Climate campaigners urge Sheffield Council to move faster towards city net zero emissions goal

Climate campaigners who have been holding a silent vigil outside Sheffield Town Hall say that the city council needs to move faster to reach its zero carbon goal.
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Sheffield Climate Vigil stand outside the town hall once a month and also target commuters near the railway station once a month, handing out leaflets with suggestions for individual and collective action.

Their members include Quakers and Buddhists and they stress everyone is welcome to join them. Jenni Crisp said: “We attract a mixed group. ”

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The vigils have been taking place since April 2022 and Jenni has noticed a change over time: “People seem more well disposed and interested and willing to take leaflets. It just seems to attract interest and agreement somehow.”

Sheffield Climate Vigil outside Sheffield Town Hall earlier this week - from left to right are Jenni Crisp, Gillian Hind and Rachel RowlandsSheffield Climate Vigil outside Sheffield Town Hall earlier this week - from left to right are Jenni Crisp, Gillian Hind and Rachel Rowlands
Sheffield Climate Vigil outside Sheffield Town Hall earlier this week - from left to right are Jenni Crisp, Gillian Hind and Rachel Rowlands

Gillian Hind added: “They’re from a mixed demographic, not just people who are well disposed – people who look like ‘I know what this is about and it does matter’, not just ‘these are a bunch of cranks’.

“Just climate change is here, it’s happening, it’s affecting people now across the world. There are things that you can do about it, that we need to be giving a message to governments and people in power.”

‘Keep pushing’

Rachel Rowlands said: “It’s not individuals’ responsibility, it’s our collective responsibility and we need to keep pushing to our leaders because we can’t do this as individuals. It’s our government that needs to act but we’re all responsible for being a democracy and collectively trying to put pressure to change the system.”

Climate campaigners with Extinction Rebellion flags joined a Better Buses for South Yorkshire protest outside the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority offices in Sheffield city centreClimate campaigners with Extinction Rebellion flags joined a Better Buses for South Yorkshire protest outside the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority offices in Sheffield city centre
Climate campaigners with Extinction Rebellion flags joined a Better Buses for South Yorkshire protest outside the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority offices in Sheffield city centre
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Suggestions on the leaflet range from making individual changes such as eating a more plant-based diet and flying less to calling on MPs and councillors for more and faster changes and joining groups such as Extinction Rebellion or Greenpeace in non-violent direct action against fossil fuel companies and their corporate funders.

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Jenni said that the group feel it is important to hold vigils outside the town hall: “We want to influence the conversations of leaders going on within those walls as close as we can be to it.”

Sheffield City Council has already declared a climate emergency and pledged that the city will be zero carbon by 2030. That means tackling sources of CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming.

A Sheffield Climate Vigil outside the town hall last year - the silent event takes place once a month and anyone is free to join inA Sheffield Climate Vigil outside the town hall last year - the silent event takes place once a month and anyone is free to join in
A Sheffield Climate Vigil outside the town hall last year - the silent event takes place once a month and anyone is free to join in

The council says that the biggest contributors to emissions are electricity and gas used in business and industry, the energy we use in our homes, transport including flights people take and vehicles on our roads, what we buy and the food that we eat and waste.

Impressive work

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Gillian said that the report that the council commissioned from consultants ARUP was an impressive piece of work but feels the progress made has been slow.

Early actions have included applying for funding to expand renewable energy sources including the district heating scheme that runs off burning non-recyclable waste.

A clean air zone coming in from the end of next month allows the council to charge the most polluting commercial vehicles using the inner ring road and city centre.

Gillian said of the ARUP report: “It is a really good report and came up with a list of recommendations. They have not got on with these now, including having a climate assembly. They later announced a 10-point plan which was really vague and waffly and really seened to ignore the recommendations.”

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Jenni said the report came up with specific, clear, measured actions. “That seemed to have got lost in the long grass. In these budget-constrained times there was quite a lot of spending on that and it hasn’t been followed through.”

Gillian said that campaigners understand that the council is focused on helping people cope with the cost-of-living crisis when its own resources are already stretched by budget cuts.

Warmer homes

Rachel said that she had been trying to get her home retro-fitted to make it warmer and better insulated but there is a shortage of people with those skills. She said that an army of retro-fitters, trained in city colleges, would make people’s homes warmer and cheaper to run and create jobs.

Jenni said participative democracy is important: “We’re going to have to make really significant changes and there needs to be a sense of ownership or buy-in across the population. For me, that’s where my hope sits.

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“I feel well-informed people will make selfless choices that are for the greater good.”

Gillian said: “You need to bring people along with you or you’re not going to make this work.”

“I don’t know what impact the new committee system is going to have on the climate agenda,” she added. One committee covers transport and regeneration as well as climate change.

“That is far too big a brief. If they’re really taking the climate emergency seriously, that should be its own brief. Every decision in every department should be looked a through a climate lens.”

‘Doom-mongers’

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Gillian is also worried that a focus on winning local elections leads to short-term thinking. Jenni urged the main parties to work together as the issue is too important to be held up by political divisions.

Rachel said: “People can think that climate campaigners are doom-mongers but actually we see a future that could be really good. We’ve been over-consuming for ages, it hasn’t really made people happy and living more sustainably can be a really positive thing for people’s mental health and welfare and it just needs a different mindset and a different way of going about this altogether.

“Our entire economic system is based on greed and profit instead of the well-being of people.”

She wants trade unions and campaigns to come together to build a broad-based movement and draw people in.

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Sheffield Climate Vigil takes place from 5-6pm on the first Thursday of the month on Howard Street and the third Monday from 12-1pm outside the town hall. They have a Facebook page and are part of South Yorkshire Climate Alliance (https://www.southyorkshireclimatealliance.org.uk/).