Category Archives: climate change

The World Health Organisation’s Manifesto for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the 73rd World Health Assembly.  May 18th 2020:

“The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable.”

A summary

COVID-19 is the greatest global shock in decades.  Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and the world’s economy likely faces the worst recession since the 1930s.  The resulting loss of employment and income will cause further damage to livelihoods, health, and sustainable development. 

We cannot go back to the way we did things before.

Increasing numbers of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola, have made the jump from wildlife to humans – and all available evidence suggests that COVID-19 has followed the same route.

As infections spread, a lack of universal health coverage has left billions of people, including many in rich countries, without reliable and affordable access to medical treatment.

Massive inequalities have meant that deaths and loss of livelihoods have been strongly driven by socioeconomic status, often compounded by gender and minority status.

Attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, emergency preparedness, health systems, and social safety nets, has proven to be a false economy – and the bill is now being paid many times over.

The world cannot afford repeated disasters on the scale of COVID-19, whether they are triggered by the next pandemic, or from mounting environmental damage and climate change. Going back to “normal” is not good enough.

In adversity, the crisis has also brought out some of the best in our societies, from solidarity among neighbours, to the bravery of health and other key workers in facing down risks to their own health to serve their communities, to countries working together to provide emergency relief or to research treatments and vaccines.

The “lockdown” measures that have been necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 have slowed economic activity, and disrupted lives – but have also given some glimpses of a possible brighter future. In some places, pollution levels have dropped to such an extent that people have breathed clean air, or have seen blue skies and clear waters, or have been able to walk and cycle safely with their children – for the first times in their lives.

National governments are now committing trillions of dollars, in a matter of weeks, to maintain and eventually resuscitate economy activity.  These investments are essential to safeguard people’s livelihoods, and therefore their health.

But the allocation of these investments, and the policy decisions that will guide both short- and long-term recovery, have the potential to shape the way we live our lives, work and consume for years to come.

Nowhere is this more important than in their effects on environmental degradation and pollution, and particularly on the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming and the climate crisis.

Decisions made in the coming months can either “lock in” economic development patterns that will do permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems that sustain all human health and livelihoods, or, if wisely taken, can promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. 

To read the World Health Organisation’s prescriptions for a healthy, green recovery go to its newsroom.

There is widespread public support for policies that do not seek only to maximize GDP, but to protect and enhance wellbeing, and for governments to combat climate change and environmental destruction with the same seriousness with which they are now fighting COVID-19. It is also shown by the millions of young people who have mobilized to demand action not only on climate and biodiversity – but also for the right to breathe clean air, and for their future on a liveable planet.

 

 

 

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Jane Morrice: in a post COVID-19 future, reset the teaching of economics

In a recent article, Wendy Carlin reflected, “Covid-19 along with climate change could be the driving forces of our age to transform economic thinking, policy and the choices people make.”

She referred to a “new way to talk about the economy” and that prompted a response from Jane Morrice (right), whose wide experience includes serving as Deputy Speaker of the NI Assembly.

Her letter advocated a fundamental reset of the teaching of basic economic theory which would require a new culture regarding health as a nation’s wealth, natural resources as its riches and people as its priority.

Our outdated approach to economic principles should be replaced by one which links social, environmental and economic policy and places a sustainable, socially just society alongside job creation and growth in one all-inclusive new theory, “socenomics”.

Jane believes Covid-19 has proved that our economy is intrinsically linked with the health of society and the environment. But our education is divided into information management silos.

She sees the need for radical change in the way we measure and value success to overcome these divisions; the use of gross domestic product to measure national success should be replaced by a system that goes beyond pennies in pockets or investment in stocks and should measure:

  • medics per inhabitant,
  • disease control
  • and levels of air and water quality

Her conclusion: a approach which places a sustainable, socially just society alongside job creation and growth in one all-inclusive new theory, ‘socenomics’ would offer “a simple, yet comprehensive, solution to the most serious challenges facing 21st-century society”.

