Surrey County Council (SCC) declared a climate change emergency today (July 9) as protesters staged a “die-in” outside county hall. 

Councillors voted to provide a “strong unified voice for councils” to lobby for support and address the concerns. 

This came as dozens of protesters from across Surrey staged a “die-in” outside county hall in Kingston minutes before the council meeting on Tuesday.

And just three months after ruling Conservatives watered down a similar motion and refused to back a pledge to meet targets and declare an emergency.

Climate change campaigners and members of Extinction Rebellion groups from Guildford, Godalming, Reigate, Redhill, Farnham and Dorking lay on the ground outside the entrance to the offices. 

All wore animal masks with drums beating and sounds of birds tweeting being played as councillors arrived for the 10am meeting. 

The motion for the vote was put forward by Conservative cllr Mike Goodman, cabinet member for environment, and seconded by Lib Dem cllr Will Forster and almost received unanimous cross-party support – apart from one councillor who abstained. 

This was a u-turn from the Conservatives after they voted down a motion to declare a climate change emergency put forward by Green member cllr Jonathan Essex in March. 

To applause from a packed public gallery as the protesters moved inside to watch the debate, councillors stated their support for action. 

Cllr Goodman said he didn’t support the tactics of Extinction Rebellion but he did support their causes.

Waving a copy of a climate change report he read while on holiday abroad, he said: “I didn’t understand quite as much as I understand now when we first debated it. We need to make this a priority as our residents want it.”

Cllr John O’Reilly, Conservative, said backing a climate change emergency would be a “political decision” with it becoming a priority on decisions meaning some things might be pushed down the agenda. 

While Cllr Chris Botten, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said declaring the climate change emergency would be “incompatible with the Heathrow expansion”. 

The motion says the council will commit to working with the Government and Environment Agency to meet 2050 climate change targets as well as deliver a strategy in 2019/20 to outline the actions it will take as well as support businesses and local authorities to lobby for help. 

Cllr Ken Gulati, Conservative, abstained from the vote saying he did not feel the council had the capacity to carry out the changes needed the first time the motion was put forward in March and that he still stood by that so could not support it. 

Welcoming the declaration, cllr Essex said after the meeting: “After trying to get Surrey to move forward on its climate commitments earlier this year, we’ve finally got some progress with a Climate Emergency Motion being passed.”

He said the commitment should still be for 2030 and not 2050 adding: “However, Surrey is now among the group of Conservative controlled councils – including Kent, Dorset, Suffolk and Devon – which have voted for urgent action on climate change, which is something the Greens have been pressing for. That’s a step up.

“It’s good to see the strengthening of commitment. A plan of action to achieve this goal will follow this year and we’ll be keeping up the pressure to make sure it’s achieved. The county council is also writing to government to ask what resources will be made available to local authorities to meet carbon reduction targets, which is to be welcomed.”

Two other motions were also passed with the council pledging to review its policy on tree planting and roadside verges. 

Extinction Rebellion has been pushing for a climate emergency to be declared as well as Surrey County Council to end investing pension funds in fossil fuels and to amend its minerals planning policy.

A spokesman said after the meeting: “We were delighted that the county council have now declared a climate emergency and we recognise there has been a shift in the consciousness of councillors.

“We will continue to press the council to adopt plans and targets ambitious enough to really address the climate crisis.

“We are glad to see the council already beginning to adopt practical measures as in the tree planting and  verge managemet motions passed today, transport review already underway and an openess to listening to what their residents want.

“Big challenges remain, for instance, the council must divest the pension fund from the oil industry, oppose oil and gas exploration and expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick airports.”