What’s the single most important action for the environment you can take this year?
If you are one of those who have spent years campaiging for governments to take action on climate change will know how influential the EU has been in ensuring the UK has adequate environmental protections. For those of you who are newer to the space, here’s how some of the UK’s most established climate change campaigners are talking:
Make the time to vote on Thursday – it’s a simple action with huge consequences for the world’s climate and the UK’s environment.
The last few months have been hard for community energy projects with national support being slashed. However, here in Camden we have an opportunity to apply for support from a new source of funding, the Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL.
The CIL is a new tax collected by Camden Council and paid by developers after their planning permissions are implemented. It is charged on all developments which add one or more new dwellings or more than 100sqm of floor space. The funds raised can be spent on infrastructure projects such as schools, transport, green spaces or community buildings. Although the majority of the funds will be spent centrally, 25% of the CIL will be available for local projects allocated on a ward by ward basis. The amount expected to be available each year will vary considerably by ward from just £6,375 in Frognal and Fitzjohns to £379,463 in St Pancras and Somers Town.
Ward councillors have been given the responsibility for determining a priority list of projects by 8 January 2015 and we’d like to see community energy projects high on those lists.
As an example, the recent installation of solar panels at Camden School for Girls, estimated to save 14 tonnes of carbon emissions annually, shows that such projects are desirable, feasible and deliverable. The capital cost of £27,000 (including VAT) was difficult to raise from donors and is unlikely to be replicable but would not be a large sum in the context of the expected CIL funds for the ward.
Here at CamdenCAN, we are focusing on Cantelowes ward being a reasonably significant beneficiary of the CIL (circa £243,188 expected) and also one in which we have strong links. We have identified a number of potential sites to put forward but are interested in hearing about others. More importantly though we want to be able to demonstrate that we have the support of Cantelowes ward, so if you live in the area please please do get in touch. You can check which ward you live in here. If you’d like to take this idea forward in your own ward we’d be happy to help too.
With the election now a distant memory (perhaps), it’s time to turn our attention to other opportunities to influence those who can act at the scale needed to tackle climate change. The divestment campaign is developing such ability to influence with Axa announcing just last week that they were moving $500 million out of coal investments. Last night’s #keepitintheground campaign hosted by the Guardian was a timely reminder that the debate has moved on from being purely a moral issue to being a pragmatic one, from a debate about the science to a debate about the economic and political solutions.
The business case for divestment is robust: regulation (and hence cost) is increasing, alternatives such as solar are becoming increasingly cost competitive and the social licence for fossil fuel companies to operate is dropping away. The shift over the last two or three years is pronounced which is why public divestment now makes sense. Fossil fuel companies are betting that the world will not commit to holding global temperatures to a 2% rise, if we do then many of their assets (oil reserves) will be unusable – worthless – and the companies themselves will be worth significantly less. If we don’t commit, those assets might not lose value but our homes and cities will.
Investment managers recognise these risks, but can only divest of fossil fuels if you ask them to. So ask them. Ask your pension or ISA provider to divest, ask your workplace to do the same, join the campaign to persuade Camden council to divest. Use your money to do good rather than simply less bad. I divested a long time ago – it was easy to move my pension and ISA to an ethical one which avoided investment in fossil fuels and if you want to take one simple action to reduce climate change right now, this one is it.
At the #climatehustings on 8 April we asked for views on various aspects of climate change. As this hustings is about pushing climate change up the national agenda we have chosen to focus on those candidates who are polling strongly, where the candidates and their parties with the potential to influence the climate change debate both nationally but as importantly here in Camden. At the time of writing, there are three other registered candidates in Holborn & St Pancras.
Many thanks to Jocelyn Timperley from the Greener Good for allowing us to use her summary.
- Natalie Bennett from the Green Party appears fairly strongly pro most proposed measures to tackle climate change. Her focus is on renewables and their expansion in the UK as soon as possible. She is completely opposed to both nuclear power and fracking in the UK as well as HS2. She wants more working from home and the economy to be balanced more regionally. She wants to tax multinationals and the richest people. She supports an EU referendum – because the Greens support democracy – but is against TTIP, the secretive EU-US trade deal. She supports presumed liability.
- Will Blair from the Conservative Party has focussed on using business to drive solutions to combatting climate change. He thinks we need a diverse mix of energy, including nuclear and shale. He also doesn’t support HS2, unlike his party. He said he’s proud of the Conservative’s tax policy and is against an air passenger duty and fuel duty which he says will hit the poor. He says the Conservatives have opposed a decarbonisation commitment as it would have driven energy prices up, but that their new manifesto will likely have a 2050 target.
- Keir Starmer from the Labour Party says both his and Labour track record on the environment is good. We shouldn’t be wasting time thinking about a referendum to leave the EU and should instead be focussing on building a strong green economy. He supports clear-cut legal national and international emissions targets and has stressed the importance of the Paris COP21 climate summit. Also not too keen in HS2. He wants to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion but doesn’t support fossil fuel taxes which he’s worried hit the poor. He’s added that the Labour party is committed to decarbonisation of electricity by 2030.
- Jill Fraser from the Liberal Democrats prioritises education about responding to climate change for young people. She wants to encourage people to get out of cars and make the roads safer for cyclists. She’s pro-trains but against construction of the controversial high-speed rail HS2, which she thinks won’t achieve anything. She’s against fracking (though her party isn’t) and wants more of a focus on building energy efficient homes and onshore wind. She thinks a 2050 target for decarbonisation is achievable, but doesn’t want an increase in fuel taxation as she thinks this will hit the poor.
The 150 strong audience starting to gather
Beyond the important cross party agreement on climate change earlier in the year, there has been a remarkable silence on what the declaration states is “one of the most serious threats facing the world today”. Not only is this a lost opportunity to build public support for the critical changes needed, but it also hides from the view the very real differences between parties and indeed between local candidates and national party policy.
That’s why we invited Natalie Bennett, Greens, Will Blair, Conservatives, Jill Fraser, Liberal Democrats and Keir Starmer, Labour, all prospective MPs for Holborn & St Pancras, to take part in a debate on all aspects of climate change whether that be energy policy, tax, transport and international policy.
Being Holborn & St Pancras all candidates were in agreement about scrapping HS2 and the importance of tackling air pollution. But on broader issues such as fracking, nuclear power and tax there are significant differences. You can read a short summary of the candidates’ policies with a minute by minute analysis on greener good’s blog or by searching #climatehustings on twitter.
Sadly there is only a limited amount of time at a single hustings and we didn’t get chance to address all the questions people had. This is where you can help. Seek out opportunities to quiz both Holborn & St Pancras candidates and those in other constituencies on aspects of the debate that are important to you. Share the answers (you can email me, add them to the website or tweet) and put climate change back in the 2015 general election debate.
Many thanks to Camden School for Girls for hosting (and especially Martins Camisuli architects for sponsoring) and to Stephen Tindale for chairing.