Climate change was top of the agenda at an election hustings debate held at Steyning Grammar School last week.
In a packed drama hall last Wednesday, all five candidates in the Arundel and South Downs constituency were quizzed on their parties’ climate policies and what steps they had taken personally to cut their own carbon footprints.
“The level of interest in the debate was phenomenal,” said Geoff Barnard, from Greening Steyning, the local environment group that organised the hustings.
“But it was no surprise after the turnout we got for the Climate Strike event in Steyning in September where over 500 people took to the High Street to demand action on climate change.”
Among the 300 plus audience was a strong contingent of sixth formers, many of them first time voters.
The debate followed the BBC Question Time format and was chaired by Tony Whitbread, president of Sussex Wildlife Trust. More than sixty questions were submitted ahead of the debate.
One question from sixth former Jake Cheng tested candidates’ views on the tactics used by the Extinction Rebellion campaign group. Another asked what the parties would do to get cars off the road and encourage a large-scale shift to cycling, walking and public transport.
A question from Bramber resident Di Croker probed candidates on what their parties would do to kick start the radical improvements needed in low carbon building and home insulation.
David Howarth challenged the panel on when their parties’ target was to reach net zero emissions.
According to Geoff, the candidates all gave robust responses, working in their personal views and party policies.
Alison Bennett spoke of the Liberal Democrat’s plan for a ‘Green Society and a Green Economy’.
Bella Sankey referred to the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ set out in the Labour manifesto.
Isabel Thurston talked in terms of the ‘Green New Deal’ proposed by the Green Party, and their aim to reach net zero emissions by 2030, the most ambitious of all the main parties in terms of targets.
All three of the challenger parties underlined the major investments spelt out in their manifestos for tackling climate change and creating green jobs.
Conservative candidate Andrew Griffith, who is bidding to take over from sitting MP Nick Herbert, spoke of the UK’s current leadership international role on the climate and the Conservative’s target to cut net zero by 2050, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.
Independent candidate Robert Wheal, formerly the Brexit Party candidate, mentioned his longstanding efforts to improve cycle paths in the county and his personal efforts to recycle plastics.
Geoff said there was much talk from right across the panel about the scale and urgency of the challenge facing the world in heading off a climate crisis, and the transformation needed in our lives and economy to turn things around.
He added: “Whatever your politics, the degree of consensus was encouraging.
That alone is a breakthrough. But what is at stake in this election is who you believe is best placed to turn these words into concrete actions.”
The local candidates from all four main parties have signed a climate pledge put forward by the South East Climate Alliance (SECA), a network of over sixty environmental, community and faith groups across the region campaigning for action on the climate.
The pledge states that “I will support action on the Climate Emergency”, if elected.
The climate debate was the fourth election hustings organised by Greening Steyning since it was founded in 2010.
A video recording of the debate and more photos of the event will be available on the Steyning website: www.1010steyning.org