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.
In the current state of politics, so much seems to happen on all fronts, every single week.
It was only last week on the 31st of October that I was able to celebrate with my staff team, UK Green MEPs and of course many more communities who have fought hard for a better solution to Brexit – that we are still in the European Union and I am delighted I can continue the good work as part of the green group in the European Parliament.
The announcement of the fracking moratorium on Saturday was a brilliant start to this week, and I have just announced that I’m running as the Green parliamentary candidate for Fylde constituency in the upcoming general election. The Green Party will prioritise environmental and social justice as always and I look forward to campaigning on issues close to my heart. Last week in the UK, we launched The Green New Deal for the North West: a report I’ve been working on since being elected as the MEP for the North West. I am pleased we are able to give some concrete, practical, real-world examples of what needs to be rolled out. There is much focus now on the concept of the Green New Deal from other parties, as well as in Europe.
Moratorium on Fracking
Some of the most welcome news for quite a while came last weekend. The government has finally accepted the position that the Green Party and anti-fracking protestors have had from the outset: there is no such thing as safe fracking.
Principally, there is no level of regulation that is capable of assuring the safety of this industry. More critically, there is no place for a new fossil fuel in a climate emergency, when all the evidence points to the need to move swiftly to a zero-carbon energy supply.
Local people will be hugely relieved following years of havoc this industry has wreaked upon their communities, and more than a few people will rest easier at night knowing that the risk of seismic tremors has gone.
This decision will give cheer to young people, climate strikers and those who understand the need to move to clean, green and cheap renewables, and I think this will be an occasion of real celebration for the hundreds of thousands of people have been involved in the anti-fracking campaign, who have helped to highlight the costs and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.
It was clear from the start that there is no place for fracking in a 21st-century energy plan. All that remains now is for the moratorium to become a complete ban.
Green New Deal for the North West
The Green Party’s vision for industry was conceived long before it became as urgent as it is today and remains the best route out of the mess our environment, society and climate are in. The Green New Deal is a global solution that takes local, national and regional action to achieve its aims
In what was originally due to be my last week in office, last week I was proud to launch a report from my office on The Green New Deal (GND) in the North West. The report aims to demonstrate how the GND can do more than just stabilise the climate emergency: it can bring huge benefits to the region, providing meaningful and skilled jobs as well as tackling social exclusion.
Our report looks at future green energy supply, industry, sustainable transport, energy-efficient buildings, and food and land use. In every sector, we found examples of good practice which can be scaled up and rolled out. It’s all do-able and can be up and running quickly (and it needs to be).
Although the industrial sector will have to transition from current fossil fuels use to circular, zero-waste business models, it will be nothing like the damaging de-industrialisation of the past; a Green New Deal offers new opportunities to revitalise our manufacturing communities by shifting to new, greener products and services, produced with green energy.
At the launch event last week, it was great to have such excellent speakers – one for each of the different sections providing real-world examples of good practice in action. And we had such excellent feedback from those attending that we may just have to launch it all over again with a new audience!
You can download the report here.
Lancaster Peace Pole
I was delighted to be at the launch of Lancaster’s Peace Pole at the end last week, where the Lancaster Quakers together with schools and the local community held a 30-minute Dedication Ceremony. Since the Second World War, over 200,000 Peace Poles have been erected by many nations bearing the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in different languages. In Lancaster, the languages are English, Arabic, Japanese and Gujurati.
Meanwhile this week…
This week marks 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down and the world rejoiced. It was a pivotal moment for freedom and democracy in Europe.
Having lived in Germany only five years previous to this, I was as amazed at that achievement as anyone – for many years no one has thought that such a change could ever happen.
Surely it’s not a good sign that in the year that the climate emergency became one of the most pressing issues in the political debate, the Conservatives have employed a lobbyist who works for pro-fracking agencies to write their election manifesto?
Where hope lies
There is an election on 12th December 2019 and there is every chance that on 13th December, we will wake up to a different future. Please vote for it to be a green one.
The clock is ticking (albeit an hour earlier than last week) and the stress is showing in UK politics. The bigger picture globally and the requirement for action on climate chaos is so much more than Brexit, and I fear that today’s news of a general election will not bring us closer to a democratic way forward for action on what matters. Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, earlier last week, issues on the plenary agenda for MEPs included Uganda’s threat to impose the death penalty on homosexuals; the demise of Thomas Cook and the need to protect workers’ rights; the protection of honeybees; and addressing clamp-downs on the right to protest.
On Thursday, the European Parliament strongly condemned the recent developments in Uganda concerning the rights of LGBTI people. The Parliament adopted a strongly-worded resolution that followed on the Ugandan government’s announcement to introduce a bill that would impose the death penalty on homosexuals in the country. The resolution:
“…stresses that discrimination against LGBTI people undermines the most basic of human rights principles and sexual orientation and gender identity are matters that fall within the scope of an individual’s right to privacy, as guaranteed by international law and national constitutions.
