Leading this week’s thoughts and therefore this summary, the global #ClimateStrike that took place on Friday. The scenes unfolding on the news as each location started their day, were quite breathtaking! Young, hopeful, enthusiastic faces filled the screens and the streets with determination and clear messages. I joined two of our North West strikes, in Preston and Lancaster and came away revitalised after a busy week that started in Strasbourg on Monday. Along with fellow MEPs, we took a vote on a Resolution prompted by the potential for a ‘no-deal Brexit’ and the prorogation of UK parliament. Later in the week, on the eve of the climate strikes, Green MEPs led the call for a fracking ban – I hope you got to see the video. I also attended the Lancashire County Council meeting to discuss pensions.
It’s the power of the people that demands parliamentarians address climate issues that have been for far too long, ignored. Nothing has had more impact than the call from the young climate strikers that started with the inspirational Greta Thunberg just one year ago.
On Friday, as I joined two amazing events (Preston and Lancaster) I was so buoyed by the energy and determination I saw. The young particularly, speaking such clear, plain, truths to power; it made me wonder why it is such a surprise to hear such honesty? I think it was Greta who said that it’s because the young have no concern for ‘Power’s’ view of them, so they can speak with without thinking of the consequences to themselves, whereas adults speak with the concerns of reputation etc. Every young hand that took a microphone on Friday, broadcast what we as adults, and those in positions of power, absolutely needed to hear.
I spoke on the day about the significant role each of us had at the #ClimateStrike – in this truly global movement and that it’s actions like this that are going to make the climate transition to a zero-carbon economy happen. I also took the opportunity to thank those who showed the confidence to elect me as the first MEP for the Green Party in the North West – showing a willingness to say yes to change and to getting new ideas from the North West, into the EU Parliament. And it’s in the EU Parliament that I see how hard the Greens are fighting, for the vision we all want to see. The May 2019 elections were called the ‘climate elections’ as the Green surge exemplifies.
What we were saying on Friday to politicians – locally, nationally (when they’re open!) in the EU and internationally was that we want action, not words, system change, not climate change and those changes have to start now.
Our demands are simple:
- No new fossil fuels (and the shale gas industry can pack up and get out of Lancashire right now!)
- An end to existing dirty fossil fuels. We need to power down from coal, oil and gas and power up renewables. We’ve got the technology and the answers, all we need is a level playing field. For every pound invested in renewables, we get cleaner energy as well as more jobs; this transition will solve other problems we currently face too.
- A just transition across all sectors from sustainable transport systems; energy efficiency new buildings retrofitting our old ones to achieve both environmental and social benefits (end to fuel poverty); changes to the way we use the land, how we grow our food; and a circular economy. Recycling and renewables will bring jobs, reduce harm to the planet and improve our lives – what’s not to love? In essence this the Green New Deal. It’s not complicated but what’s needed is political will.
Everyone who took part in Friday’s protest was on the right side of history – in fact, we were history!
This week, the European Parliament moved to Strasbourg for the formal and high-pressure plenary sessions when the media attendance (and the marginal Brexit Party MEPs) are in full swing. There was an intense and serious atmosphere when we sat for the day’s business on Wednesday: the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Junker and the chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been in attendance earlier. The subject: “The UK’s withdrawal from the EU”.
The session was informative and resulted in the EU Parliament passing a resolution which insists that any Brexit deal must include the Irish Backstop, or equivalent legally-binding guarantees. It also calls on our UK government to produce written proposals on a backstop alternative and makes clear the EU Parliament’s support for a Brexit extension in a wide range of circumstances, including avoiding no-deal, an election, a second referendum, ratifying the agreement or revoking article 50. The resolution passed by 544 to 126 MEPs; (NB it is not, however, the European Parliament that has the final say: it is the European Council i.e. the Heads of Government of the other 27 countries at heir meeting on October 17th).
The last day of plenary receives ‘urgency motions’ whereby the European Parliament calls for action on (or condemnation of) human rights abuses worldwide. More powerful than those are ‘plenary initiatives’ which warrant fuller debate and this time I spoke regarding the situation Kashmir; in which the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (comparable in layman’s terms to an EU’s Foreign Secretary). The call includes for the Indian government to reinstate civil rights, and to stop the lockdown. While there has been a long-running conflict in the region, the current clampdown on civic life by the Indian government further jeopardises any diplomatic process achieving peace. In the North West, we have many settled communities of Kashmiri heritage, desperately concerned about their loved ones.
Meeting the lobbyists
Along with Molly Scott Cato MEP, I met with two representatives from Make UK, champions of British manufacturers and manufacturing with almost 3 million employed in this sector in Britain. We talked about how a ‘no-deal’ would drastically hit this sector no matter how well businesses had prepared. Make UK made it clear that in any forthcoming general election Make UK will be arguing the case for remaining in the EU, one of the first times as an organisation they had not supported Conservative Party policy.
Make UK fall into the category of lobbyists. I have formally met with Tech UK and the Federation of Small Businesses. In the interest of transparency, I will be publishing a full list of anyone I meet!
The incoming EU Commissioners
A much stranger meeting was with a representative from the European External Action Service who asked to talk to me about the ‘commissioner-designate’ (that’s the person the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has nominated) who has been earmarked to take on the portfolio for ‘Neighbourhood and Enlargement’. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will, in any case,e be part of the hearings with the said Lazlo Trocsanyi from Hungary. As a group, the Greens plan the kind of questions they want to put to all the incoming commissioners during the next few weeks.
At the meeting at Lancashire County Council for the Pensions Committee on Friday morning, I tried again to strengthen our call, as a Local Government Pension Fund, to exert our powers for better ethical investing (albeit this is not the language they want to hear). I asked for a report on how and what is needed for us (investors) to obtain more information about how much the companies we invest in are spending on lobbying. Current requirements of the FTSE companies to report amounts on lobbying are woefully lacking. This means that activities by companies who, despite PR the contrary, may be trying to resist regulation or higher standards are not transparent.
Meanwhile this week
Chorley Council set a great example of how to work with the community together on the issue of our lifetimes, the climate emergency. Councillors and staff coming out to speak to young strikers, with respect and a genuine aim to include their voices in reaching for solutions.
Lancashire County Council refusing to send anyone downstairs to speak to climate strikers in their reception; instead, the police came and ushered staff out of back doors and behaved as if there was a terrorist threat – rather than Lancashire’s young people calling for help!
Where hope lies
Unsure if it will be where hope lies but the Supreme Court will rule later in the week on the use of prorogation by the PM – will be watching closely to see where this leaves the state of UK politics that currently teeters on the edge of mayhem.