 

 

 

 

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Will the post virus economy collapse or emerge leaner and fitter?

Many people facing the corona virus pandemic are focussing on immediate needs and requirements but some correspondents – and hopefully heads of state – are looking further.

A Moseley resident writes: “Once again, the bill will have to be paid. Expect years of austerity to pay for this virus disaster. I’m guessing that, otherwise the currency will be valueless and inflation will run riot. At the moment we’re in 1918 to be followed by 1920 and then 1930 and 1940 ….

A clear, convincing and relatively optimistic account was written on March 7th by Australian-born economist, Dr Steve Keen (right).

Dr Keen’s breadth and depth of education inspires confidence: it includes Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Sydney in the ‘70s and later a Master of Commerce and a PhD in economics in the ‘90s at the University of New South Wales in 1998. He is currently professor and Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London.

His article A Modern Jubilee as a Cure to the Financial Ills of the Coronavirus – is summarised here. Some links and graphics added

He points out that this is the first disease to compare to the Spanish Flu in terms of both transmissibility and virulence. Europe was embroiled in World War I at the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Its health and population impacts were huge: estimates of the death toll vary between 40 and 100 million in a global population of 1.8 to 1.9 billion.

But its financial effects were mild, disruptions to the war economy for much of the world were relatively small, with guaranteed employment and wages for military personnel, rationing for the general public and other wartime measures. Crucially, private debt was a mere 55% of US GDP when the flu outbreak began. The private sector was relatively robust.

The situation is vastly different today. Our great financial crisis, the “Great Recession” or “Global Financial Crisis”, lies in the recent past, and its primary cause is still with us: US private sector debt is just 20% of GDP lower than its peak during the crisis, three times higher than at the time of the Spanish Flu.

In addition, we now have “the gig economy” and precarious jobs in industries which are likely are likely to be hard hit by the Coronavirus: health itself, entertainment, restaurants, tourism, education. They could lose their jobs, and be unable to service their debts or pay their rents, or even buy food.

Many employers could also be unable to service their debts. Corporations in the USA have levered up during the period of Quantitative Easing, pushing the US corporate debt to GDP ratio to an all-time record. It is also twice the level that applied during the Spanish Flu. Many corporations will find their cash flows dry up and many will find these debt levels crushing.

The production system is also more vulnerable than at the time of the Spanish Flu.

The global economy today relies on long and complicated supply chains, with many goods being produced from components manufactured in dozens of countries and shipped between them on container vessels.

  • If manufacturing in even one place (such as China) comes to a near standstill, production elsewhere will do the same.
  • “Just in Time” manufacturing methods will run out of inputs, even if their factories are still capable of operating.
  • Shipping could be affected if crews refuse to undertake trips that can take weeks with potentially asymptomatic carriers on board, or if crews are quarantined for two weeks prior to departure.
  • Shares are likely to plunge in value. We have already seen a 14% fall in the S&P500 (though followed by a 5% rebound on Monday March 2nd) . . . We are clearly in the exponential phase of the pandemic. It will ultimately taper, but at present the number of cases outside China is doubling every 2-6 days, depending on the country.
  • Banks will also suffer badly. The asset side of their ledgers includes corporate shares: if these fall in value, banks will find their assets plunging, while their liabilities remain constant. A bank cannot: it must have assets that exceed its liabilities, or it is bankrupt.

A private non-financial company can continue to operate with negative equity, so long as it can pay its debts as and when they fall due even if its liabilities are greater than their assets. But a bank cannot: it must have assets that exceed its liabilities, or it is bankrupt.

A credit-driven, private sector monetary system is not capable of handling a systemic crisis like this. If the rules of such a system are enforced, it will make the crisis worse:

  • renters and mortgagors will be evicted, put on the streets, where they are more likely to catch and transmit the virus,
  • personal hygiene and public health will suffer, when one is needed to slow the pandemic, and the other must be functional to support its current victims,
  • stock markets will crash,
  • banks themselves will fail as their shareholdings plunge in value, bringing the payments system to an end
  • and even those unaffected by the crisis will be unable to shop.

