Cumbria County Council has been urged to declare a climate emergency.

Campaigner Gillian Kelly, a founding member of Ambleside Action For a Future, made the appeal at a meeting in Kendal on Tuesday. 

Mrs Kelly addressed South Lakeland local committee – a cross-party panel of county councillors.

She said South Lakeland District Council, Kendal Town Council, Carlisle City Council and parliament had all jointly made the declaration.

“Not because it’s fashionable, but because it’s real,” she said.

Mrs Kelly said the recent county council decision to allow a new £165 million coal mine off the West Cumbria coast was a mistake.

She said: “We can’t go on burning fossil fuels, we can’t go on exploiting the earth’s limited resources for profit and pursuing unlimited growth on a finite planet.”

She said a complete systems change was required and the Government needed to act.

“The greater the number of councils that can demonstrate their awareness, complete concern and willingness to act, the greater the chances the cumulative wave will be irresistible,” she said.

The intergovernmental panel on climate change warned last autumn that there were only 12 years left to make changes to avoid extinction, she said.

“I don’t think we have 12 years,” she said. “If we continue along our present trajectory in terms of energy use and emissions, we can’t stay within 1.5C of warming, which we agreed at the Paris climate summit.”

The Arctic tundra was melting which contained millions of tonnes of methane which would warm the planet far faster than CO2, or carbon dioxide emissions, the meeting was told.

The World Wildlife Fund had also said that 60 per cent of wildlife had been lost since the 1970s while insect populations had been “decimated”.

“We are already seeing unpredictable weather, wildfires, drought and flooding and it’s affecting food production. At this very moment, the mid west of America, the breadbasket of the world, is underwater,” she said.

She warned that soaring temperatures and food and water shortages would spark a “mass movement” of people resulting in a “breakdown” of civil society.

Committee chairman Nick Cotton thanked Mrs Kelly and said the council recognised that far-reaching collective action was needed.

Councillor Cotton, the Liberal Democrat member for Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, said: “Climate change is being discussed in multiple forums at the county council and in partnership with the six district authorities and both national parks as well.” 

He said it remained committed to taking many different actions.