers a reality-based approach to the problems of climate change and sets out our goals.
“But let’s not forget, this Labour administration already has a proud record of commitment of protecting the environment and reducing the council’s carbon footprint.”
In recent years, South Tyneside Council has brought forward several schemes to reduce the impact on the environment including increased use of renewable technologies.
According to the council, works have helped reduce carbon emissions by around 48% since 2014/15, with more schemes planned.
Priorities include boosting electric vehicle use, LED street lighting, flood prevention, improved public transport, road works to reduce journey times and emissions and improved tree canopy coverage.
Labour’s Coun Angela Hamilton, who supported the original Green motion, added climate change was “the most important issue of a generation.”
“There are currently 799 jurisdictions in 17 countries covering 140 million citizens who have already declared a climate emergency – including 218 towns, boroughs, cities and parish councils in the UK,” she said.
“On May 1 when Jeremy Corbyn spoke in parliament, history was made.
“On that day when the House of Commons voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency, the UK became the first country in the world where a bi-partisan parliament declared a climate emergency and agreed to work together across all parties to implement climate change.
“Today it’s our turn, our turn to listen to the children like my grandchildren who are scared for the future.
“It’s time to put aside our political differences and become the 800th jurisdiction in the world to declare a climate emergency.”
She added: “Declaring a climate emergency isn’t a goal, it isn’t an outcome and it isn’t a solution but it’s a start.”
Following debate, the amended motion was unanimously backed, setting out council pledges for the future around climate change.
This includes drafting a Climate Change Strategy by March 2020, influencing partners to go green and hosting a climate change summit next year.
Coun Francis, speaking after the meeting, accused the council of “watering down the motion” but said he was pleased it was voted through.
“We heard from the Labour councillors about the need to take a ‘reality-based approach’ but the reality is that we are facing an emergency – the clue is in the name,” he said.
“I’m pleased that the council has declared a climate emergency but concerned that the amended motion downplays the urgency of the situation facing us.”
The agreed motion reads:
1) Declare a ‘climate emergency’
2) Take all necessary steps to make South Tyneside Council carbon neutral by 2030.
3) Lead by example by establishing South Tyneside Council as a champion for a carbon neutral future for the borough. This will include using the council’s advocacy role to influence actions across all of our communities and across the region that promotes carbon reduction.
4) Call on the leader and chief executive to write to the Government to pass the necessary legislation and provide the powers and resources necessary to deliver our climate change goals.
5) Produce a comprehensive Climate Change Strategy that will set clear and unambiguous targets for carbon reduction, including interim targets. This will be the product of consultation with key stakeholders including the voluntary and community sector and will be considered by council on March 31, 2020. This will include an action plan for the next five years.
6) Prepare a report for full council on at least an annual basis setting out performance against agreed targets and recommending any amendments to the published action plan.
7) Convene a ‘climate emergency’ summit in 2020 to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change, provide expert support and advice and seek commitments from partners and stakeholders.
8) Ensure that all council strategic decisions, policies and strategies are in lie with the shift towards carbon neutral by 2030.