It is, on the other hand, possible for Central Banks and financial regulators, once authorised by their governments, to take actions that prevent the medical crisis from becoming a financial one.

Other mechanisms may exist, but these are the obvious ones to prevent a financial pandemic on top of a medical one.

First: make a direct payment now, on a per-capita basis, to all residents via their primary bank accounts (most effectively, their accounts through which they pay taxes).

As Quantitative Easing has shown, this does not have to be financed by asset purchases. It is quite possible for Central Banks to put a notional asset on their balance sheets to finance. This is already done by the Bank of England to back the value of the notes issued by Scottish Banks: a bill known as a Titan with a face value of £100 million balances the value of bank notes issued by Scottish banks.

The same could be done by any Central Bank to balance a direct cash transfer to the bank accounts of all residents of its country – see People’s Quantitative Easing (Coppola 2019).

This already has been done in Hong Kong. The payment there is HK$10,000, or roughly US$2,000. It does not need to be financed by the Treasury or by taxation: neither were used by the USA to support its $1 trillion dollars per year Quantitative Easing program. There will be no “debt burden for future generations”.

Secondly: boost share prices by buying shares directly.

Quantitative Easing was intended to boost share prices. Clearly it worked—but there is no guarantee that it would work in this situation.

Instead, Central Banks should directly buy shares, as they are also quite capable of doing: Japan’s Central Bank has been doing this for several years already. This puts money in the bank accounts of shareholders, while the shares are then owned by the Central Bank. This could prevent a collapse in share prices, which in turn could prevent a collapse in the banking sector—since if shares fall substantially, many banks will find that their assets are worth less than their liabilities, and they would be forced to declare bankruptcy.

Central Banks can also cope with a share market collapse in a way that private banks and financial institutions cannot. Unlike a private bank, a Central Bank can operate with negative equity. If there was still a stock market crash, a Central Bank holding shares would still be able to operate.

Thirdly: suspend standard bankruptcy rules while the crisis exists

Banks and financial institutions in particular are vulnerable to bankruptcy in this crisis. Non-financial companies which are heavily exposed to the pandemic—health companies, airlines and other transport firms, education providers (including many public universities reliant on student fees), restaurants, sporting grounds—could see their revenues plummet, making them unable to service their debts, and therefore liable to bankruptcy.

Corporations exposed to Coronavirus-driven losses of revenues should also be able to receive direct aid from Central Banks as well. This could take the form of the sale of newly issued shares in return for cash—it should not be in the form of debt, which would simply replace one problem with another.

As Professor Keen ends his constructive and reassuring article, the words of John and Andy, from Moseley and Bournville, have been blended to give their views on a post pandemic future:

If we look coolly, perhaps rather brutally, at our situation, a complete generation may be wiped out, but in the worst scenario most humans on the planet are unlikely to die and the younger members least of all. The NHS will be saved millions by not having to treat the elderly and generally infirm. Pensions will be reduced and a younger, leaner, more focused workforce that realises how soft we had become will take up the cudgels to drive the economy onwards. Human life will go on and maybe the lessons learnt from tackling this infection will help in facing the next.

 

 

 

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A different kind of life is possible: Bruce Kent

After a US commander revealed the information to the Senate, the Ministry of Defence confirmed on Sunday that it has committed the taxpayer to fund a multi billion pound replacement of Trident, with nuclear warheads based on US technology.

Colin Archer and Dave Webb point out that, given the importance of finding large sums of public money to fund the now-urgent green transition, this is the right time to highlight the huge sums devoted to the military sector and top of the list is the UK’s commitment to nuclear weapons. The proposed slogan for Global Days of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) is ‘Military spending costs the Earth’. 