“We reject the use of the death penalty under any circumstances, including any legislation that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality and call on the EU and its Member States to further engage the Government of Uganda to reconsider its position on the death penalty.
“EU institutions will continue to support civil society organisations that work with the defence and promotion of human rights in Uganda, and the EU will pressure the Ugandan government to decriminalise homosexuality.
Known as the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, it was nullified five years ago on a technicality and Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said on 10 October, it planned to resurrect it later this year. African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Since the announcement on reintroducing the bill, the Ugandan government has experienced a global backlash. Following condemnations by many international donors, the government has since backtracked. On 14 October, a spokesperson for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni denied plans by the government “to introduce a law like that”.
An oral question by an MEP prompted a debate into the liquidation of the Thomas Cook Group in the plenary. My colleague Catherine Rowett MEP spoke in the debate, which then proceeded to a vote on a ‘Joint Motion of Resolution’ on Thursday, covering the key issues from the EU perspective. The Thomas Cook fiasco has put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, of which 9000 are located in the UK, 2,500 in Spain, and more than 1000 in Greece. The fate of these jobs is still uncertain, but it’s likely to have considerable knock-on effects, not only on the tourism industry and on the transport sector, but on the economy as a whole.
Tourism employs an estimated 12.3 million workers and provides at least 5% of all jobs (more than 27 million workers when considering its links to other sectors) and Europe is the number one destination in the world.
The resolution notes that the crisis borne out of the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook Group is not an isolated event and may well happen again in the future. It included calls, therefore, on the Commission to evaluate the feasibility of adopting specific actions and/or measures to prevent situations of this kind from happening again in order to further boost consumer protection and passenger rights.
The Greens also proposed and voted on an amendment which pointed out how unnecessary the recent chaos was and how easily Thomas Cook could have catered for this; the need for provisions on worker protection; calling on the European Commission to study causes and future remedies (also to enforce the provisions of the package travel directive) and to consider state aid only as a very last resort. Importantly, the Greens reiterated the importance of establishing an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism.
Discontent, fear and the abuse of power are behind uprisings that it seems are everywhere; from Chile to London, Hong Kong to Egypt and many more. Uprisings against oppression and for the environment; just individuals screaming out for their rights, the safety of their families and the future. This week, the EU Parliament condemned the crackdown on protests in Egypt and adopted a resolution strongly condemning the Egyptian government’s recent crackdown on peaceful protesters and the ongoing restrictions on fundamental rights in the country. We called for:
“…an end to all acts of violence, incitement, hate speech, harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances and censorship.”
As well as for an “independent and transparent investigation into all human rights violations and for those responsible to be held to account.” The resolution also demands the immediate release of all human rights defenders detained or sentenced during the recent protests.
Debrief with Michel Barnier
I attended two meetings with Michel Barnier as he explained his role in the recent negotiations to bring about Johnson’s Brexit deal. In short, it is clear that the EU have to work with the Prime Minister of the UK regardless of his shrinking mandate. My gut feeling about all of this is we shouldn’t underestimate what horrors lie ahead for the UK as corporate interests step in (those who rub their hands in glee at the prospect of lower regulations and standards) if we step out of Europe.
Meanwhile this week
As a block, the European Parliament has the power and influence and to stand up ‘for the little guy’ – in this case – the honeybee, and our work this week was vital. The EP voted positively on a Green/EFA resolution to ensure there will be no relaxation of regulations on pesticide use so that honeybees can be protected.
Manipulation, disorder, disorganisation in the UK Parliament that continues to drain and exhaust MPs, staff and resources. Right now, I am very sorry to see that other parties who were previously supporting a People’s Vote, now veering towards calling for a General Election. Disappointing indeed. Nearly all political commentators and politicians in their hearts – know that a General Election will not serve to find a clear way forward nor heal divisions.
Where hope lies
This week I am launching my report: The Green New Deal for the North West – and we have had a brilliant take-up of places from a range of agencies and strategic players, so much so that we weren’t able to publicise more widely. However, with an extension in my role as MEP in sight, I will be able to continue to communicate our ideas of how a radical transformation of how we do business, and a decarbonisation of the economy can address the climate emergency, create meaningful jobs and bring about a better quality of life for all.
We’re hiring! Due to the extension of the UK remaining in the EU up to the 31 January 2020, we have a vacancy for an Accredited Parliamentary Assistant (APA) to work alongside Gina Dowding MEP, based in Brussels.
You can download the full job description and application details here – Brussels-based Communication and Parliamentary Assistant 28.10.19
The closing date for applications is Monday 4 November 08.00hrs, but applications will be treated on a rolling basis.
Interviews are being held on the week commencing Monday 4 November 2019.
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.