By Jon Crooks
The divestment campaign has been a great way for campaigners to target local government, universities and charitable foundations and our communities have been doing their own things to address the challenges we face, but as we now approach Paris the spotlight needs to swing back onto our national governments once again.
We are facing a climate crisis that will cause increasing global instability, famine, poverty, environmental degradation and loss of species, and we are aware that the pledges made by the governments around the world fall far short of what is needed to avert this crisis.
We are taking action at a community level to address climate change and we know that this problem can be solved, but where should our focus now turn and what should we be demanding from our Government?
The UK joined up with the rest of the EU back in March in putting forward their collective Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which was to achieve an at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030.
The interesting word there is ‘domestic’. Emissions come from a number of sources, such as the energy supply and transport sectors, but emissions are measured at the point in which they are produced, such as from a power station or from a road vehicle. The problem with this is that countries like the UK are net importers of goods. A great deal of what we consume has been manufactured or grown abroad. We are therefore effectively outsourcing our emissions, making it harder for countries who manufacture, grow and export more to make similar commitments.
So whilst the European Commission gloated that the INDC puts the EU “on a cost-effective pathway towards long term domestic emission reductions of 80%” by 2050 and that the goal put the bloc on track for a 60% cut v 2010 levels by 2050, which was “at the upper end” of the IPCC’s range of 40-70% emission reductions necessary worldwide to limit global temperature to 2C, it clearly ignores this issue of outsourcing of our emissions based on our high consumption levels.
Even based on this pledge from the EU, as is the case also with China, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the US, it could only be considered sufficient if all other countries put forward a similar level of ambition. This of course hasn’t happened, with countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia all falling a long way short. Then of course there is the fact that over history we are responsible for most of the carbon in the atmosphere and should shoulder most of the responsibility for putting things right.
As things stand, when combined, the promises made so far by governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions come nowhere near what is required to stop global warming rising above the 2C so-called dangerous level.
So what now?
Well now that these commitments have been submitted, I can’t imagine that our Government or the EU as a whole are going to revise their pledge between now and the Paris talks, with the deadline for submitting having already passed. EU leaders patted themselves on the back over their 40% reduction pledge and certainly it’s more of a commitment than many other major players among the big economic powers.
It could be argued that whilst the combined INDCs are nowhere near the level they need to be, the important thing that needs to come out of COP21 is for world leaders to agree on a legally binding mechanism for improving their INDCs periodically until we do get to a point where they are sufficient.
From a UK point of view we could ask our government to openly call for such an agreement ahead of the talks and to commit to fight for the same in Paris. We have to be realistic though. This is the Tories. They won’t lead the way in this respect. In fact, let’s face it, we need to fear the opposite.
Should we start by questioning the UK’s commitment to 40%?
Based on the last two months activity from Osborne and Cameron, we should be seriously concerned that the UK may try to lead a deviation from this EU commitment. Certainly beyond Paris you could envisage this government backtracking on previous commitments agreed through the EU on the basis of UK sovereignty from Europe.
Between now and Paris it may be unlikely that we would deviate from the EU INDC in the short term, but there’s certainly concern that the majority think it’s an adequate pledge. We need to keep up the pressure and ensure the UK supports the EU commitment as a minimum and gets behind the the legally binding deal that has been drafted.
We want a global agreement that will measure up to the size of the crisis we face. Nothing less will do.
Demonstrating a leadership position from the UK and strengthening its pledge at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference would encourage others in the EU to do what is necessary to keep global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees. We are therefore requesting the UK Government pledges to cut UK CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, including land use emissions.
This is supported by the Committee on Climate Change who state the UK would need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 51-57% by 2030 to play its part in stabilizing global temperatures.