Amongst the articles listed on the GDAMS international campaign website was one by Bruce Kent originally published in Peace News. The article opens with his tribute to the readable, international and interesting Peace News, before signing off, at least for a time. He thanked all on the team, especially the very modest editor and continued:

Hospital is always an eye-opening experience. Any London hospital is an international community on its own: a Portuguese doctor, nurses from the Philippines and all parts of Africa – all helpful and concerned even if very over-worked. My biggest shock came in a chat with a young trainee nurse. I asked if she did an eight-hour day. She just smiled. Her working day runs for 12½ hours. She lives at least an hour away in South London. So she has about eight or nine hours at home to sleep, cook, eat and have any kind of social life. Not fair. It’s not just money that the NHS needs but good working conditions as well.

In the run-up to the general election, both main parties promised many millions to be spent on increased NHS funding. Why did they not say this and do it long ago?

We can apparently afford £200 billion for a new set of very non-independent nuclear missile submarines. Missiles are on rotating loan from the US, which no one seems to notice. Not a word so far, in all the electioneering that I have heard, about nuclear bombs except for a contemptuous mention that Jeremy Corbyn would not ‘press the button’ – and so kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians far away.

Our concern about military expenditure is clearly a global one. Only recently a report came through my letterbox from the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) started by the International Peace Bureau in 2011.

(Right: Bruce and other campaigners attended a GDAMS protest and letter hand-in at the MoD in April 2019)

GCOMS concentrates every April-May on actions all around the world, highlighting the connection between military expenditure and the lack of money for real human needs. Last time, there were 110 events in 27 countries – with UK events in York, Bradford and London. Have a look at the work in progress on www.demilitarize.org.

The need is obvious. The money spent on war and the preparations for war is a scandal and ought to be commonly recognised as such. The global military budget is now not far off two trillion dollars a year. We now have the climate change campaigners with us.

To read the small print click here and use the magnifying glass symbol to read the data from SIPRI’s Arms Transfers Database (March 2019)

Military production involves the release of CO2 in massive quantities. The two great current perils, war and climate change, are dangerous twins.

Many of the events are fun to organise, such as the ‘Move the money’ selfie project, or stalls offering passers-by the opportunity to indicate their alternative budget choices (buttons in jam jars or buckets work well, labelled ‘education’, ‘green energy’, etc). We need a group campaigning on military expenditure to be active in every part of this country, but that means hard and imaginative work and energy. We need an enthusiastic volunteer to coordinate and encourage more GCOMS events next spring. How about you?

From “The Chance for Peace,” a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

The best quote that I can end with comes, rather surprisingly, from a US general. Dwight Eisenhower was never a hawk. He can’t have been popular in his world for saying that the nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945 were never necessary. He had this to say in 1953 and you may well recognise the quotation: Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This is not a way of life. Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron….’

Bruce ends: “A different kind of life is possible. Let’s together make it happen”.

 

 

 

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More localised commerce, industry, food, transport and energy provision during the next Labour Government: Paul Halas

It is now understood that the greatest threat to humanity – and the planet – is climate change. Labour introduced the parliamentary debate that led to the UK being the first nation to declare a Climate Emergency.

The planet can’t take any more. People will have to adapt to the changes that will inevitably take place. We’re never going to revert to a pre-industrial society, but we must be prepared to embrace less wasteful technologies, a less destructive food industry and less materialistic lifestyles.

The Labour Party is committed to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, but with far greater use of renewable energy, along with greener transport and farming methods, the aim is to reach this target considerably earlier. Stroud District Council is one of those who have long term plans to become a Community Wealth Building council. That means using local services and companies whenever possible, reducing the council’s carbon footprint and keeping money within the area.

The idea is that communities and councils always give priority to local suppliers and services. For instance when building a new school, or hospital, or sports complex, etc, local firms will always be preferred to the big players to carry out the work. The same goes for services.

