This week Ed Miliband announced that Labour are supporting a long- term goal for the UK to be zero carbon by 2050. This kind of long term vision of the world we want is vital if we are going to get real about climate change and so it is positive to hear mainstream politicians talking about it. It is good because it sets a clear goal of what we are aiming for and it gives us something to measure our actions against. It also sends a clear message to fossil fuel companies that there is an end point for their dirty business. The fact is that the world is going to have to be carbon free at some point, when we do it is for us to decide. 2050 is the date that the UN scientists have agreed the world needs to be carbon free by in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. However, the UK needs to do this much sooner if we are going to tackle climate change fairly and equitably.
Either way, if we want a remotely decent chance of achieving this kind of long term goal, action absolutely must start now. This means that government policies of today need to be in line with this kind of carbon free vision of the future.
The Tories have not made any such announcement, but David Cameron did assure us that the coalition would be the ‘Greenest Government ever’. This has not happened. Coalition policy, particularly recently, is very worrying for those of us fighting the fight against climate change. In fact the policies are so far from green that I am still half convinced that it must all be a joke and David Cameron just has really bad craic.
As I write the Coalition are seeking to bring through lots of policy that would have disastrous consequences for ordinary people. What is worse is that this is being done by stealth. I always say that climate change is a symptom of an undemocratic world and so the fight against climate change is a fight to reinvigorate democracy; the policies being pushed through now, and the undemocratic methods being used to get them through are really clear examples of what we are up against. Here are just 4:
1. Super sneaky fracking changes
Across the country people have been objecting to dirty energy companies fracking under our homes. Many local councils have listened to these objections and decided to refuse planning permission as a result. David Cameron is seeking to undermine these efforts by taking away our power to say no to fracking under our homes.
A change in Trespass Law proposes to allow fracking companies to drill under people’s homes without their permission. This change is being smuggled through the law making process in the obscurely named ‘Infrastructure Bill’. Instead of listening to our objections, our government is responding to our legitimate concern by removing our rights.
This is the first vote on fracking in the UK and it is happening today! 26th January 2015. If the changes pass unchallenged we will have allowed fracking to happen in the UK. MP’s. People have been campaigning in support of amendments proposed by Caroline Lucas to protect our rights and you can join them if you do it very quick!
Some ministers are supporting this because they see shale gas as our long term energy plan. This is not consistent with a carbon free future and it is not democratic. Our government knows that we do not agree with them and they are trying to silence us. Some MP’s who perhaps would not be as supportive of the fracking changes will be voting the bill through even if the fracking clauses remain in place. This is because the bill is so packed with unrelated bits and pieces that many believe that on balance it is better to vote it through because there is more good than bad. This is just bad law making and it is undemocratic.
Unfortunately that’s just one part of the bill. There is another corker hidden in there, and this one is a legal obligation on government to ‘maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum’. TRANSLATION : Use as much oil as possible so “we” can get rich. This couldn’t be any more contradictory to the UK’s current pledges and legally binding commitments to tackle climate change. It is certainly not in line with a carbon free future.
2. Dodgy money lending
The UK government has provided well over a billion pounds in loans to fossil fuel projects around the world. This incentivising of the fossil fuel industry is not going to encourage the urgent transition that we need from dirty to clean energy. It is not the actions of a green government and it it goes against the Coalition’s own agreement to clamp down on funding for fossil fuel operations abroad.
Are you laughing yet? Don’t worry, there are a few more that might make you chuckle.
3. Weaseling out of promises (so not cool)
The UK and Czech Republic have had a brainstorm and come up with a plan to strip Brussels of its powers to act over non-implementation of EU climate and emissions policies. This would allow countries to ignore their obligations. As with the Infrastructure bill, this plan places business above the climate. It is clear whose interests these policies are in, and it is not ours.
4. TTIP – enough said.
Finally, we have TTIP. This wins the undemocratic process award! For anyone who hasn’t heard of this acronym, it is partnership that promises to “streamline globalisation” between the EU and USA, and then the rest of the world. If you thought this already sounded like bad news you would be right. It is terrifying.
There are three main things to note about TTIP. One is that its purpose is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. In terms of climate, this will expand fossil fuel exports from the U.S. to the EU, which will encourage further fossil fuel exploration in the US. One example of what this will mean is that fossil fuels like tar sands will be exported to Europe – this is the plan anyway. At the moment the EU Fuel Quality Directive acts as a barrier to the import of tar sands and rightly so. Tar Sands have been demonstrated to be ‘significantly more polluting than conventional oil’. Using tar sands is fundamentally incompatible with preventing the worst effects of climate change.
Indigenous people who are being displaced and poisoned by tar sands have been campaigning against its use for some time, and now campaigns across the U.S. are speaking against the oil being brought across to America via the Keystone XL pipeline. It couldn’t be clearer that this is not in our interests.
The second point about TTIP, which is not specific to climate (although it would have disastrous consequences) is extremely worrying. TTIP would enable big business to sue governments who do not act in their interests. This sounded completely crazy to me when I first heard about it and I thought that I must be missing something, but it really is as ugly as that.
A horrible mechanism called Investor – state dispute settlement would allow this to happen, and it is already happening in other parts of the world. In Australia the government decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets because it was decided to be in the interests of the public health. However, using a free trade agreement between Austrailia and Hong King, the tobacco company Philip Morris is suing the Australian government for its resulting financial loss.
Again the process that implements this mechanism is undemocratic. The hearings are held in secret and the judges often work for the type of companies who bring the cases. Ordinary people, even those affected by the decisions have no legal standing in these hearings whatsoever and there is no right of appeal on the merits of the case even though they are overruling the government. Hilarious right?
This mechanism could be used by companies to bring actions against future governments who seek to de-privatise health systems such as the NHS, re-regulate the banks or clamp down on the fossil fuel industry.
The third and final point to note about TTIP is probably the most important. It is this: the only reason that we know about it is because a draft of the document was leaked. There has been no consultation despite the fact that it is completely against our interests, but then again I suppose that is why we don’t know about it.
Democracy is being attacked from every direction by the coalition government. Not only are they implementing policies that are completely against the carbon free future that we need, they are also taking away our right to object. This is being done by many different ways across government right now. This is not conservatism, this is an attack on democratic values, and I hate to break to you, but sadly these are not jokes. They policies are very real.
If there is a positive side to all of this it is that the fossil fuel industry can hear us and they are worried. They are trying to drown us out in any way possible. We have to make sure that it does not work. We have to work together to make more noise than ever and to create the carbon free want that we know we need. This long term carbon free vision needs to be at the heart of politics. Climate change shouldn’t be a side topic, it should be part of jobs, energy and youth policies. It should be embedded in politics at PMQ’s, election speeches and manifestos in the run up to the general election this year.