A European Green Deal

The European Commission has finally, and historically, placed the European Green Deal as a core strategy on their 2019-2024 political guidelines. Ursula von Der Leyen, the new Commission President, should be commended for finally putting forward as a key priority the foundations of a plan to tackle climate change. We, of course, were not expecting a detailed plan after two weeks in office – although such a plan is direly needed. Now is the time to take this outline of a green deal and make it into a credible and tangible reality.

From a European Greens/EFA perspective, the group’s key overall messages will be the major criteria against which the group are going to evaluate the Commission’s proposals:

  1. The objectives of the Green Deal must not only be in line with the 1.5°C global warming target; it must be about respecting all planetary boundaries;
  2. The Green Deal must ensure policy coherence. There should be climate/biodiversity/resource-proofing of all policies, including with the CAP and trade policies;
  3. Climate action must go hand-in-hand with the reduction of inequalities;
  4. GND needs a green financial system, rather than just some greening of parts of finance.

The line of thinking is the right one, although of course, these points are just a general thematic overview that should underwrite our approach to the Green Deal. The practical reality must ensure our transition to a more sustainable society with some concrete measures that will rapidly propel us to a zero-carbon, nature-friendly economy, create thousands of jobs, improve health and tackle inequality.

These ideas were included in my report The Green New Deal in the North West, and in concrete terms, we identified areas where a Green New Deal can force much-needed change. The report addresses five key areas:

  1. Renewable energy supply
  2. Energy-efficient buildings
  3. Sustainable transport
  4. A zero-carbon, circular economy
  5. Land use, food and biodiversity

So how do we help the European Commission maintain a focus on these areas? We need to provide tangible solutions with frameworks like The Green New Deal in the North West, that prioritise human and environmental sustainability at the local level, and make them a success story. This model can be replicated on the international stage in institutions like the EU to give our solutions the widest reach.

There is no doubt that some issues will require local solutions, and others will need coordinated efforts with our European partners. The difficulty lies in finding the right balance between local, bottom-up solutions and international standards that need to be regulated for the greater good.

In the EU, energy production and use, including the energy used in transport, account for some 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The five key areas covered in my report would allow us to tackle the bulk of emissions in the EU, as well as in North West England.

Let’s take energy, for example. We urgently need a rapid transition to a smart, zero-carbon energy system and halt all future fossil fuel developments. It is also a reality that many communities rely on the jobs provided by the energy sector. The focus in the Green Deal should be on investing in these people, rather than leaving them behind, and give them the opportunity to re-train in green industries or work in environmental restoration schemes – a policy already implemented by the Spanish government in 2018.

By keeping the focus on people, policies such as improving the energy efficiency of building stock can be a strong way of tackling the climate emergency, while at the same time delivering social justice for those who are affected by fuel poverty. Furthermore, improving energy efficiency can help our public institutions make substantial financial savings as well as in the case of hospitals, speed up patient recovery times. These kinds of societal changes will benefit our communities and leave no one behind.

Policies to be implemented at the EU level, are also needed.

The most important of which is the reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Firstly, decreasing the number of free allowances in the ETS and secondly, increase the pace of removing emission allowances from the system (which will lead to a higher price on emissions and a faster decrease in emissions).

Secondly, we need to introduce a Border Carbon Adjustment mechanism (in other words, a carbon border tariff) to avoid carbon leakages with companies who manage to avoid climate regulation and paying for their emissions.

And lastly, introducing a kerosene tax. Airlines should pay energy and fuel taxes like everyone else, and we have to tackle airline emissions, a sector where emissions are still growing significantly.

The Green Deal needs to not aim only at ‘hard policies’ that incentivise the rollout of renewable energy systems and increase the cost of emissions. We also need ‘soft policies’ that change the way we consume, live and travel without putting the responsibility of those changes on individuals – particularly the poorest. For example, making it easy for people to choose public transport over their car, expanding cycling infrastructure to make cycling less dangerous and more accessible. In other words, policies should also aim to encourage new, positive types of behaviour.

