SHIRE Hall in Taunton erupted into applause on Wednesday (February 20) after Somerset County Council agreed to declare a climate emergency.

The vast majority of councillors supported a cross-party proposal to take urgent action against climate change, exploring what it can do to reduce the environmental impact of its services and activities.

A total of £25,000 has been allocated towards drawing up proposals, which will be scrutinised over the coming months.

The council has also agreed to work with its regional partners to address the issue and will lobby the government to devolve the powers necessary to make effective changes.

Several dozen protestors gathered outside Shire Hall before the meeting, with many displaying the logo of the Extinction Rebellion activist group.

One protestor joked: “Anyone brought the super-glue?”, in reference to a protest at Gloucestershire County Council on February 13 where members of Extinction Rebellion super-glued themselves to seats in the council chamber.

Fortunately, there was no repeat of any such antics when Councillor Tessa Munt introduced the motion to declare a climate emergency.

The former MP for Wells acknowledged the protests staged by schoolchildren across the south west on Friday (February 15), and praised Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council for also declaring climate emergencies.

She said: “I am aware there are a number of groups that have made their points know, including Extinction Rebellion. 2030 is the date I’ve settled on in line with the IPCC report. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move quicker if we can.

“We need to take individual action, but every level of government should take action to change legislation.

“We’ve got to make low-carbon living easier to achieve and the new norm. It’s a matter of common sense – why wouldn’t we do this?”

Ms Munt added she wanted the council to be “one of the greenest ever” and stressed the need to “take power away from the centre” to achieve practical results.

Councillor David Hall, who seconded the motion, said: “This is a decision not just for us but for future generations. It’s such an important issue that the goals we set and the decisions we take are achievable.”

Numerous members of the public spoke in favour of the motion, stressing how quickly action needed to be taken.

Melanie Smith, from Taunton Green Parents, said: “I read the IPCC report whilst breastfeeding my daughter during the night and I cried.

“As a mother all I want to do is to protect my children. My inability to guarantee their future safety is heart–breaking.

“This is our opportunity to lead the way and join the growing global movement in the fight against climate change.

“Change is never easy and there are challenges ahead but the evidence is clear. We have no choice and we have limited time.”

Christopher Maunder, a member of Extinction Rebellion, proclaimed: “We will not be going away until our extinction is averted, and the ecology of our planet and the society of our species are united and working together for the protection and benefit of each other.”

Bill Butcher, chairman of West Somerset Forum 21, stated: “Another five years of business as usual and it will be too late.”

Ian Gauntlett added: “I look around the chamber – many of you are of a similar age to me.

“If you don’t have children or grandchildren, you may have nieces and nephews. It’s their future. If we don’t do something, there will be no future generation.”

Councillor Alan Wedderkopp – who campaigned against oil and gas extraction from Canada’s tar sands in the mid-1960s – said delivering sustainable, environmentally friendly housing had to be a priority for Somerset.

He said: “We’ve really got to get real and change the way we build homes for people.

“I’ve watched as the central government has cut the targets for insulation in housing over the last ten years – it’s been disgraceful and it just has to stop.”

Councillor John Hunt said the local bus and cycling networks needed to be improved to reduce dependence on “gas-guzzlers” – including his own car.

He said: “I started recently catching buses – I don’t know how many of you try it, it is a very difficult thing to do.

“We need to sort out the bus network. The reason I drove my gas-guzzler here today is that I can’t rely on the buses to get me here.

“We need better bike lanes. Cycling into town – I can’t explain how scary that is. This is yet another thing we can do to put things right.”

Councillor Martin Dimery added: “It’s very encouraging to finally see support across the chamber for policies which we in the Green Party have been banging on about for 40 years. We must ensure that this motion is far more than mere tokenism.

“We can make a clear statement not just of environmental but of commercial intent. While so much remains to be done, it cannot all be left to central government.”

One of the few dissenting voices was Councillor Terry Napper, who supported the principle of a declaring an emergency but said more detail was needed about the actions that would be taken.

He said: “The heating in here is on full bore – but we’ve also got windows open. How do we equate that? We need a little bit more facts.”

Mr Napper was one of four councillors who abstained on the motion, which was approved by the council to the sound to huge applause from the public.

The council’s officers will now come up with proposals to tackle the climate crisis in Somerset, which will be scrutinised by the policies and place scrutiny committee in the coming months.

A report will come back to the full council in November detailing the progress that has been made.