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

 

 

 

Peace, Pause & Paths forward

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…

Good

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.

Bad

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.

Onwards

 

Death Penalty, Thomas Cook & Honeybees

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.

Uganda

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”.

Thomas Cook

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.

Egypt Protests

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

Good

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.

Bad

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.

Onwards

 

A New Report States Fracking has “Dramatically Increased” Global Methane Emissions

A new scientific study into the cause of global methane emissions has been published today. The report – Ideas and perspectives: is shale gas a major driver of recent increase in global atmospheric methane? – was written by climate scientist, Professor Robert Howarth from Cornell University.

He concluded that the emissions from fracking “makes up more than half of the total increased fossil fuel emissions”. And that in other words, the “commercialisation of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”

He also talks about the 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where the climate is impacted by methane and that reducing methane in the atmosphere is one of the best methods to mitigate global warming.

Howarth found that:

“…natural gas (both shale gas and conventional gas) is responsible for much of the recent increases in methane emissions, we suggest that the best strategy is to move as quickly as possible away from natural gas, reducing both carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Natural gas is not a bridge fuel.”

My own views on today’s finding are as below:

“This latest report adds weight to the common-sense view that there is no place for fracking in any energy strategy fit for purpose. There is an abundance of renewable energy sources still to be brought into the electricity grid, and that is where the UK government should be focussing its attention and resources.

“Across Europe, renewable energy is being developed and grows continually. This is the direction the UK should be heading in, not looking backwards at dredging up yet more dirty fossil fuels.

“Just today, it was reported that Europe has enough land space to house wind turbines that could power the entire world, with wind energy being cited as a major clean power source to help mitigate climate change.

“It was also published today, that over 150 MPs, including 35 Conservatives, have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to consider more wind farms for the UK, demonstrating a turn in the tide for renewable support.”

“The untapped potential of a clean energy revolution has hardly been explored – we are just on the edge of technology here. Forging forward with a Green New Deal could be a game-changer for energy production and sustainable living.

“Fracking is not a bridge to a cleaner future – it is simply another fossil fuel. We should be banning fracking and transitioning to a low carbon society with great urgency.”

 

Ireland, Inundation & 12-Steps

This week afforded some free days and it was a joy to get over to Ireland to have much-valued family time; sadly I had to miss the Climate Action Bolton event but clashes of timetables couldn’t be corrected. I’ve also been getting on with planning; I decided early on that it would be important to have some tangible outcomes as a result of my first four months (whether or not that’s the only four months) in the European Parliament. With funds and resources available to MEPs that can contribute to our work here in the North West, I’ll be producing a report in October about the Green New Deal and what that means for our region.

It’s so encouraging to see councils up-and-down the country but also here in the North West declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and it’s vital to ensure that those calls result in fundamental changes in what local authorities do as providers of local services, in their procurement and practices, but also as community leaders. As a long-serving councillor, despite our media being dominated almost exclusively to the point being obsessed with national Government, I know it is in reality, local councils who have the ability to provide good leadership and to whom people relate in the first instance as their democratically elected representatives.

To this effect, our report will aim to be about “Responding to the Climate Emergency…turning a call for action into a plan. How a Green New Deal will address the social, economic and environmental crises in the North West”.

Climate Action Bolton

Early this week in my absence (but not without my input!) was the Climate Action Bolton meeting; lobbying Bolton Council to join seven other Greater Manchester Councils and declare a Climate Emergency. It’s 16-year-old Paris Hayes who is the driving force behind this. I wish I could have attended the “packed room with an impressive range of speakers” including Ali Abbas from Friends of the Earth, Lisa Nandy MP (Wigan), Dee Codd of Youth Strike 4 Climate Manchester and Extinction Rebellion and Astrid Johnson my Greater Manchester Liaison Officer.

Astrid said:

“It was a great meeting with an engaged audience and good questions that brought inspiring discussion. There was a spirit of co-operation along with collaboration; Lisa Nandy was very positive about the Green Party and Caroline Lucas in her speech. It was good to have Gina’s virtual presence and a pleasure to read her statement.”