The next Labour Government will introduce a Green New Deal (GND), collaborating with scientists, industry and trade unions to work towards net zero carbon emissions by 2030. The UK’s infrastructure – transport, communications, energy and transport systems – have suffered from decades of underinvestment. Over the next ten years Labour will make £250 billion available to invest in a fit for purpose, green economy.

  • Four million homes will be insulated, helping to cut carbon emissions, reduce bills and improve health.
  • Grants will be available to make homes more energy efficient,
  • Labour will make it easier to obtain solar panels.
  • Energy will be taken back into public ownership in order to deliver renewable energy at an affordable price – bringing an end to fuel poverty.

Money earned in the locality will stay in the locality and benefit local people

Local energy cooperatives will be formed up and down the country, each using the most practical renewable energy sources in their locality. Under the Labour Green New Deal such local energy suppliers will be encouraged, especially if they are publicly-owned, or run by people’s co-operatives. The GND will replace old industries and technologies with new, sustainable ones; far from putting people out of work, thousands of new fairly-paid, unionised jobs will be created in every area – with training offered so people can adapt to them. Priority will be given to sourcing materials, components and services locally wherever possible.

The vast inequalities we see now will have to be addressed; a fully sustainable economy will by its nature focus far more on well-being than wealth. Commerce will have to be more localised: local credit unions will be created, house-building schemes, housing associations, food co-operatives – cooperatives and small businesses will become the norm rather than big business empires. 

This commitment will entail the most radical change our society has seen, but will lead to a far more sustainable and equitable future. The next Labour Government’s introduction of a Green New Deal will cut down our carbon output by reducing transport of both people and goods and encourage green technologies. It will also create worthwhile employment opportunities in every region and reduce our dependence on the big corporations.

What’s not to like?

 

 

 

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Reviews of John McDonnell’s ‘somewhat alarming publication’

Chris Giles, Economics Editor of the Financial Times, reviews Economics for the Many, a collection of essays by leftwing thinkers who support the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, with an introduction by John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.

Giles agrees that there is an urgent need for a galvanising economic manifesto for the new left in British politics, because the UK economy has performed poorly since the global financial crisis a decade ago, with stagnant real wages, feeble productivity growth, large cuts to vital public services and many households finding either good jobs or affordable housing out of reach.

“At the core of this programme is a new set of models, institutions and strategies that, if put in place, would in and of themselves produce vastly improved societal outcomes”. It includes:

  • a plan to build a radically fairer and more sustainable society, in which wealth is shared by all.
  • changing the ownership of companies,
  • ending short-termism in the financial sector,
  • a programme of green investment
  • and much greater regional devolution of state powers.

Giles notes some inconsistencies and omissions and complains that “precious little space is devoted to how Britain should deal with an ageing society, housing or how to manage the existing public sector responsibilities of health, education, police or the armed forces”.

He concludes: “If you want a new left coherent programme, this is not it . . . But for all its flaws, the book serves a useful guide to the thinking and language of the new left. Fellow travellers must oppose austerity, financialisation and neoliberalism, while rising to the challenge of radical democratic ownership of the means of production”.

The book will be available in paperback this month and its online blurb says: “With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the extraordinary turnaround in Labour’s fortunes in the 2017 election, we have a real opportunity to build an economy in Britain that is radically fairer, radically more democratic, and radically more sustainable”.

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The Telegraph’s Liam Halligan writes in the Spectator: Those wanting an idea of how the world’s fifth biggest economy might look under Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn should take a look at McDonnell’s speech. For more detail, you can read the book he edited – Economics for the Many – published just before the conference . . .

McDonnell (above) writes: ”Calls for the nationalisation of water, electricity and gas, the Royal Mail and trains, greeted with howls of outrage and press derision, are very popular with the public”.

Halligan comments. “To some extent, that’s true. A recent YouGov poll suggested around 60% of voters think the railways and Royal Mail should be back in public hands, with half wanting water and energy companies re-nationalised”.