That is where we will be able to test the real ambition of political leaders.

Going forward as Greens, we should take a demanding but constructive approach. At this early stage, simply criticising the Commission for not being bold or concrete enough will prove to be counterproductive. We need to ensure that a firm but collaborative approach is what will get the key Greens/EFA demands for the European Green Deal on the table.

These are baby steps, but adequate ones if we want to act and save the future of young people and the planet.

 

Women, Europe & Planet

Most of this week was spent in Strasbourg, on a diverse range of important issues. From the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, consumer standards and how they’re impacted by big business, to the Green New Deal for Europe, a well deserved human rights award, holding the EU Commission to account with a ‘yellow card’, issues in the Middle East and the EU declaration of a climate emergency. These weekly summaries grow more difficult on weeks like this!

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The European Parliament adopted a resolution by our Greens/EFA group for ratification of the Istanbul Convention: to add gender-based violence to the list of EU crimes and a directive to combat gender-based violence. We used the opportunity of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to urge the Council to stop blocking EU ratification and denounce this massive violation of human rights which is still very present in the EU. One in three women in Europe has experienced physical or sexual acts of violence at least once since the age of 15; 55% of women have been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment and in many Member States, over half of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner, relative or family member.

A Green New Deal for Europe

I am delighted to be involved in the Greens’ Climate Core Group discussion on the Green New Deal and European Climate Law. As the Commission begins to draft its proposal for a European Green Deal, Green MEPs are hard at work defining our demands on the contents of that proposal. Any Green New Deal has to recognise the scale of the challenge, and set out sufficiently ambitious proposals to meet those challenges.

As I showed in my report, The Green New Deal for the North West, the main sectors that constitute the bulk of the challenge and from which the vast majority of our carbon emissions come, are energy supply, industry, buildings and land use (farming and transport). In addition, at a European level, these sectors must be looked at through the lens of our trade and foreign policies. The role of an MEP presents a powerful opportunity to challenge proposals, to scrutinise and criticise anything that fails to meet the required standards until we get this right.

Greens Give Yellow Card to New Commission

A major vote took place this week and as Greens in Europe, we chose to abstain, effectively giving the new European Commission a ‘yellow card’. The new Commission, led by President Ursula von der Leyen, was voted through but our abstention was seen to be a sign of goodwill as well as an acknowledgement of serious criticisms including: the profound lack of will to seriously reform the EU’s trade and agricultural policies, the decision to link migration policy to the notion of “promoting our European way of life”, and putting a right-wing Commissioner in charge of EU enlargement.

However, we do recognise that the Commission has moved in a better direction concerning the climate. Announcing their intention to increase the emissions reduction target for 2030 to 55 per cent (previously 45 per cent) and pushing EU Member States to adopt a target of climate neutrality by 2050. This is not enough, of course, but it does represent progress. As the Greens/EFA group in Europe, our targets would be an emissions reduction of 65 per cent by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2040.

Greens are ready to work with the new Commission in designing an ambitious European Green New Deal, and raising our climate targets so we meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement. There is no time to waste and options are diminishing, so although we will work constructively with others, we will not shy away from criticism when it’s due.

Palestine debate

The Local Palestine Solidarity Group in Alsace was hosting two wonderful women from Palestine, Sahar Abbassi the Director of the MADA association in Silwan and Rania Mohjareb from Al-Haq, a human rights organisation based in the West Bank. I had met different representatives of both these organisations during my recent visit to Palestine and Israel in August. The situation following last week’s announcement from the US administration that ‘settlements are not illegal ‘ is serious and the statement from the US is a clear breach of international law. By contrast, in the EU last week, the Court of Justice said that products from illegal settlements must be labelled as such when sold in the European market. Rania also called for the publication of an existing report by the UN Human Rights Council that lists companies operating in the illegal settlements.

 

Palestine event

As part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, an event was arranged to encourage an exchange of views on the situation for women in Palestine and I had the opportunity to speak:

“It is time for the EU to step up as the neutral peace broker in Israel and Palestine. That requires an unwavering commitment to international law.

“Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

“That is why last week’s ruling by our Court of Justice is so important. Products from illegal Israeli settlements must now be labelled as such. We now need to take concrete steps to enforce the court’s judgement.

“This is the first step. Going forward, the EU needs to impose a ban on all imports of settlement products into the EU. Similar measures have been taken with products from Crimea and Northern Cyprus. Why not from the settlements?

“The UN should urgently release the database of companies operating in Israeli settlements that are profiting from their construction and growth.

“It will send a clear message to the world: any attempts to legitimise annexation, and contravene international law, will have concrete repercussions.

“Finally, I would like to ask the High Representative: what concrete steps will the EU take to ensure international law remain a respected point of reference for the Middle East Peace Process?”

European Parliament Declares Climate Emergency

Another high point of the week was witnessing the European Parliament adopt the resolution declaring a climate emergency and urging EU member states to take immediate action to address the climate crisis. The flip-side of this though was the disappointment that the resolution itself did not contain the concrete actions the Greens are demanding.

This declaration is a step but not enough and will ring hollow if it is not followed by determined climate action. Therefore, the Greens have called on the Commission to present concrete measures before the climate summit in Madrid (COP25).

I was asked for comment:

“Today, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency. This is significant. The world’s second-largest economy now recognises the climate crisis.

“In the UK, meanwhile, we now know that the Tories are planning to sell out our NHS to Donald Trump. In that deal, Boris Johnson and President Trump are making sure to ban any mention of climate change.

“While the EU takes a firm stance on climate action, our Prime Minister is trying to silence the climate debate. He won’t succeed.

“We Greens won’t stay silent. And we will take every opportunity to give climate change the attention it needs.

“Because we are in a climate emergency. Silencing the debate won’t help us. Only ambitious climate action will.”

Meanwhile this week

Good

Ukrainian film-maker, Oleg Sentsov, has finally collected his human rights prize after five years in a Russian prison. Oleg received the (belated) 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this week, finally having the opportunity to collect it. He had been arrested by Russian authorities following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts”. The conviction has been described by a host of international organisations as being fabricated.
Oleg was finally freed due to a Ukrainian-Russian prisoner swap and able to come to Europe. He was keen to emphasise that Russian atrocities toward opposition figures and minorities in Crimea have not ceased since his arrest. At the same time, the war in Eastern Ukraine continues to rage. That Oleg Sentsov was finally able to collect his prize is a powerful symbol. In the face of aggression and injustice, The European Union continues to stand up for human rights, international law and justice.

Bad

As a representative on the European Union’s Horizon Research and Innovation Programme, I find it a fascinating and positive group which really tackles the issues. This week, the group published a report on ‘the innovation principle’ that’s been touted by major companies in the oil and chemical sectors. They’ve pushed for ’the innovation principle’ to be more widely accepted and given the same legal weight as the ‘precautionary principle’; an aim considered by many consumer rights organisations as a ‘Trojan horse’ that would enable businesses to undermine EU environmental and health regulations.

The precautionary principle should not be undermined. The recently released report was published by the Centre for European Policy Studies CEPS. CEPS has 14 companies on its corporate members’ list that lobby for this and they are the ones who stand to gain.

Asked for my view as the Greens representative on the Horizon programme working group, I said that this was nothing more than trying to give the same status to what amounts to an ’anti-regulation principle’ and a way for businesses to buy influence and weaken the precautionary principle. Innovation doesn’t need protecting by big business, but the precautionary principle is there to protect environmental public health and consumer standards. Yet again big business influence is trying to reach further into places it shouldn’t go.

Where hope lies

This week, 74 European students and teachers came to Strasbourg to present a ‘Declaration for the Planet’ which was contributed to by 310 students and 27 teachers: ‘The first European declaration of the rights for the planet and the living.’