The following measures can support this target:
- Reinstate the domestic Feed-In-Tarriff (FIT) which is proposed to be cut by 87%. This is projected to result in at least 20,000 jobs losses and 1 million fewer solar schemes being installed by 2020, increasing carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes
- Remove the £910m-a-year tax on renewable energy imposed via the Climate Change Levy, a tax developed for imposition on fossil fuels. Reinstate the Levy Exemption Certificate for renewables
- Maintain support for the Green Deal through a review of its implementation and continue support for energy efficiency measures in domestic and commercial applications that will facilitate reductions within our existing building stock.
- Reinstate subsidies for onshore wind, the UKs cheapest low carbon electricity source.
Currently our approach to energy policy is regressive and out of step with the times and what other EU countries are doing. We call on the UK to emulate those countries who are leading the way, such as Denmark who will meet 100% of their energy needs from renewables by 2050 and plans to stop using coal by 2025, which currently makes up 20% of its current energy supply, and who’s parliament has divested its fossil fuel endowment of $900 billion.
By Jon Crooks
Our environment is our human life support system. A healthy planet is needed to support future generations and it’s in free-fall, but it’s not a priority for the Tories.
It’s also a marginalised issue for most of the electorate; perhaps because it doesn’t get the debate it should either in Westminster or in the corporate media. This needs to change.
“We won’t save the planet by putting the country out of business” – George Osborne, 2011
“There’s no economy on a dead planet” – Jon Crooks, 2015
We know The Tories think of our country as UK Plc and will always put profit before people and planet, but since they were re-elected in May they seem to be going much further. Craig Bennett, CEO, Friends of the Earth recently wrote that the Tories are sticking two fingers up to everyone fighting climate change. It certainly seems that way at times.
On-shore wind subsidies have been cut despite now being the cheapest form of UK electricity, the Green Deal has been scrapped and fracking, despite having been roundly rejected by the communities it’s continually foisted upon, is still being forced on us and will now even be allowed in our most precious wildlife sites. Two new gas power stations have been given the nod and George Osborne has even introduced a new carbon tax for renewables! The “Climate Change Levy” designed to penalise polluting power plants is now going to be applied to clean energy!! As Friends of the Earth said:
“…it’s like putting an alcohol tax on apple juice.”
Then there is the shocking recent proposal to cut support for solar. The Government has proposed huge cuts to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) – the scheme introduced by the Labour government in 2010 which supports small scale renewables.
The proposal suggests that the domestic FiT will be cut by 87%, decimating the rooftop solar industry in the UK. This will put at least 20,000 people at risk of job losses, result in almost one million fewer solar schemes being installed by 2020 and increase our annual carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes. It will take longer than 20 years for solar panels to pay for themselves, and only those with thousands of pounds of disposable income will be able to install them. Most families, schools, council tenants and community groups will be forced out of the solar revolution. The proposed cuts will only save at most £6 from annual household utility bills – far less than the £230 that energy companies routinely over-charge their customers. Even The Telegraph agree that this proposal will leave the UK trailing behind in the global solar revolution, and needlessly threaten jobs that will be vital to our future low-carbon economy.
Thousands of workers are employed in the green economy (this is the bit of the economy that grew 5% a year during the double dip recession). These are the jobs that can usher in a clean, long-term rejuvenation of the UK’s industrial towns and ports. Why crush them?
We all know that the most effective way to reduce bills is to conserve energy, to use less of the stuff through upgrades to boilers and insulation in our homes. The cost of building renewables is high in the short term and negligible in the long term – the fuel is free, after all. So killing energy efficiency projects and clamping down on renewables is inviting charges of hypocrisy when the changes are made in the name of “protecting consumers” and “bringing down bills”.
If it’s really about cutting subsidies to save the public money on their energy bills, why don’t the Tories withdraw support in the same way from the 70-year-old nuclear industry, whose costs continue to soar despite once promising electricity too cheap to meter? Where’s the insistence that it, too, must stand on its own feet? Could it be that there are deeper links between Britain’s nuclear deterrent and our government’s commitment to nuclear power? The financial support is eye-watering: 35 year contracts at twice the wholesale market price, representing bill-payer funded subsidies running into billions, most of which will line the pockets of state-owned utility companies abroad.
