You can listen below to Gina’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, from 14 October 2019, talking about the frequent flyer levy, alongside former director of the Danish government’s Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen, Bjørn Lomborg, who is a Danish author and President of his think tank, Copenhagen Consensus Center.
There are always grumbles about putting our clocks an hour back at this time of year at the end of the ‘daylight saving time’. The clocks back ritual seems to exacerbate nature’s shortening of the days, bringing on early darker evenings for months and is barely compensated for by the one-off extra hour in bed. But other than learning to remember to ‘Spring forward’ and ‘Fall back’ – it’s not a huge talking point for most beyond the first few days of November. Winter evening darkness seems to have become accepted – much more so than the weather, even though we ultimately have more control over it.
As an MEP in the European Parliament, I have a new perspective now and the subject is a whole lot more interesting and important than I expected. Working on the Transport and Tourism Committee, on cross-border issues and in a cross-party context on a myriad of matters, I have discovered that on the subject of ending the seasonal time changes, we’re currently at an impasse. Following an EU survey in which the vast majority of the 4.6 million respondents voted to discontinue the practice of switching clocks forward by one hour in spring and back by one hour in autumn, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced in September last year plans to end daylight saving time. It seems most agree that no longer applying seasonal time changes is sensible. But whether we stay on ‘summer time’ or ‘winter time’ could be an issue – especially with 27 Member States each choosing for themselves!
“Clock-changing must stop. Member states should themselves decide whether their citizens live in summer or winter time.” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Despite the above declaration by Juncker, the European Council has blocked progress. It’s controversial because, despite the European Parliament’s support for the proposal, made with good intent, the decision to give member states control presents problems that could make Europe look like a patchwork of time-zones! Here’s some background:
Subject: “Discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC”
In the Commission’s public consultation, admittedly dominated by responses from the Germans – 84% were in favour of discontinuing the bi-annual clock changes and only 16% wanted to keep them. (A full, detailed report on the results of the consultation can be found here.) Essentially the reasons for abolishing the current clock changes arrangements boil down to advantages to human health (43%), and lack of energy saving in the current system (20%).”
In March this year, the European Parliament adopted its position on the Commission proposal, under the draft directive, which passed by 410 votes to 192 to support a stop to the seasonal clock changes by 2021. Member states would be able to choose whether to remain on “permanent summer” or “permanent winter” time with a timetable of adjusting their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday in March 2021 or the last Sunday of October 2021 respectively. But the Council has not yet finalised its position.
The tricky issue is the result of leaving Member States the freedom to decide their standard time. Currently, there are three standard time zones in the EU: Western European Time in Ireland, Portugal, and the UK and of course known to us as British Summer Time ( BST), Central European Time in 17 Member Stats, and Eastern European Time(EC). These zones make sense as one moves from east to west. Its theoretically possible if left to national decision making that one or more of the 27 or 28 member states could choose a permanent time zone completely out of kilter with this natural current east to west phasing, creating a ‘patchwork’ of time zones.
When Did All This Start?
The history of the time change was in fact created with a clocks forward initiative as some European countries introduced summertime arrangements in the last century to save energy, particularly in times of war [First and Second World Wars – first introduced in 1916] or during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Starting in 1980, the EU gradually adopted legislation putting an end to the diverging schedules of the national clock changes and since 2001, EU summertime arrangements have been governed by Directive 2000/84/EC – setting out the obligation on all Member States to switch to summer-time on the last Sunday of March and to switch back to their standard time (“winter-time”) on the last Sunday of October.
What’s Good for Our Health?
As a former public health specialist in the NHS, I always look to the evidence on the health and safety implications of policy changes. There are two key issues. Firstly does the switching from one-time zone to another itself causes health problems. Critics argue that disruption to circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) can negatively impact on human health. Studies suggest that although getting an “extra hour of sleep” when the clocks move back does not lead to people sleeping longer, the loss of an hour of sleep when the clocks move forward negatively affects sleeping patterns for several weeks afterwards. (Guardian)
At the very least there is a recognition that for a nation that is already sleep-deprived (a study found that on average Brits are missing out an entire’s night sleep per week) having our alarm thrown out of whack by an hour can make matters even worse (Huffington Post).