It all started with Anaïs Willocq, a teacher at Montaigne’s school in 2017, raising awareness among her fifth-grade students of the threats facing them on the planet and went on to register them in the Children’s Parliament. The Lobby of Poissy laid the ground-work with educational projects, actions with the town hall, meetings of deputies in the National Assembly, demonstrations, meetings with experts and getting well-known personalities on board with the project: Hubert Reeves, François Hollande and Nicolas Hulot, who agreed to sponsor them and to write the ‘rights for the planet and the living’. Supported by the European Commission, this unique approach places the school at the heart of citizenship.

“It is natural that the Commission is associated with this initiative because it is a true example of what Europe must be: the meeting of Europeans from several countries who think together about solutions to build a better future.”

For Baudouin Baudru, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in France.

You can see a quick bit of my meeting with the children below.

Onwards

 

Safety, Occupation & Netpol

It was good to join with Kevin Blowe, Baroness Jenny Jones – a Green member of the House of Lords – and many others, to celebrate 10 years of Netpol; the police monitoring group. It was, I suppose, a bitter-sweet occasion, with a realisation that we actually need a police monitoring service to keep activists and campaigners safe and ensure justice stands a chance. Following my recent trip to Israel and Palestine, I feel even more acutely for those living under daily oppression and I am keenly aware of how US announcements on the settlements in the occupied territories must affect the morale of Palestinians in the West Bank.

On a more positive note, I was invited along with others, to examine issues of road safety. And I am delighted to conclude that the Green Party’s Green New Deal – and our own report: The Green New Deal in the North West – offer the very best solutions, with positive impacts being very quickly realised.

Netpol 10th Anniversary

Last week passing through London via my usual Eurostar journey back from Brussels, it was a treat to attend a fantastic event to honour the 10th anniversary of Netpol. This is an organisation founded to monitor police responses to public order, protest and street policing, and to also provide challenge when policing is excessive, discriminatory or threatens civil rights. Green Party peer, Baroness Jenny Jones, has worked hard to support Netpol as they’ve become ever-more important –mainly as political and environmental street campaigning increases.

Working in partnership with anti-fracking community groups and Extinction Rebellion, Netpol’s work is vital, but they are in need of funding. See the launch of their ‘Protecting Freedom to Protest Fund.

I like these words by Hannah Chutzpah, who is on Netpol’s Steering Group:

 “I’m fascinated by how successful activist campaigns and movements get absorbed into the historical narrative – with people forgetting that there ever was an opposition. Suffragettes and the Civil Rights campaigners were opposed – violently – at the time. LGSM  (Lesbian and Gays Support for Miners) have a feel-good movie now, and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign is finally getting a proper hearing: but for both, it took decades of fighting, while they were smeared by both politicians and the press. Doreen Lawrence (mother of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in South East London in 1993) is now a dame – but before that, she had police spies infiltrating her grieving family’s campaign for justice.”

Road Safety Week

It’s been Road Safety Week throughout Europe this week. The problems on our roads are far more serious than most realise, with pedestrians and cyclists most at risk. A report out this week by Brake, stated that one in three adults were involved in a collision or near-miss on a UK road last year.

In the European Parliament, within the newly formed cross-party group for Sustainable and Safe Active Travel, we want to focus on the “entirely avoidable” deaths of young people due to road traffic collisions. In the UK, five people lose their lives every day on the roads. A ‘modal shift’ to cycling and walking, with an investment in decent cycling infrastructure for short journeys, could drastically reduce air pollution in our major cities.

Poor air quality is responsible for over 4000 death each year in the North West. Our recent The Green New Deal in the North West focussed on some of the key policy changes required, including a commitment to put public spending on walking and cycling to at least £10 per capita, per year – on par with leading cycle-friendly countries. The future can be positive and bright.

Israel/Palestine

I was due to co-host a meeting this week in the European Parliament with two prominent and respected peace advocates: Former Israeli Ambassador and negotiator, Ilan Baruch, and Ashraf Al-Ajrami, member of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society. Sadly I was unable to attend due to illness, but the meeting, chaired by my colleague Margrete Auken, Danish Green MEP, was very informative.