My statement included:

“Today, I support in particular, the efforts of the Climate Action Bolton group and all interested parties that here today pressure Bolton Council to do the same. It is not only in Bolton that we are seeing our brave youth rise up to the challenge and demand that our political leaders take the climate crisis seriously – it is their future that is at risk. The youth climate strikes for example, have grown on a global scale and are simply inspiring: our young people are to be commended for taking a stand and we should hear them.”

Ireland

It was great to spend a few days accompanied by my son in Ireland this week visiting family. There’s a story -and a personally epic one in itself; although adopted, loved and brought up by Londoners, I have a wonderfully welcoming birth family (on both paternal-Protestant and maternal-Catholic sides) in the Republic of Ireland – discovered 21 years ago.

My birth father and half-sister are incredibly proud to have an MEP in the family, but bewildered and concerned about how Brexit is playing out on the island of Ireland. Sadly I don’t have any inside information or particularly greater insights than most who are following this. But I’m horrified to see the way that new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seemingly trying to stir up trouble with the Irish Government and blame them for what is in effect, an impossible conundrum to solve. If Johnson gets what he wants- a hard Brexit – then that has to involve a border in Ireland between the EU in the south and the UK in the north. And no one of any political persuasion in Ireland wants that.

Meanwhile this week

Good:

I watched with deep concern as the news of the dam risk unfolded this week in Derbyshire and there’s more on the issues to consider around this below; the ‘good’ of it though is the efforts of the people who stepped up to help and offer kindness. The people of Whaley Bridge and surrounding areas acted from the best part of themselves in offering accommodation, toothbrushes, transportation, food and clothes to those who had left so quickly in the evacuation.

There were social media posts from mountain rescue teams thanking local businesses for providing food and rest for workers, a Muslim faith-based charity brought food to the school where many were evacuated to and countless other stories of human kindness that must have at least helped to ease immediate concerns. People at their finest.

Bad:

The awful situation for those 1,500 residents of Whaley Bridge who are still not able to return to their homes after they were evacuated due to life-threatening damage to a dam above the town. The Toddbrook Reservoir, like so much infrastructure, is just not designed for ever more extreme rainfall as the climate changes. I’ll be writing to the Environment Agency to ask what measures have been taken to increase the frequency of inspections and range of safety checks, taking into account changes in the way infrastructure like this behaves in a changing climate. A New Scientist article reports:

“Dams are typically designed to cope with a so-called 1-in-100-year flood event. But as the world warms the odds of extreme rainfall are changing, meaning the risk of failure is far greater.

“The 1-in-100-year event is perhaps happening every five years,” says Roderick Smith at Imperial College London. “I’m absolutely convinced that it is due to climate change.”

More here:

Where hope lies:

With the government and more than half of our councils having declared a ‘Climate Emergency’, the task now is how to react. Helpfully, the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has been working with a number of authorities to support them with strategies, action plans and projects. Focusing on strategic and practical considerations, APSE Energy’s 12 points will help Councils to plan and act (full details in the link at the end):

  1. Leadership: the local authority has a duty of leadership

2. Strategy: a strategy to address a climate emergency

3. Capacity: enough political will to perpetuate an approach; human & financial resources

4. Action Plan & Projects: monitoring, reporting & reviewing

5. Targets & Data: setting a target date for carbon neutrality and monitoring targets

6. Finance & Risk: the skill is in prioritisation

7. Partners: the local authority has a responsibility to support businesses, employers, academic institutions, public services    & citizens to work towards reducing their emissions.

8. Suppliers: a local authority cannot have a climate-related target whilst ignoring the activities of its suppliers that have a duty to supply sustainably

9. Education & Culture Change: making a definite effort to put in place materials & resources that will educate in order to change behaviour

10. Innovation: invest in technology, deliver services and collaborate in new ways

11. Review & Inform: reviewing strategies and action plans to ensure outcomes

12. Behaviour Change: supporting people to change their eating, travelling & buying habits. Ensuring this agenda remains at the forefront of people’s minds.

Full information here.

Onwards 💚

*Image: Whaley Bridge, Sikh Sewa Organisation Manchester

 

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