He touches on some of the inconsistencies voiced by Giles but continues: “Having said that, this volume does pose some relevant and pressing questions – with McDonnell asking, for instance, if government should ‘deal with Big Data’ by creating ‘new digital rights’. He singles out:

  • a chapter by technology researcher Francesca Bria on ‘surveillance capitalism’, which raises similar key issues, ranging from ‘the monopoly power of the tech giants’ to ‘a new tax on digital platforms’;
  • an argument by Prem Sikka, the respected accountancy academic, that ‘tax revenues are under relentless attack from wealthy elites’ and ‘tackling tax avoidance and evasion is one of the major social and political issues of our time’. He’s not wrong;
  • Ann Pettifor’s call for investment into jobs relating to renewable energy – a policy we’re hearing much more of, after 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the New York Democrat primary this summer, on a ‘Green New Deal’ ticket. Almost certain to enter Congress in November, her agenda will be catapulted into the political mainstream;’.
  • Christopher Proctor’s chapter about the need for academic economics to get beyond its ‘theoretical strait-jacket’, to become ‘more open, diverse and relevant to the real world’ and
  • McDonnell’s call for ‘a real devolution of powers and resources out from the centre’ of the UK -adding it is, indeed, disturbing Britain is ‘the most geographically unequal country in Europe’ – with ‘the richest single area – central London – but also nine of Northern Europe’s ten most deprived areas’.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto promise of a corporation tax rise from 19% to 26% (the Tories plan a cut to 17% by 2021) and the party’s proposal for public spending to increase by around £75bn, a 10% uplift, over the next three years, leads Halligan to warn, “Such measures could well result in a much weaker currency, higher interest rates and slower growth. Similarly, Labour’s share transfer plans may provoke capital flight, curtail investment and, in the words of the Confederation of British Industry, ‘crack the foundations’ of prosperity’ “. And Halligan ends:

Amid corporate scandals, a massive housing shortfall and polarising wealth inequality, UK capitalism faces a crisis of confidence. Senior Tories, if they fail adequately to respond, are fools. For, as McDonnell writes in this somewhat alarming publication, his ‘better world is in sight’ “.

 

 

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Northern Green New Deal Powerhouse

After a meeting last May of groups interested in developing campaigns on the Green New Deal in the UK, the ‘30 by 30’ campaign was set up to ensure that around 28 million UK dwellings and 2 million commercial and public sector buildings are made energy efficient by 2030.

Since then, Colin, wearing his Green New Deal Group hat, has been having discussions with energy efficiency experts and activists in the North of England and this has resulted in the idea of a ‘Northern Green New Deal Powerhouse’, explored in an article published by Brave New Europe, which serves as an interface between experts and civil society groups supporting the creation of an egalitarian, just, sustainable and social Europe.

Edited extracts – read the full article here

The Brexit fog has lifted just long enough to allow David Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the constant background call in the US and Europe for a Green New Deal to put the climate emergency centre stage in the UK public debate, affecting the outcomes of the European Elections.

The momentum behind these demands must be maintained, gaining widespread public support leading to the necessary Government action.

A Green New Deal approach, seen to benefit the majority by making all buildings energy efficient, will provide secure, well paid jobs in every constituency and tackle fuel poverty (‘Jobs in every constituency’) .

A new ‘30 by 30’ target

The UK Government’s 2050 target must be bought forward. To further these goals, it is time to consider a ‘30 by 30’ initiative to ensure that around 28 million UK dwellings and 2 million commercial and public sector buildings  are made energy efficient by 2030.

In the UK there is now a political urgency for such a comprehensive approach to be considered, given the possibility of an Autumn election in the UK and talk of opposition parties forming local alliances. Helpfully our call for a ‘jobs in every constituency’ Green New Deal last year gained the because addressing the climate emergency is now an unavoidable political priority.