Oil and gas
And what does the Government have to say about all the hidden subsidies for oil and gas, totalling £3bn in new tax breaks in the last parliament alone? Or the Capacity Market, an obscure mechanism designed to keep old power plants hanging on, whose funding – via consumer bills, just like renewables – has quietly increased to £1.3bn? Right now, there’s little to stop our oldest and dirtiest coal plants seeking these taxpayer handouts this autumn. It’s clear as day: one rule for fossil fuels, another for renewables and energy saving.
Why, why, why?
The Tories know we have to take action on climate change, but they choose to go down the route of backing the old industries as a way of reducing our emissions in the short term (the nuclear industry and fracked gas) instead of investing in the new technologies that we need for the future. Why?
It could be a combination of reasons. The influence of money and power on the Tory party cannot be underestimated. It could also be about military might where the nuclear industry is concerned. It could be an ideology built our of a misplaced faith in big old-fashioned industries and a lack of respect for smaller scale newer industries like solar and wind.
What worries me most though is that the Tory mentality might be that we are already on course to exceed our emission reduction targets for 2020, for a variety of reasons including the downturn in the economy in 2008, and so we can afford to ditch renewables for a few years and maximise the profits of our oil and gas industries – this latter point was even written into legislation with the Infrastructure Bill earlier in the year! It’s classic Tory thinking of putting profit before people and planet.
Craig Bennet, CEO, Friends of the Earth, sums up what we need to do:
“Get off fossil fuels fast, ramp up clean energy and hugely invest in energy saving. But David Cameron is wilfully ignoring it, delivering instead an agenda that neatly sums up the zealous, anti-renewables, anti-environment ideology of a small handful of what he would probably once have called swivel-eyed loons on his own back benches. These same voices are those who shout loudest about the energy crisis we are facing. They are right: after decades of this country prioritising fossil fuels, nuclear and ignoring energy saving, we are facing an energy crisis. Their solution? To continue prioritising fossil fuels, nuclear and ignore energy saving. It’s old, failed thinking stuck on repeat.”
We need to start thinking about the long-term interests of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits. Public ownership of railways and the energy sector, divestment from fossil fuels and investment in energy saving initiatives for our homes, sustainable transport and renewables.
Not more in a series of cuts, not just to solar but also to onshore wind, at a time when it seems maximum effort and financial support is being expended on removing roadblocks to fracking and nuclear power and when new figures out this week from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show the cost of building nuclear or gas-fired power stations is rising – as wind and solar costs fall.
“We are the builders,” Osborne claimed at the Tory party conference last week. But government cuts and tinkering are destroying the renewables industry, not building it.
By Jon Crooks
It’s the economy stupid!
We need an end to austerity. No more cuts! It’s time to look at alternative ways of clearing the deficit whilst investing in public services and infrastructure, in a way that doesn’t punish disabled people, the unemployed and the low paid. The Tories have controlled the debate up to now. Making out that it’s all about cuts in public spending vs. higher taxes. But that’s all built on lies. To begin with we need to expose the truth about money!
The money supply
Virtually all money today is created as bank debt. As painful as it is, everybody needs to understand this. Go to the Positive Money website and start by watching one of their videos then read a bit. It’s fundamental to everything. And the problem with this method of creating money is that we can no longer take on more debt. The money supply has shrunk along with our inability to borrow new money into existence. Quantitative Easing (QE) attempted to re-inflate the money supply by giving money to banks to create more debt, but that policy failed.
What’s the solution?
It’s time to try injecting some debt-free money – central bank-created money – directly into the real economy. The Government can issue new money outright to cover the budget deficit or spend it into existence by investing in new housing, energy, transport and digital projects. Corbyn’s team call it “quantitative easing for people instead of banks” (PQE). The investments in the real economy would be made through a National Investment Bank set up to invest in new infrastructure and in the hi-tech innovative industries of the future. The Greens too have been advocating this approach for some time.
So why won’t the Tories consider this option?
