Why West Norfolk Must Declare A Climate Emergency

By Dr Charlie Gardner


An opinion piece written by the author and does not necessarily reflect the positions of our Extinction Rebellion group. We publish opinions as a way to further healthy debate about the climate and ecological crisis. Contact us if you would like to submit an article.

The world is slowly waking up to the realities of climate change. But not, it seems, West Norfolk.

2019 was a big year for climate news. Fires, storms and floods devastated countries from Australia to Zambia. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion took to the streets and generated huge popular support, and the mainstream media finally woke up to the danger. The environment became the third biggest issue for British voters, above the economy, crime and immigration. Everyone was talking about it.

Local authorities throughout the land have been embracing the challenge by declaring a Climate Emergency, and committing to transitioning to zero-carbon economies within decades. About two-thirds of all councils in fact, more than 260 of them, but there is one that steadfastly refuses to join them. The Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk. 

Local campaigners including Extinction Rebellion, KLimate Concern and other local residents first asked the council to declare a Climate Emergency in May 2019. Then, in October, Councillor Michael de Whalley formally submitted a motion to council, but it was blocked by Conservative leader, who called for the motion to instead be discussed in Cabinet. That didn’t happen until February, and… they voted against it.

But this game of dodge and delay is merely wasting everyone’s time when there is a lot of work to do. We need to all get on with it. Here are my top three reasons why the Council should take the simple, symbolic step of declaring a Climate Emergency:

  1. West Norfolk is one of the most vulnerable boroughs in the UK to the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding. Recent maps show most of our coast being below annual flood level in just 30 years – just like the Fens, these will be increasingly difficult and expensive to defend. We are on the front lines of what’s coming, so we need to accept that, and get ready for it.
  2. The world is changing. Just as we swapped candles for light bulbs and horses for trains, so the world is ditching fossil fuels for better, cleaner technologies. As with any change, the first movers have a big advantage, and our council’s denial and dithering is just ensuring that we’ll be left behind.3. Erm, do we even need a third one?

There are difficult times ahead for West Norfolk, and we need to get serious about it. Dithering and delaying isn’t helping anybody when there is so much work to do if we are to reach zero carbon – as a borough (not just as a borough council) and adapt to a hotter, stormier world when half the borough is annually flooded. We have the answers, we have the technology, all we need is our leaders to stand up and do what’s right for the people of West Norfolk. We are ready to support them, and excited to face this challenge together.


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