Thursday, 8 October 2015

EU Committee of the Regions - ENVE Commission - 28/9/15 - VW Scandal

EU Committee of the Regions - Restrained from commenting on the VW emissions scandal

What dominated the ENVE Commission of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) for me, last week, was a proposal I made seeking to ensure that fines that were imposed on VW and other Car Manufacturers for falsifying emissions levels were used to help improve air quality in local communities. It seemed right that the companies that have made our communities less healthy due to emissions of NOX and other harmful particulates were made to pay for support for more sustainable forms of transport such as trams, cycle lanes and electric vehicle charging points. I had just come from Green Party Conference in Bournemouth and had heard the Greens Mayoral Candidate Sian Berry propose just such an approach.

As the Political Coordinator of the European Alliance Group on ENVE in the CoR I liaised with the other Political Groups Coordinators to see if we could agree a statement. This was what I proposed.

A statement from the ENVE Commission of the Committee of the Regions on the VW Emissions scandal

VW cheating on emissions tests on diesel vehicles sold in the US looks likely to extend to vehicles sold in Europe. We do not yet know if other vehicle manufacturers will be revealed as having behaved in a similar manner. The real losers here are the people in our towns and cities who breathe in these emissions with the impact on their health. Poor air quality will have a disproportionately severe impact on the health of people with respiratory conditions, the very young and elderly people.

Undoubtedly there will be fines that will be levied on VW and possibly other vehicle manufacturers. Those fines should be dedicated to repairing the damage that has been caused. They need to be reinvested back in projects that improve air quality. They need to pay for alternatives to polluting combustion engines such as public transport, light rail, trams, infrastructure for electric vehicles, cycle ways and support for pedestrian routes.

This approach is in line with the Committee of the Regions opinion on the Clean  Air Policy Package for Europe where it states hat we need to establish,

"Clean up programmes comprising measures aiming to meet the air quality standards"

Who better to pay for these clean up programmes than the manufacturers who bear a heavy responsibility for the quality of air in our towns and cities.

ThIs scandal also shows clearly that we need strict and transparent emissions and consumption test cycles at the EU level which realistically reflect everyday driving conditions. Such tests, which need to be checked by independent experts, are essential to allow consumers to make informed choices and stimulate innovation towards more sustainable transport an lower emissions.

We propose that the Committee of  the Regions write to the Commission calling on them to support the  passport of funds from any compensation claims to municipalities enabling them to establish clean up programmes.

A helpful amendment was received from the PES Group (Socialists) on emissions testing which I was happy to accept. A short meeting of the 5 Political Coordinators and the Chair went over the text and agreed it. All seemed to be going well and we seemed on schedule to adopt it. As I took my place in the chamber for the afternoon session of the meeting I got approached by another member of the CoR ENVE Committee who I had not previously spoken with called Cor Lamers. He identified himself as the Rapporteur responsible for the Clean Air Policy Package opinion from 2014 that I referred to in the statement. He clearly wasn't happy with the proposed statement and said it was not the intention of the opinion he lead on to be used in this way. I did try to get to the bottom of what his real objections were but that didn't become clear to me through our, admittedly short, conversation. 

Later I read out the revised statement to the 40 or so members present so the translators could ensure all  could understand its contents. No objections were received (Cor Lamers was no longer in the meeting). It was passed but with a proviso from the Chair that it be passed Mr Lamers as the Rapporteur on the Clean Air Policy Package for Europe Opinion to which the statement referred. The following day one of the right of centre groups, the European Peoples Party (EPP) withdrew its support for the statement. This meant it could not go out as a view of the ENVE Commission. I'm sure it's no coincidence that Cor Lamers is also a member of the EPP. Later the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) Group also belatedly withdrew their support. It was bizarre indeed that a statement that was agreed by all Political Coordinators in the ENVE Commission and then agreed by the meeting itself with no contrary voices should find itself effectively vetoed after the event.

I am still mystified as to the reasons why. Why would politicians block a proposal to help improve the air quality in our towns and cities. I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories but this makes no sense at all. We had an opportunity to produce a clear view from the CoR ENVE Commission that could influence the powerful European Commission but we were blocked. A disappointing and  perplexing series of events.

PRESS RELEASE - Greens call for Government rescue package for the Energy Efficiency Industry

Mark Group established in 1974 & closed down as a direct result of Tory Government policies in 2015

The Green Party have called on the Conservative Government to provide an immediate rescue package for staff who have lost their jobs in the energy efficiency industry and for  a complete rethink of their lack of support for green industries.

Large long standing energy efficiency companies Mark Group and Climate Energy have gone into administration following Government cuts to the Green Deal, an abandonment of Zero Carbon Homes and faltering funding through the Energy Company Obligation. Over a thousand jobs are under immediate threat.