Mr Ilan Baruch, after 36 years of diplomatic career including postings in Asia, Europe and Africa, resigned from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011 on grounds of principle and since his early retirement, he has been devoting time and experience to projects in public diplomacy. He is currently chairperson of a team of activists promoting the Middle East peace process based on the two-state solution.

Ashraf Al-Ajrami, former Minister in the Palestine National Authority, is together with Mr Baruch a director of a new cultural centre called the Palestine House in Tel Aviv.

Mr Al-Ajrami stated that sadly a majority of Palestinians no longer believe in the feasibility of the two-state solution, which had 70-80 % support after the signing of the Oslo Accords, now due to the Israeli Government’s actions. Many Palestinians believe that the de facto annexation has become the reality on the ground in the West Bank. He warned that the peace process is thus losing momentum.

Mr Baruch underlined the importance of the EU in speaking up and affirming its commitment to ending the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and to the two state-solution and particularly and significantly this week when the US unilaterally decided to ‘normalise’ and legitimise the illegal settlements.

Mr Baruch also highlighted the recent ruling on labelling of products with origin in the illegal settlements as important EU action to keep the peace process alive. The EU is by far Israel’s most important trading partner and has the potential to use that leverage.

Mr Baruch saw this visit to the European Parliament as the first in many to come, and I hope to meet him in the near future.

This week’s decision by the US administration to overturn 40 years of USA policy, to declare that the illegal occupation of Israeli settlements in Palestine is in fact, not illegal as far as America is concerned, has attracted widespread condemnation and goes against international law. I wrote a piece on this grave situation for Middle East Eye.

Meanwhile this week…

Good

The seasonal festivities this Saturday (23 November) start with friends and community at the Green Christmas fair in Lancaster. I’ve been a Councillor in this area for more than two decades now and The GCF has become an annual institution. If you’re in the area, the fair is Saturday 23 November 10 – 4 at the Friends Meeting House, next to Lancaster train station. There will be all of the usual wonders with two floors of stalls selling locally-produced art, crafts, games, clothing, gifts, and much more (e.g. hundreds of second-hand books/DVDs and the ever-popular Fairfield Association calendars!) plus live music all day, Santa’s grotto and a wonderful café and all for just 50p (free for children). For the first time in 25 years, I will miss due to illness. But I have booked a delivery of a cake from a friend!

Bad

The ultimate insult to voters and democracy in the blatant use of spin and manipulation of truth by the Conservatives this week, when they set up their social media Twitter account to ‘appear’ to be a fact-checking account. Adding insult to injury, Nicky Morgan MP went on to respond that: “This is a total Westminster bubble story,” suggesting that nobody outside of political London is bothered by the lies and lack of integrity. This was then compounded by her colleague, Dominic Raab MP, who claimed “No one gives a toss” about the “social media cut and thrust” after the Tories changed their social media account. This is an appalling attitude to take in the run up to the election.

I do despair at what the  Conservative Party consider to be our new normal. As we are entering the most important final three weeks of the general election, what voters need and want is clarity and truth. The lies on buses and in print during the referendum caused a huge divide in our country and we must learn from this.

Where hope lies

The Green Manifesto launch is for me exactly where hope lies. If you’ve not had the chance to see how brilliant the future could be in the hands of a political party that genuinely cares, please do click here

 

Onwards

 

GND, TUC & Safe and Active Travel

In the European Parliament, the business of committees and work on legislation goes on, and is thankfully not totally drowned out by Brexit or the UK economy and elections. This week, I met with officers of both the European Trade Union Confederation and the TUC Brussels office – a rare visit to a meeting outside the EP building. A meeting with United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) representatives later in the week focused on the funding difficulties they’re having caused by both internal issues and the US President withdrawing funding. I sat next to a Greek communist MEP during the meeting – a first!