There are studies that hormonal changes resulting from bad sleep can contribute to conditions from a worsening of bad skin to increased stroke risks (Huffington Post).
And others (Studies) have found that the risk of having a heart attack increases in the first three weekdays after switching to Daylight Saving Time (DST) in the spring (BMJ Journals).
However, most of the traditional arguments are around whether lighter evenings or lighter mornings in the winter time are better or worse for safety risks especially relating from road collisions. Each year, when the clocks go back in the autumn, there’s a marked spike in the number of vulnerable road users killed and seriously injured. According to the Department of Transport, in 2017 pedestrian deaths rose from 37 in September to 46 in October, 63 in November, and 50 in December. The casualty rate for all road users increased from 520 per billion vehicle miles in October to 580 per billion vehicle miles in November.
During the working week, casualty rates peak at 8am and 10am and 3pm and 7pm, with the afternoon peak being higher. Road casualty rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions. And it is vulnerable road users – such as children on their way home from school and cyclists – who would experience the most benefit.
It’s estimated that retaining British Summer Time (BST) all year would save at least 30 lives and prevent many more serious and minor injuries, each and every year. This is because drivers will have the benefit of extra daylight during the evening commute through the winter, protecting vulnerable road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists (*The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).
Economic and Energy Saving Effects
A BRE report from 2005, prepared for DEFRA, that expanded on earlier work considered the effect that changing UK clocks from GMT to British Summer Time had on energy use. The conclusions in the UK were not encouraging: “As these results are based on a limited number of simulations, there is uncertainty associated with the final figures. However, it is unlikely that a switch to BST all-year-round would lead to significant CO2 savings.” Fifteen years on, it could be argued that an update would be timely (BRE Group).
Meanwhile the retail and tourism industries claim they would benefit from the extra hour of summer evening daylight.
The farming industry has traditionally disliked DST for its impact on everything from milking cows to reaping harvests. But a National Farmers Union spokesman painted a more nuanced picture:
“The last time we tested opinion among our members there was a narrow majority in favour of lighter evenings” National Farmers Union.
The aviation sector is little affected. Plane schedules have to work internationally around countries changing clocks at different times. Fewer time differences, it is argued, would facilitate cross-border trade and travel in the EU.
One thing is clear. Having consulted with the public at a European level it’s not good for the EU to take no future action, especially when there was such an overwhelming response in favour of ending the time changes. Although unlikely, it’s just possible that by announcing that it would be for each Member State to choose WHICH permanent time zone to adopt, Commission President Juncker may have precipitated an increase in differences between Member States – a very un-European outcome.
Could we just switch to and live with permanent summer time without having chosen it for ourselves?
I would, for one.
Gina Dowding MEP commented on the recent report from the National Audit Office on Fracking for shale gas in England report, saying:
“I think the first thing that the public would be interested in this report from the National Audit Office is what is actually going to happen to energy prices. What is clear is that the NAO has finally called out the cheap gas prices myth and that energy prices are not expected to fall: that’s because the shale gas industry cannot be easily compared to the North American model both because of difficult geology here and how our communities are much more densely populated.
“Aside from the myriad issues surrounding fracking, to even think of progressing with a new fossil fuel industry during a climate emergency, is nothing short of stupidity.”
For all that this week has been, there has at least been a focus on the environment despite the overwhelming, ongoing and seemingly never-ending wrangling over how much we’re willing to sacrifice for a Conservative Brexit deal. Extinction Rebellion has succeeded in getting the attention for the environment that it so urgently needs and although not all will agree with the tactics, it has been inspiring to see so many engaged. Brexit, however, seems to be turning now into a game of one-upmanship manoeuvres rather than a serious attempt to get what’s best for the country. It is clear that “getting Brexit done” actually means many years more of this. I had a brief pause to enjoy the better things of life in Burnley at ‘art & Soul, plus an invite to a very positive seminar at Lancaster University on the future of hydrogen in our energy mix – the North West so often delivers the highlights of my weeks!
Green Study Days
The European Green group chose to come to London for our ‘study days’. In essence, it is a time-out to look at planning priorities of the group for the next five years’ mandate, for both the legislative process in the European Parliament but also in our campaign work to move our Green objectives up the agenda.
