EXTINCTION Rebellion activists have held a protest outside of Scottish Borders Council, calling on the local authority to declare a ‘climate emergency’. 

Around 20 people gathered outside of the council’s Newtown St Boswells headquarters on the morning of Thursday October 31, holding placards and handing out leaflets to elected members.

The leaflets contained an open letter to councillors, which read: “Scottish Borders Council’s decision to embed sustainable development in its strategies, policies and services is commendable but does not go far enough to combat the dangers we face. 

“The 2018 IPCC report is stark and terrifying. It warns that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees celsius by 2030. We are already at 1.1 degrees celsius.

“It warns that the consequences of missing the 1.5 degree celsius target will be ‘devastating and irreversible’ and urges ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’.

“We urge you to declare a climate emergency and your intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025, with policies appropriate to the task, as a matter of urgency. 

“You say you will encourage community engagement, this must be active and sustained. It should begin by telling the truth about the emergency.”

Speaking at the rally, Extinction Rebellion activist Kate Duncan, of Paxton, said: “Today is the first full council meeting, so we thought we’d get councillors, as we are Extinction Rebellion, to declare a climate emergency.

“We’ve spoken to quite a lot, some are very sympathetic, but some I can only describe as total climate deniers.

“The council could do a lot. Once you declare a climate emergency you have to act on it, it’s not just empty words. 

“What they have done is in August they set up a committee to embed sustainable development in all their policies.

“We have sent all of them a letter this morning, urging them to declare an emergency, and to think first of all of traffic.

“Carbon emissions from traffic causes about 50 percent of the emissions in rural areas, even though we only have 17% of the population. 

“Fuel poverty has a much higher incidence in rural areas too, so they need to deal with that for the sake of the health of the people her, but also so we’re not using fossil fuels to heat badly insulated houses. 

“We need to do something about that, we need to retrofit houses and to ensure that new ones are built to decent, high insulation standards.”

Scottish Borders Council and Midlothian Council are the only local authorities in the wider Edinburgh and South Scotland City Region which are yet to declare a climate emergency, with Edinburgh, East Lothian, West Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway, and Fife councils all backing the movement.

Across the border, Northumberland County Council and Carlisle City Council have declared a climate emergency, although Cumbria County Council has not.

In response to the protesters’ demands, Tory council leader Shona Haslam said: “The council has recently established a sustainability committee, which will consider how as a council we can best respond to the challenges that we are facing.  

“The United Nations has sent out 17 goals in relation to sustainable development, only one of which is the climate.  

“As a council we want to make sure that we are focused on all 17, these include eradicating poverty and tackling housing provision as well as climate change.

“We completely acknowledge that we are facing a crisis in terms of our climate in our own lifetime, but want to make sure that other equally demanding needs are also being considered.  

“It is not that we refuse to declare a climate emergency, but we want the focus to be on what we can do positively; acknowledging that we all have a responsibility to improve how we use all of our earth’s resources in a sustainable way.  

“We all have a responsibility to recycle more, to use plastic less, to decrease our carbon footprint and act in a sustainable way.  

“The ‘how’ we do this is more important than making declarations, so judge us by our actions and not by our words.  That is what we are focused on.

“Take Peebles High School as an example. We have removed the sale of plastic bottles from the school, removed the use of single use cutlery and take away cartons, increased recycling opportunities, provided food waste bins for all staff members and increased the number of water fountains in the school.  

“We are aiming for the new Jedburgh Campus to be one of the first plastic free schools in Scotland.  

“We have reduced the number of miles of staff travel by 250,000 miles last year, and we now send no waste to landfill, all of it goes for recycling or incineration and produces energy for 25,000 homes.”

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson, SNP, commented: “We have been farming organically for 20 years to mitigate the impact of climate change and I warmly welcome the focus Extinction Rebellion are bringing to this critical issue.  

“I was delighted that our SNP group on Scottish Borders Council got the Tories to agree to the formation of a sustainable development committee and hopefully this committee will enable us to work with Extinction Rebellion and other community groups on ensuring we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

“Organic farming emits 20 percent less than conventional, non-organic farming, essentially because we don’t use artificial nitrogen.  

“Scottish farmers are responsible for around 22 percent of all Scottish emissions and projects like Nourish Scotland’s 1.5 programme are doing great work in bringing the best technology and scientific research to the table to ensure farmers can play their part.

“I have now asked twice for an update of the council’s own paper on reducing our carbon footprint twice.  

“We can now ensure this is addressed by the sustainable development committee and we can begin to ensure we undertake an annual carbon audit.”