This ‘30 by 30’ target could cut carbon emissions by around 40%. It would also have the social advantages of dealing with fuel poverty and requiring a massive multi skilled, training programme resulting in a wide range of long term, well paid jobs, as well as business and investment opportunities in every community. Local democracy could flourish since enacting this huge programme will require consultation and the involvement of the workers and recipients of this ‘30 by 30’ programme.

The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a project to boost economic growth in the North of England, initiated by the 2010-15 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and centred on the “Core Cities” of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle. This has resulted in half the people living in the North now being governed by mayors with increased but still limited powers and the setting up of Transport for the North with a £70bn investment blueprint.

However this has not been experienced on the ground as a gain for the majority, since the reality of the Government’s austerity programme is that overall public spending for the area has been cut by £3.6 billion between 2009/10 and 2017/18, while the South East and the South West together saw a £4.7 billion rise (in real terms). London also saw a cut in spending, but by far less, at £256 million . In terms of the crucial research and development the Golden Triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford attracts over half of all research funding – more than £17bn. A mere £0.6bn goes to the north east. Cambridge, with a population of 285,000, has as many private R&D jobs as the whole of the north, with a population of 15 million.

However these trends could be significantly changed were a labour intensive ‘30 by 30’ Green New Deal programme be introduced for the region, making all buildings carbon neutral by 2030. Conveniently this fits in well with the climate emergency calls from the leaders of the Northern Powerhouse’s ‘core cities’ since most already have a 2030 deadline for becoming carbon neutral .

The scope for a comprehensive energy efficiency programme which will both generate a huge range of jobs and improve living conditions for millions in this area is enormous. There are approximately 2,750,000 homes in the north of England suitable for cavity or solid wall insulation and 1,140,000 homes are suitable for loft insulation.  In addition to this there would be huge potential for solar PV on roofs, replacing gas boilers with heat pumps or community heating schemes, battery storage and smart meters.

To act as an inspiring example for the whole country would require spreading the Northern Green New Deal Powerhouse approach to every nook and cranny of the region. In addition to its five major city regions, the area has within it 265 towns, almost 1,000 villages and smaller communities. It also has 29 Universities which could help become the hub of a massive retraining programme for the range of skills required to make all the area’s buildings energy efficient.

The Policies Required

E3G’s comprehensive report, “Affordable Warmth, Clean Growth” has already detailed a comprehensive Buildings Energy Infrastructure Programme and dedicated delivery agency to achieve major energy savings and de-carbonise the UK heating supply. It set out an action plan to make all homes energy efficient within 20 years, although this timeline is in the process of being shortened for an update to the report. Achieving this goal will require the adoption of world-leading quality standards for retrofitting and constructing homes, area-based schemes led by local authorities, additional funding sources that won’t raise energy bills and financial incentives to encourage households to take up energy-saving measures.

In terms of what this would mean for the Northern Powerhouse, IPPR North details in its report ‘A Northern Energy Strategy’ a similarly comprehensive programme from the perspective of the resources available and the needs that must be met in the North. This emphasises that its policies would be driven more effectively at a local level, by actors who are trusted, who understand their local housing stock and those that live within it.

Strong national and local political support for such a ’30 by 30’ approach could come from the Northern Powerhouse All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) which brings together Northern MPs and Peers with the new Metro Mayors and key leaders from local government, the private and third sectors.

Finally this would help address the Remain versus Leave divide since it would result in ‘jobs in every constituency and would help bridge the gap so eloquently expressed by a French yellow jackets jibe–“Our elites are talking about the end of world when we are talking about the end of the month.”

Relevance to European and US Green New Deal Campaigns

 There are roughly 300 million homes and other buildings in the European Union and they currently represent almost 40% of total final energy consumption . Therefore making them all carbon neutral and so providing jobs in every community can make a crucial contribution to the growing demands for a European Green New Deal that addresses both environmental and social concerns.