The Greens’ heartwarming commitment to internal democracy was fully evident and manifested in the following guiding political objectives being adopted:
- Fight climate change and protect biodiversity
- Make our society fair and equal
- Protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms
- Make Europe an open and inclusive society
- Put the digital revolution at the service of the people
- Make the EU a change-maker in the world
- Campaign for a feminist EU advancing gender equality and all forms of diversity
The decision to show solidarity with us newly-elected UK MEPs was so appreciated and London was abuzz with Extinction Rebellion activities.
Out first evening event for the study days in London held just metres from Trafalgar Square, hosted a rousing welcome speech from George Monbiot, the police decided to abruptly change tack, close all forms of XR protest and clear the Trafalgar Square of people and possessions.
Our own Ellie Chowns MEP was arrested while demanding to know under what powers this was happening, and in the following days co-leader Jonathan Bartley and George Monbiot, after speaking at a defiant ‘standing room only’ protest in Trafalgar Square – now not just about climate but about protecting the very right to protest – were themselves arrested. Our visiting Green MEPs from Europe were shocked by such a turn of events. What unusual times we live in.
There is always of course criticism about some of the tactics used in campaigns and protest and nothing will be perfectly acceptable to everyone: Extinction Rebellion HAVE succeeded in getting the climate on the news agenda and continue to be a group many are turning to in the absence of real action from governments. Across the world, XR (like the school strikes) has finally created an outlet for the frustration, anger and fear at the threat to our future. Raising awareness of the pollution, toxins, over-farming, plastics, the extinction of so many species and the suffering of those in areas already impacted by droughts and floods made worse by worsening climate change is vital if we’re to find solutions.
The Lancaster Hydrogen Hub workshop, exploring opportunities for developing a local hydrogen-based economy ties in well with my forthcoming report on what the Green New Deal would mean for the North West. I arrived to see the hydrogen-powered bicycle and off-road buggy in action. Among other developments, there were examples from Arcola in Liverpool about their hydrogen bus project and hydrogen for heavy transport, and Lancaster-based Nanosun presented information about hydrogen storage, distribution and dispensing. The key to hydrogen energy filling a future energy gap is that the process of producing it, electrolysis, itself uses renewable energy – and there is every potential for that to be the case. Really exciting stuff!
‘art & Soul
A fantastic cultural, educational and uplifting event in Burnley organised so professionally by my North West staff, together with local professional artists and hosted at Burnley’s new flagship digital hub, the Landmark. ‘art & Soul brought Marc Francesch Camps, Director of ConArte Internacional, based in Girona, to share with us his experiences of the power of art to unite and empower communities and raise the profile of towns.
The discussions at the event showed positive answers on how the creation of new cultural experiences especially for children can redefine the town for visitors, investors and residents in all its communities; how art and culture could play a crucial role in the regeneration of Burnley; and how funding can be found if there is political will to do so.
Marc’s work on the unique ‘Planters’ (‘seedlings’) Project, an artist-led social cohesion project delivered with schools across the region of Girona in Spain, proved just how much can be achieved. We were treated to films of the wonderful performances of children’s orchestras who come from a wide range of socially and economically deprived areas. Local artist Jai Redman and producer Ian Brownbill explored how artists can play a leading role in generating economic and social capital, artist-led projects. The whole day was recorded so that we can share the highlights and the conclusions of this really inspiring workshop.
Johnson’s deal is considered worse than May’s by nearly all but the hard-right MPs, and has exposed his deliberate move towards isolating ourselves from Europe, diluting of regulations and standards, loss of rights and putting power in the hands of a Conservative Government. It risks the single market in terms of environment, social standards, tax avoidance, and creates risks of smuggling across the borders in Ireland. Some argue it will almost certainly lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.
As Caroline Lucas argued yesterday in Parliament, if anybody is capable of looking ahead, it is clear that in this deal, no-deal has simply been delayed until the end of the transition period, by which time we will have no rights to call for extension and will be entirely in power of EU.
It is extraordinary that Parliament would support such a destructive deal merely because of ‘Brexit fatigue’ but that appeared to be the situation yesterday.