Green Party Energy Spokesperson Andrew Cooper said

“ Only last week Government unveiled a £80million package of training and support to establish new businesses for 1700 staff who lost their jobs when the SSI Steelworks at Redcar lost their jobs when the company SSI went into liquidation. Over 1000 people jobs are now at risk in the energy efficiency industry. This is a direct result of the Government abandonment of green policies so it bears a heavy responsibility for the loss of those jobs. Greens are calling for an equivalent package for staff losing their jobs in the energy efficiency sector.”

“Of course the sensible thing would be for government to have consistent policies that promote insulation and small scale renewable energy installations  but while we wait in hope for Government to realise this we need support now for workers who have lost their jobs”


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Kirklees Greens Fossil Fuel Divestment Motion Passed!

Motion submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 14 as to Fossil Free Kirklees
To consider the following Motion submitted in the names of Councillors Allison and Cooper;

“This Council recognises;
(i)  the challenge and threat of climate change to residents and global community.
(ii) that to keep global warming below 2oC we must operate within a global carbon budget. 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned if we are to keep below the internationally agreed climate change goal of keeping below 2 degrees
(iii)  the growing movement to divest from fossil fuels in order to, in the words of Desmond Tutu, "break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change."
(iv) that there is also a strong financial case for divestment ,with recent concerns raised by the Bank of England about 'unburnable carbon' and significant financial risks posed by fossil fuel equities.
(v) that governments are increasingly controlling carbon emissions to meet international targets; a large proportion of fossil-fuel reserves which companies expect to extract will become stranded assets: a "carbon bubble". Funds which are exposed to fossil-fuel equities when this bubble bursts can expect to suffer considerable losses.
(vi) that Pension Fund Trustees owe fiduciary duties to scheme employers and scheme members, and must act in the best long-term interests of fund members.
This Council believes that;

The Director of Resources is requested to review the existing Treasury Management Strategy, and present a report to Corporate Governance and Audit Committee, Cabinet and Council to giving consideration to an additional principle of avoiding direct investment in institutions with material links to fossil fuel extraction as defined by the Carbon Underground 200 – the top 200 companies with the largest known carbon reserves (oil, gas and coal) by June 2016.

Kirklees Council will encourage other local authorities to similarly reviewing their Fossil Fuel industry investments, by sharing this decision through the Local Government Association and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Kirklees Council will use its influence to call on West Yorkshire Pension Fund and other Funds where the Council appoints Trustees to review investments in the fossil fuel industry (as defined by the Carbon Underground 200). Specifically Kirklees will ask our representatives on the West Yorkshire Pension Fund - Investment Advisory Panel to call on all Pension Trustees to exercise their fiduciary duty and to call for a review of WYPF fossil fuel investments in the light of climate risk posed by fossil fuel equities.

Kirklees Council request that WYPF makes a commitment to wind down exposure to the carbon underground top 200 fossil fuel companies over a 5 year period.”

Kirklees Green Cllrs Motion on Solar Photovoltaic Feed In Tariff cuts passed

Councillor Andrew Cooper outside some of the Kirklees homes benefitting from the Green Party 2000 house solar programme

 Green Party Motion on Solar Photovoltaic Feed In Tariff cuts

This Council notes

• Conservative Government proposals to cut the Feed In Tariff for Solar Photovoltaics by 87% from 1/1/15.

• That these cuts will mean a catastrophic reduction in the amount of solar panels being installed, leading to significant job losses and putting our modest 2020 EU Renewable Energy targets at risk.

• The threat to Kirklees Councils 2000 home solar PV programme that will help reduce energy costs for many low income households

The Council calls on the Chief Executive to write to the UK Government requesting that they enter talks with the Solar Industry to agree a plan that delivers a sustainable future  for the solar industry (e.g. Solar Trade Association's Solar Independence Plan)

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Community News - Community Orchard Action in Lowerhouses

From Left to Right – Cllr Karen Allison, Geoff Durrans, Ruth Elliott, Jon Blacktop, John Avison, Councillor Julie Stewart-Turner, Geof Hughes, Pip Avison, Sean Kirkbright

Local Green Party Councillors joined residents for a clear back of brambles at Hey Green above Lowerhouses. The team spent a good 2 hours clearing  back masses of brambles from around the trees to keep the orchard clear and allow the trees to grow. The activity was promoted by Newsome Ward Community Forum which is chaired by Councillor Julie Stewart-Turner.

Councillor Karen Allison who helped with the cutting back of the brambles said, “ It was hard but enjoyable work. You get a real sense of satisfaction from the huge amount of area that we all managed to shift in just a few hours. It was great being part of a team of people just trying to improve our local environment. More people should get involved . It’s fun!”