The US Green New Deal has at its heart making every residential and industrial building energy efficient. Given there are around 140 million residential buildings alone in the US this by definition means jobs in every district in the country, both Republican and Democrat. Such a Green New Deal could therefore be the cornerstone of the Democrats’ attempt to beat Donald Trump in 2020.

Why Should This Happen?

The answer to this is climate events and the beginning of the end of austerity. With Europe threatened with ‘hell is coming’ heat waves and a growing Eurozone crisis and international slowdown resulting in a reconsideration of austerity both in the EU  and the IMF , the stage is set for the climate emergency movements demands to be translated into jobs in every community.

Finally there is a timely precedent for such a transformational achievement. Fifty years ago this month the US put a man on the moon within a decade of President Kennedy’s original call to do so. This time the priority must be to save the planet, not to leave it.

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts on the state of the Labour Party: Rex Harris

 

Three years ago Rex Harris (below) reflected on the state of his beloved Labour Party and hoped to demonstrate that the present “doom and gloom” is totally unjustified. His thoughts are well worth revisiting.

Although society has made enormous strides in technology and science we are still living under a very regressive political system. Thus we still have the primitive “first pass the post” electoral system whereby, with just 38% of the vote, the Tories have been re-elected for another depressing 5 years during which time the gap between rich and poor will become even wider.

The cabinet is still predominantly ex-public school and male and in the composition of the new parliament of around 650 MPs, only a very tiny minority will have any significant scientific/engineering background and hence technical knowledge. I believe that in the last parliament there was only one science -based PhD and, in the current lot the picture is probably even worse. This critical absence of any technical expertise is extremely worrying as the quality of the future is dependent on implementing long term, technically-based measures determined by the overwhelming need to reduce carbon. The mammoths in the room are climate change and resource depletion and yet these topics received barely a mention in the debates leading up to the 2015 general election. These and related areas will determine, not only the future shape of the Labour party   but that of the whole world and I will now try and persuade you that these should be the dominant themes in current and future debates.

With the increasing manifestation of climate change in the UK as well as throughout the world, events related to the changing climate will become ever-more predominant in political life. The difficult if not impossible task is to predict the exact time it will take for the reality of climate change and resource depletion to have a significant impact on the electorate. Currently we are all living in a “fools’ paradise”.

The stark reality is that our present consumer driven economic system cannot provide the necessary long-term solutions to these problems

This is why the Labour party must not seek short-term political gain by trying to emulate our existing system which is based predominantly on the motivating force of personal greed. These changes cannot be achieved by short-term tinkering with the existing system.

The majority realise that there has to be a radical change could come in the next 5 years or it might take longer, but come it will. It might be useful to consider what could be some of the political priorities (in no particular order):

  • Introduce a system of proportional representation and real federalisation within the UK.
  • Increase substantially the proportion of Labour candidates with scientific/engineering backgrounds. Engineers and scientists “on top” not just “on-tap”.
  • Develop a series of technical workshops to inform MPs and other policy makers.
  • Set-up a parliamentary group to investigate comprehensively the impacts of climate change and resource depletion. For instance, to develop a full-scale recycling strategy.
  • Look to build a purpose-built parliament building in the Midlands and convert existing parliament buildings into tourist attractions.
  • Strengthen and expand the concept of a “Green Bank” to fund new businesses based of sustainable technologies.
  • Electrify all urban transportation and develop battery recycling technology.
  • Strengthen EC and other international ties.

These are some of the many priorities that Labour will have to address and formulate workable solutions – a far cry from many of today’s trivial and somewhat irrelevant arguments.

The Labour party will have to provide the blueprint for a sustainable future and the sooner it sets its mind to this objective the better. Along with other like-minded groups it will have to formulate detailed root and branch policies to provide a workable alternative to the present unsustainable system, based on the growing consumption of ever diminishing raw materials and evermore carbon-based energy.

 

Rex Harris: Monday, 27July, 2015

Read more about Rex Harris’s work here and his team’s hydrogen-powered canal boat project here.

 

 

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