Our Prime Minister is not going to let the bothersome rules of Parliament get in his way of what is clearly his desire for a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. We wait to see how the European Heads of Government react to his latest sent-but-not-signed letter and with I-don’t-mean-it-really note asking for an extension, and at home, whether Labour can pull their rebels in line.
It’s important to remember in this, the powerful elites who are counting on making millions from no-deal by betting against the UK economy in the hedge fund markets.
Meanwhile this week
75 Green MEPs in one place is always a delight and when that place is London, it’s a genuine honour. Choosing London this year for the annual gathering was done to make it clear that the Greens stand firmly together for a People’s Vote and a longing for the UK to remain close, and for the day that Brexit is not the subject that drowns out all else.
Almost everything to do with Johnson’s deal, but particularly Michael Gove, in an interview stating as if absolute fact: “A second referendum ain’t going to happen… there’s no way we’re having a second referendum…Parliament is not going to vote for a second referendum.” His words making clear he believes the power lies with him and this minority Conservative government, with Parliament having no say! It seems that the way ahead is paved with endless stages of Brexit that will go on for many years. ‘Yes’ to the Johnson deal would actually mean the end only of the very first chapter of the beginning of “getting Brexit done” (said someone else on BBC yesterday).
Where hope lies
Hope that the determination of the public, as witnessed by the estimated one million people in London for the Let Us Be Heard march yesterday, will convince MPs to move us positively forward from this mess of the Conservative government’s making AND ensure that we have secured the long-term best interests of the country. What we have in being part of Europe is by far the greatest opportunity to tackle together the big cross-border issues of climate breakdown, trafficking, crime, public health for our greater good.
As I write, I am less optimistic but still hopeful that the convincing arguments to move to a People’s Vote to solve the crisis will win out and if not, that then perhaps the more drastic need for a Government of National Unity.
I have just booked my Eurostar ticket for going to Strasbourg for the plenary week tomorrow
Following a week’s break in my Long Reads due to a busy Green Party Conference and Greens/EFA in London conference, there’s a lot to catch up on and I hardly know where to start! My week in Brussels before the GP conference was improved immensely by having 18 young women from the North West visit the parliament. The Green Party Conference was action-packed and wonderfully hosted by the Welsh Greens in Newport and followed again by the hugely demanding but very satisfying exercise in EU democracy that is the ‘Hearings’. Meanwhile, Brexit talks continue, UK politics continues to unravel and Extinction Rebels take to the streets in days of action to get the environment to be the priority that really should matter most. Rochdale and Manchester though were the best opportunities this week to engage with communities about their feelings on the current climate – in every sense!
Hearings in Brussels
The process of democracy in the European Parliament is fascinating to be a part of and these past two weeks the #EPhearings2019 provided the chance to question incoming Commissioners before their positions are confirmed. My question to the Commissioner-in-waiting for Innovation and Youth, concerned gaining clarity on her commitment to ensuring EU research and innovation funding properly meets the 35% guaranteed for climate-related research and came during a mammoth hearing that was nearly three hours long!
In the absence of our Green working group coordinator, I represented him in the cross-party deliberations before a formal meeting the following day. In effect, there is a now a question hanging over Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s top team. As members of all 18 committees in the European Parliament have now completed the grilling of her nominees for the European Commission. The entire process ended with what was essentially a veto by the parliamentarians of three commissioners-designate, due to actual or potential conflict of interests or lack of suitability. This is the first time this has happened and how it is resolved remains to be seen in Strasbourg next week.
Green Party Conference Wales
During the conference, the Green Party committed to its member-driven updating of policy, including this time, our drugs policy. Broad support is gathering among police authorities for decriminalising the use of cannabis in order for the police to focus on much bigger drug-related issues such as the problem of county lines trafficking.
I personally attended two plenary sessions on agriculture food and farming policy. And it was great to see a member of the National Farmers Union warmly and good-humouredly agreeing with much of Green Party policy. At last! The Greens and farmers should be natural allies in taking policies forward that prioritise stewardship of the land. There is now common agreement that the ‘agri-business’ model designed around large-scale corporate businesses isn’t working for people nor planet and we need to move instead towards an agro-ecological model which supports smaller farmers, biodiversity and moves subsidies towards those public goods that benefit everyone.