As Ellen Brown, author of ‘Web of Debt’ explains:
“This is a taboo concept in mainstream economics because it cuts out the private sector bond traders from their dose of corporate welfare, which unlike other forms of welfare like sickness and unemployment benefits etc. has made the recipients rich in the extreme.” Also, “it takes away the ‘debt monkey’ that is used to clobber governments [such as Greece] that seek to run larger fiscal deficits.”
In other words, it’s about power. Controlling the money supply through debt, the elite are able to control the whole global economic system. The financial sector is at the heart of everything. Hedge funds fund The Tory Party directly. The big corporations who benefit from this system pay millions through lobbying firms to protect their interests: an environment of low corporate tax (we have one off the lowest thresholds in the world) and minimal labour and environmental regulation.
And so the financial sector, the big corporations, the Tory politicians and the media moguls conspire together, all getting richer and richer together, dining out on their power, whilst laughing at the rest of us who are paying for it. It stinks!
An alternative economy that doesn’t put profit before people
We need to re-balance our economy, which under the Tories and previous Labour governments, has been increasingly built on debt and the financial services sector. Someone needs to stand up to Osborne’s chums in the City of London who have had it their own way for two long. Instead of an economy that works for the richest in society, built on debt, foreign investment and the import of goods, making us vulnerable to the ups and downs of the global financial system, our economy needs to work for us all. A new monetary system and a national investment bank that will invest in productive economic activity to rebuild our manufacturing industries and make us more self-reliant. We need to invest in public services, new technology and renewable energy to provide decent jobs for everybody.
Trade doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but unregulated, unrestricted global trade is very damaging and this form of untamed global market approach may have had it’s time anyway. There is an argument emerging that we have reached peak globalisation.
Whilst globalisation has led to cheaper goods, it has been at a huge cost to the environment and workers rights. Whilst we have introduced protections for workers and the environment in Britain in the past, we have since outsourced our manufacturing industries to Asia where more limited protections exist. In doing so, we have outsourced the damage we cause. Things are cheaper for a reason! I’d like to see a British government brave enough to introduce restrictions on trade (at least from outside the EU) whilst at the same time investing in British industry in order to rebuild our manufacturing industry and develop new modern technologies, to give better balance to our economy. We need to develop a culture that encourages everyone to buy local or at least buy British and we need a government that will support that.
The problem we have is that the Tories represent big business and so when we taken on the Tories we have to take on corporate power. And the biggest challenge facing us right now on that score is TTIP – a massive trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the US – and it’s a threat to our climate, health and democracy.
Despite all the consultations on this huge trade deal being secret, we know that 92 per cent of those involved have been corporate lobbyists.
In their quest for profit at any cost, corporations strive for two things, new markets and deregulation. In reality, regulation is what keeps corporations, some of whom are richer and more powerful than countries, in check. The move in the US and the UK to deregulate financial markets was one of the main causal factors of the global financial crash. Regulation, however inconvenient to big businesses, has a crucial role in democracy and economic stability. It provides safeguards against exploitation and protects hard earned rights of the most vulnerable in society.
Of particular concern is the investor protection clause, known as ISDS. This allows corporations to potentially sue governments. For example, a US health care provider could secure a contract to run an NHS hospital, but if the public objected and the government intervened on our behalf, they could be sued for the company’s loss of earnings. Running a hospital on the cheap will make more profit but cost more lives. Under TTIP, it’s the profit, not safety, that matters. There are legitimate concerns that this deal could make NHS privatisation irreversible.
Also, this wouldn’t take place in a traditional court. There is no judge. Instead the decision would be taken by three well-paid lawyers sitting behind closed doors.
Companies have successfully used ISDS to challenge environmental protection in past trade agreements. For example, in 2009 a Swedish energy company sued Germany for €1.4 billion because Hamburg tried to stop it from polluting the River Elbe. The case was only settled after Germany backed down.
If TTIP goes ahead, the reach of ISDS will increase tenfold. This must be stopped!