School strikers demand action on climate

Schoolchildren protesting against climate change in Walthamstow Town Square
Schoolchildren protesting against climate change in Walthamstow Town Square (credit Penny Dampier)

Council sets up commission in response to climate emergency but refuses to back down over tree felling, reports James Cracknell

Hundreds of local people spent a day calling for urgent action on climate change instead of going to work or school.

As part of a global climate strike that saw an estimated four million people take to the streets around the world, concerned residents gathered first at Waltham Forest Town Hall and then at Walthamstow Town Square – including many young children in their school uniforms.

Among them was ten-year-old Billy Tomlinson, who told the Echo: “There is not much time left. The politicians are focused on Brexit when they should be focused on climate change.”

Waltham Forest College student Naomi Bangolu said: “The Amazon rainforest is burning right now. If it was an important building – like Notre Dame – they would be spending millions trying to fix it.”

Thirteen-year-old Sophia, part of Extinction Rebellion Waltham Forest’s youth group, added: “I saw what was happening to the planet and I knew I was responsible for some small part of it. I don’t want to be part of it again – I’ve stopped using plastic straws and eating meat.”

The rally in the town square was addressed by several young people demanding urgent action to curb carbon emissions. Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and former Green Party MEP Jean Lambert also spoke in support of the climate strike.

It came two days before Waltham Forest Council announced the launch of a ‘Climate Emergency Commission’ to help co-ordinate its own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the borough. The council declared a climate emergency in April this year and was also the first UK local authority to pledge to divest its pension fund from fossil fuels.

The commission will comprise a panel of environmental experts who will help the council draw up a ten-year climate change strategy. It is being co-chaired by sustainable energy experts Syed Ahmed, director of Energy for London, and Lucy Padfield, director of consultants Ramboll. The commission also includes representatives from local businesses, conservationists, waste and recycling experts and think tanks.

Lucy said: “We’re pleased to see that Waltham Forest Council is looking to listen to its assembled team of experts about how it can improve itself and its impact, as well as work with residents, to help address the climate emergency.”

The commission was launched at Walk-in-Stow, an event to mark World Car Free Day which saw Hoe Street closed to traffic. Enjoy Waltham Forest, the council’s ‘Mini Holland’ cycling programme, has also encouraged people to ditch their cars and use the 16 miles of new cycle lanes built in the borough since 2014.

However, the council has also been criticised over plans to chop down dozens of mature trees in Walthamstow Town Square, plus scores more at Orient Way Pocket Park in Leyton. The council also supports building a new incinerator in Edmonton, while local recycling rates continue to decline. Responding to questions from the Echo about these issues, deputy leader Clyde Loakes said the commission would not consider them.

“The Climate Emergency Commission will inform the council’s climate emergency strategy and make recommendations for how we can all work together to tackle the biggest issue facing the planet in a local context in the future.

“However, it is important that we focus on the real issues that need tackling… It is the future that needs our attention not the past.”

None of the trees under threat have yet been chopped down, nor has building work begun on the incinerator. Cllr Loakes continued: “We are proud of our record in tackling the climate emergency to date but we all need to do so much more to ensure we have a sustainable borough fit for future generations.”

The commission met for the first time this week and is now examining building standards and retrofitting. Eight meetings will be held this winter – local people are invited to submit their views over the next few months.

For more information on Climate Emergency Commission:
Visit walthamforest.gov.uk/cec