Protesters will return to City Hall tomorrow to campaign against the Silvertown Tunnel

Extinction Rebellion activists have dismissed Greenwich Council’s plan to declare a climate emergency at next week’s council meeting as “business as usual”.

The group, which is holding a “people’s assembly” at the University of Greenwich on Saturday, has been campaigning for the council to recognise the seriousness of the global warming threat and met councillors, including leader Danny Thorpe, to discuss the issue on Monday.

A motion declaring a climate emergency is on the agenda for next Wednesday’s meeting at Woolwich Town Hall. Earlier this year, the Labour council’s air quality cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald dismissed calls for a climate emergency, saying “different councils have different definitions of what an emergency is”.

The council was forced into a U-turn after national party leader Jeremy Corbyn declared a climate emergency, and neighbouring councils followed suit. 853 understands that the decision was made after rebel councillors proposed a climate emergency at a behind-closed-doors meeting of Greenwich Labour. Scott-McDonald was then bounced into admitting the reversal of policy at a scrutiny panel later that week.

Many thanks to members of @XRGreenwich who met with @dscottmcdonald @cllrsarahmerril & myself today to discuss how @Royal_Greenwich are responding to the #ClimateEmergency that we are all facing, and begin to explore what further actions we can collectively take in #Greenwich

— Dan Thorpe (@DanLThorpe) June 17, 2019

In the motion, the council notes that “that all governments (national, regional and local) have a duty to act, and local governments that recognise this should not wait for their national governments to change their policies”, and pledges that the borough will be carbon neutral by 2030.

It pledges to review and update its Greener Greenwich strategy – a strategy which Scott-McDonald had insisted was sufficient – by the end of the year and to monitor actions taken annually, to create a “Greenwich partnership to focus on climate change”, to rid the council of single-use plastics by 2020 and to “explore all possibilities to divest our pension fund investments”, a key point for many campaigners. 853 understands the council plans to launch the climate emergency policy in a photocall with schoolchildren.

But the Greenwich branch of Extinction Rebellion remains unimpressed. Campaigner Karen Janody told 853: “Leading councillors met us on Monday to tell us they were going to declare a climate emergency. We heard their plan, which sounds serious but none of it shouts emergency! More like business as usual with a few tweaks. Cllr Thorpe is fiercely defensive of projects which contribute massively to global warming and will make residents sicker. It was definitely a good conversation but personally I feel none the wiser.”

Greenwich’s support for the Silvertown Tunnel, a new road between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, remains a sticking point for activists. Road transport represents a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and neighbouring Newham, Lewisham, Hackney and Southwark are opposed to the crossing. TfL has insisted it will not increase traffic.

“For our children’s sake, we need to act on the climate emergency today in every single decision taken. If it means I can’t drive and I have to cycle, then so be it. My kids’ future matters more than shopping by car,” Janody added.

Activists are also unhappy about the presence of London City Airport across the river, and have accused the council of “sitting on its hands” while it expands.

Campaigners against the Silvertown Tunnel will be holding a “dance of death” protest outside City Hall tomorrow to coincide with London mayor Sadiq Khan’s monthly question time.

They have the backing of Newham Labour councillor Rohit Dasgupta, who represents the ward on the north side of the Thames where the tunnel will emerge. He said: ““As councillor for Canning Town South I remain sceptical and disappointed that the Silvertown Tunnel is going ahead.

“As the mayor himself knows air quality in the schools around my ward is one of the worst in London. Young children continue to suffer. It is unfair and distressing that whilst we are committed to reducing poor quality around London’s schools my residents will continue to be affected by even worse levels of particulate pollution because of the Silvertown Tunnel.”

The residents’ group Speak Out Woolwich is also holding a debate on the tunnel on 11 July.

12.45pm update: Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe responded on social media: “I’m sorry Karen feels that way. [We] discussed a whole range of issues and the work we are doing and will encourage others to do to deal with this emergency – language was discussed but no one was fiercely defensive of any major projects.

“In fact, I was heartened by the support the meeting showed for our work on the Greener Greenwich strategy and our plans to update the action plan which would accompany it, alongside our carbon reduction targets.”

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