Meanwhile, it was mini-plenary session week again when all Parliamentarians – all 750 or so of us from all corners of Europe and the political spectrum, sit in the ‘hemicycle’ to vote on formal business. Also this week, I got the chance to talk micro-mobility with like-minds and co-write a piece on the labelling of goods from Israel.

Discussing the Green New Deal with the TUC

I was delighted that representatives from both the European Trade Union Confederation and the TUC in Brussels office responded positively to my request to meet to talk about our common ground on pushing the concept of the Green New Deal at a European policy level. We share concerns that the EU Commission’s commitment to a ‘European Green Deal’  should be underpinned by the principles we’ve included in our Green New Deal for the North West. Key of course, is that there is a ‘just transition’ in that the focus of investment skills and jobs in the new low carbon economy must ensure that workers in traditional industries are not excluded or forgotten and that there are dialogues and inclusion in shaping the circular economy and other sectors by those who work in them.

UNRWA in need

As a member of the Delegation of Palestine, I attended a meeting with United Nations Relief & Works Agency representatives including Matthias Burchard the interim director. While they admitted they are responding quickly to allegations of mismanagement, they reiterated that UNRWA is the key UN body that responds operationally on the ground across the globe to those in need, providing education, health services and basic needs and that many member states have stopped contributing funding – including the UK leaving risks to the people they serve.

Safe and Active Travel

Thanks to Irish Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe for co-ordinating this positive conversation to set up a cross-party ’Intergroup for Sustainable Safe and Active Travel.’ An informal group of us (MEPs) keen to make walking, cycling, and ‘micro-mobility’ a key focus of a sustainable transport programme were joined by various cycling and walking federations including POLIS – Cities and regions for transport innovation. There is a limit to the number of Intergroups that are formally recognised during any term of the European Parliament and so there is a bit of a ‘biding‘ process between political groups to ensure their priorities get on the list. I will be supporting this one and will also be looking at women’s safety and disability planning issue in good transport planning.

Meanwhile this week…

Good

Publication of a  joint article, together with other UK Green MEPs, on the Court of Justice decision that goods coming from territories occupied by Israel (Palestine) need to be labelled correctly so that consumers can make an informed choice when buying from the region.

“The EU has an active role to play in ensuring it does not become an accomplice of a state of occupation that it frequently denounces at a foreign policy level but instead contributes to improving the situation on the ground by promoting fair and rule-based trade policies with its trading partners.

“In practical terms, this decision means that henceforth, all products, such as wine, avocado, dates, grapes and citrus fruits are required to be labelled in all European stores and on-line retail, as explicitly coming from Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the Golan Heights, if that is the case, and not “Made in Israel”.

“The court has reminded us that EU consumers have indeed a most fundamental right to be provided with correct and objective, but also clear and understandable information on their purchases.”

Bad

Kashmir

The far-right ID group here in the European Parliament proposed introducing a parliamentary resolution on the situation in Kashmir. We Greens voted against that request, as the resolution was not introduced in good faith. Many extreme-right MEPs from the ID group recently participated in a propaganda trip to Kashmir, organised by the Indian government.

Greens voted against the initiative because we do not want to be part of this biased view of the Kashmir issue nor take part in Indian Prime Minister Modi’s propaganda stunt.

The Greens/EFA group in the EP has on several occasions tried to put Kashmir on the parliamentary agenda. On every such occasion, conservative and far-right parties have voted us down. We support the UN-led process for the impartial resolution of the Kashmir conflict, and support efforts to support the Kashmiri population stand up for their basic human rights.

Where hope lies

A moving commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was held at the start of the European Parliament plenary this week. The contrast with the current Brexiteer approach to internationalism was, of course, apparent to all.

“Thirty years ago, democracy and rule of law, and citizens’ rights won out. Many took much personal risk. Remember what is possible. It is still a cause of wonder today”

President of the Deutsche Bundestag

 

Onwards

 

 

 

Frequent Flyer Levy: Gina on BBC RADIO 4 | Interview

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.

Gina Dowding MEP interview on BBC Radio 4, 14 October 2019