On Saturday evening, I was honoured to co-host the Green Party Awards Ceremony giving recognition to our members for amazing achievements. People and local groups nominated to the final three from the North West included newly-elected Councillor Judy Filmore from Ulverston; Liverpool and Trafford Green Parties and our wonderful anti-fracking sisters in Lancashire, Julie and Tina, nominated as Green Heroes for their amazing anti-fracking work. I love this part of the conference, when we take time to celebrate all that we achieve as a Green Party given our limited resources and despite the first-past-the-post electoral system.
As light relief between meetings, my colleague Ellie Chowns MEP for the West Midlands had organised the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble to play in Brussels. This huge gathering of professional musicians created two hours of music attended by many staff and MEPs which turned into joyous sounds and dancing for staying in the EU. I don’t think the European Parliament has ever seen anything quite like it before!
Back in the NW
A packed Saturday started with a return visit to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester for a discussion on Faith and the Environment (inspired by a conversation I had back in July) with among others, founder Nassar Mahmood and Bishop David of Manchester. We recognise that all three Abrahamic faith traditions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam – accounting for nearly half of all the world’s populations – share the common values of reverence and respect of the natural world and the role of man and woman’s responsibility as stewards of it.
Good discussion among attendees followed for taking forward some joint actions in the locality, for example in tree protection, as well as further afield. We agreed to send a message from us all welcoming and thanking the peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion in London.
Then for a delightful meeting in Rochdale where I spoke on a panel which included local Vicar Mark Coleman, who had been arrested that week in London as part of the Extinction Rebellion actions and some very concerning thoughts from Sami Mir about the situation in Kashmir and the potentially horrendous implications of any further escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations Pakistan and India.
4th Largest Party in EU in London this week
Genuinely excited to welcome the European Greens/EFA in London this week – makes a change to bring the whole party here! All 75 MEPs agreed to come to show solidarity with British Greens and to celebrate the incredible efforts of environmental activists. Speakers at events included George Monbiot, Natalie Bennett, Green Party Member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones plus a video link to speak to Youth Climate Strikers.
Meanwhile this week
The #GreenSurge in Europe continues to rise with the recent win in Austrian elections, this from Politico:
“The Green Party, which will return to parliament swinging with about 14% of the votes. The Social Democrats came second, but fell to a historic low of under 22 per cent of the votes. Still, Social Democrat leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner conceded that at least one goal was achieved, whether that was her party’s doing or otherwise: Another coalition between the ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ doesn’t look particularly likely. The latest mood in the wider European Peoples’ Party network, to which Kurz will soon return as a leading figure, is all about hugging green voters and courting Green parties, offering them a way into executive power at the national level. Green leader Werner Kogler has, of course, requested “signs of conversion.”
Rude, ineffective and detrimental to decent politics; during the plenary session, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party voted against stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation. The resolution also criticised Facebook, accusing the social media company of not following up on most of the parliament’s demands to prevent a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where at least 87 million people had their data harvested without permission for use in targeted advertising campaigns in the 2016 US presidential election. The Brexit MEPs cast their votes against a European Parliament resolution calling for an upgrade of the EU’s anti-propaganda unit East StratCom, as well as support for public service media. Thankfully their action made no impact and the text passed comfortably with the support of the largest political groups in the European parliament – the centre-right European People’s Party, Socialists, Liberals and Greens.
Where hope lies
Visit by Aspiring Young Women leaders of fabulous young women from all parts of the constituency to the European Parliament. My team had arranged for them to attend sessions on women in leadership and politics, and they were very inspired by the women leading them. Hearing personal stories and tips from Alice Bah Kuhne, one of our two Swedish Green MEPs and her personal story and again from our South East England Green MEP Alex Phillips, added to sessions with women in NGOs amongst others. Like the young climate strikers on the trip before, there is a passion, honesty and a genuine desire to work for a greater good. As one woman noted: “Even the seating arrangements in Europe promote better discussion via the ‘hemicycle’ rather than as oppositional benches face-to-face”.
Keep an eye on my website for updates on their stories (you can also sign up for the newsletter there).