The comments came at the first meeting of the Leeds City Council climate change advisory committee, when members heard about ambitious plans to halve the city’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next five years.
The meeting was also attended by around 20 climate change activists, some of whom unfurled a banner, which read “Emergency means emergency! No more planes. No more cars. No more roads!”
But members of the committee were concerned that many of those who were partaking in the conversation around climate change were already engaging in the issue, and that more needed to be done to reach out to those in disadvantaged communities.
Coun Paul Wray (Lab, Hunslet and Riverside) said: “I am concerned that this will be an incredibly middle class conversation. How do we reach the poorest and most disadvantaged people in this city who have not engaged with this?
“They are trying to survive, and a lot of this is not in their purview, so how do we make this relevant to the poorest and disadvantaged people in our city who actually have some of the biggest changes to make.
“If you look at recycling information, it is the worst in our poorer communities.
“How do we make this a true conversation with all the people of Leeds – we don’t want to make this into a well-to-do conversation.
“We need to engage in a fundamental level on what this city needs.”
Responding to Coun Wray’s point, Coun Neil Buckley (Con) said: “I agree entirely, and that is spot-on – we need to take the people with us. It means the chap with the business with the van who is trying desperately to make ends meet.”
Coun Mohammed Shahzad (Lab) later added: “As the only black, Asian and minority ethnic [BAME] member on this panel, and I worry that people from poorer backgrounds, who are often BAME, could be left behind.
“We need to find ways of tapping into the inner city population, because they are the ones who suffer from changes in the climate. We need to make sure they are involved in this conversations.
“We have a lot of climate activists here today, but I can’t see a BAME activist in there.”
The meeting was discussing the possible future effects of climate change, as well as areas the council will be focussing on in the coming years.
A council officer told the meeting that an international greenhouse gas budget had been set internationally, adding: “In Leeds we are working with 42 megatons of greenhouse gasses to last until 2050. If we go on the way we are, we will have used that up within the next nine years.
“From 2005 to now, we have achieved a 43 per cent reduction. Most has been achieved through the way electricity is produced nationally.
“Within the next five years we need to halve from where we are now – it’s not just the scale of the challenge, it’s the speed with which we have to make radical changes.
“We need to make sure we bring everyone in the city along with us. Even if the council as an organisation does its bit, that wouldn’t be enough, and individuals have to do their bit.
“The catastrophic effects it would have if we don’t make changes are just unimaginable.”
She later confirmed events and discussions will be made with groups in BAME communities in Leeds.
When asked about other areas of the world with comparatively high carbon use, she added: “People will say ‘what’s the point? What about China?’ – but China has a lot of positive things going on at the moment, such as electric buses.
“Someone has to lead the way here, so why shouldn’t it be Leeds?”
Chairing the meeting, Coun Neil Walshaw (Lab) said: “We are here because we face a climate emergency.
“I cannot stress enough how seriously we are taking this. Civilizations can fall as fast as they can rise.
“Big things start with many small things. If Leeds does its bit, we can demonstrate to the rest of the country what we have done.
“There are more than 800,000 people in Leeds now, and it will impact on all of them both positively and negatively. Our role is to examine the seriousness of the task ahead of us and use that to give the best advice we can to the people of the city of Leeds.”
Coun Neil Buckley (Con) agreed with Coun Walshaw, adding: “This nettle has to be grasped. We want to be as practical and as sensible as possible. We don’t want this to descend into political point-scoring.
“We do reserve the right to have different opinions from time to time, but this is a joint effort and as much as we possibly can we will try to be part of this team.”
The meeting also heard plans for greener energy sources for council buildings and a 300-strong electric vehicle fleet.
A city conversation on what people want to see done about climate change is taking place until the autumn, before a “state of the city” event in November and a report to the council’s ruling executive board in December.
Coun Lisa Mulherin (Lab), the authority’s executive member for climate change, transport and sustainable development said: “Young people have been campaigning very visibly.
“This conversation will be going from people who are very well engaged and aware and carrying it out to those that aren’t – we are going to go to people who will probably gain more. We do need to ensure our poor communities will get the best from Leeds.”
Coun Jonathan Bentley (Lib Dem) added: “We need to make this relevant to the whole of the city.
“What we have to be careful of, we mustn’t make this a hair shirt – if you adopt a change to your lifestyle, it does not have to have a detrimental effect on your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be like entering a perpetual period of lent.
“We are going to come across conflicts in what we are doing. We have to see how we can square those circles.”
Coun Al Garthwaite (Lab) suggested that building materials could be transported along waterways rather than roads as a way of reducing carbon emissions.