Youth, Truth and Reason

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.

#ClimateStrike

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:

  1.  No new fossil fuels (and the shale gas industry can pack up and get out of Lancashire right now!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Strasbourg

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).

Kashmir

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.

Pensions

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

Good

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.

Bad

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.

Onwards

 

 

 

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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