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Time to make jump to green economy

24 January, 2009 - by Martina Anderson MEP


Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún speaking at a major conference in London, 'Progressive London' organised by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, has said that the economic downturn should embolden us to make the jump to the new, green economy more quickly.

Ms de Brun was addressing the 'Green Cities' session, alongside leading environmentalists Charles Secrett and Tony Juniper, Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson and former London deputy Mayor and Labour Assembly Member Nicky Gavron. Other speakers at the conference included Ken Livingstone, a number of MPs, trade union leaders and leading figures in the arts, campaigns, legal and human rights fields and international guests.

As a member of the European Parliament Environment Committee and the Temporary Committee on Climate Change, the Sinn Fein MEP has played a leading role in pressing for urgent action on the threat of Climate change, including developing policy at a European level and more widely, such as at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland.

Speaking at the conference, Ms de Brún said:

"Some have tried to use the economic downturn as an excuse to row back on the necessary climate commitments. This is as short-sighted in the extreme. Now more than ever we need to fully commit to progressing to a green economy and to investing in innovation and clean technologies.

"The economic crisis does not undermine the need for fighting climate change and should not be used as an excuse to row back on the progress made to date on setting targets for emissions reductions.

"If anything, the economic downturn should embolden us to make the jump to the new, green economy more quickly so that many of the old problems of oil demand and energy consumption can be dealt with. Investing in new technologies, and moving much more decisively to renewable energies as well as energy efficiency can create more jobs, lower energy bills and indeed saves lives as well as livelihoods."

The conference will also host an emergency discussion on Palestine. Ms de Brún added:

"Progressive people around the world mobilised in solidarity with the people of Palestine and to demand peace and an end the Israeli onslaught over recent weeks. The growing demands for a just settlement, based on self-determination, peace and inclusive dialogue show that there is strong support internationally for a better way forward, and one which constitutes the majority." ENDS

Note to Editors

The Progressive London conference takes place on Saturday 24 February at 10am (registration 9am), TUC Congress House, Great Russell St, London WC2. Full details: http://www.progressivelondon.org.uk

Full text of speech

One of the challenges we face in the debate around green cities is the way we frame the debate. There is, of course, the ongoing battle about whether to describe nuclear energy or incineration as clean or green - and let me state very clearly my view that nuclear energy is not clean or green energy and incineration is not a clean or green method of waste management.

Beyond this battle, however, is the equally thorny question of whether to talk about new technologies or alternative fuels, both terms I use frequently, when in fact many of these technologies are not new or alternative but have been standard and mainstream in many parts of Europe for a number of years.

One more recent waterfront housing project in Sweden, has mostly green development. It has no additional CO2 emissions from energy production, minimises car dependence, has green spaces and a diversity of housing mix, has rainwater catchment, and on site re-cycling with waste separation. And this is not just individual housing for the well-off.

A small company in a remote rural area of County Mayo in Ireland developed "Adaptive Intelligent Street Lighting" that allows for remote monitoring of electrical power consumption, individual control and monitoring of each street light and remote dimming capabilities depending on the amount of traffic. These have been installed worldwide, including Oslo, Paris and parts of Asia. Oslo has 10,000 intelligent street lights.

We have heard a wealth of other examples already in today's conference.

And, of course, in terms of the contribution Ken Livingstone has made, the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group is exactly the type of global, progressive network cities need. In partnership with the Clinton Foundation this group of major cities can lead the way in setting the highest standards in the creation of climate-responsible cities. From the common-sense use of eco-friendly light bulbs to the development of sustainable transport systems cities can learn from each other about how the 80% of our global emissions which come from cities can be reduced as quickly and as economically as possible.

Yet if politicians who oppose sensible, practical change can successfully portray such developments as somehow quaint or faintly quixotic, as an add-on to be developed only at the margins and only in times of prosperity, then they can delay or derail what is the only rational response to the situation we face today.

It would be ironic if at a time when the US which has stalled progress on climate targets for so long is re-entering the debate with vigour, and those who developed and then killed off the electric car have now revived the electric hybrid, London were to abandon the Climate Action Plan that has made it a beacon across Europe and beyond.

I am a member of the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Climate Change, which was set up in April 2007. Among the powers of the committee are:

  • to formulate proposals on the EU's future integrated policy on climate change and to coordinate the Parliament's position in the negotiations regarding the international framework for climate policy after 2012;
  • to analyse and evaluate the state of climate change and propose appropriate measures, at all levels, accompanied by an assessment of both their financial impact and the cost of inaction;
  • to draw up as comprehensive an inventory as possible of recent progress made and future prospects in combating climate change, in order to provide Parliament with the detailed analysis of those developments, which it needs in order to assume its political responsibilities.

As part of this work the committee held a number of thematic sessions, and was very anxious to have Ken Livingstone as a keynote speaker because of his work in this field as Mayor of London. In my role as the committee's theme leader on "Achieving significant CO2 emissions reductions in a short time: learning from best practices regarding successful policies and technologies" I had the pleasure of welcoming Ken Livingstone to address the thematic session as keynote speaker. Ken mapped out in detail the progress London had made under his mayoralty and about how much further progress could be made if the political will exists.

The committee were suitably impressed with Ken's input recognising as he stated that "cities are responsible for over three quarters of global carbon emissions".

That event took place last June. Since then the EU institutions have put the finishing touches to the "climate and energy" package of legislation.

The legislative package was adopted as the economic situation continued to get gloomier. Some have tried to use the economic downturn as an excuse to row back on the necessary climate commitments. This is as short-sighted in the extreme. Now more than ever we need to fully commit to progressing to a green economy and to investing in innovation and clean technologies.

The EU legislation as adopted represents a balance in some ways between those who see the measures as a challenge and those who see them as an opportunity and much of it is thus far from perfect. Nevertheless it is a first in setting binding targets for an area the size of the EU through specific measures and specific targets in certain fields. There are a number of elements in the package, some which affect cities more than others. Overall it is clear that reaching the targets set by the EU in 2007 to have a 20% share of renewable energy, 20% energy efficiency and a 20%-30% reduction in emissions relative to the 1990 level by 2020 (known as the 20/20/20 targets) will require more "Green Cities" than now.

We are in a period of great economic uncertainty. But the economic crisis does not undermine the need for fighting climate change and should not be used as an excuse to row back on the progress made to date on setting targets for emissions reductions. If anything, the economic downturn should embolden us to make the jump to the new, green economy more quickly so that many of the old problems of oil demand and energy consumption can be dealt with. Investing in new technologies, and moving much more decisively to renewable energies as well as energy efficiency can create more jobs, lower energy bills and indeed saves lives as well as livelihoods.

Cities are an obvious place where energy efficiency needs to be secured, and housing is a major area where this efficiency can be maximised. There should be a specific target for low carbon, good quality, well-insulated, energy efficient, affordable housing. High building standards should be set in regard to building new homes, with energy efficiency at the core. The same high standards should apply to new public buildings and other structures. This is important for meeting our emissions targets as well as for tackling fuel poverty. There should be minimum standards for homes and a major programme of insulation and energy efficiency as a first step.

Indeed recently the Commissioner for Regional Development Danuta Huebner announced plans to relax the Structural Funds regulations to allow greater EU help in financing the adaptation of buildings to make them more energy efficient. This move came as part of the EU's economic recovery plan showing how the future Green economy can be part of the economic fightback.

London's "Green Homes Programme" plan of course has already brought London to the fore on this issue. Quite rightly the programme, like the European Commission's initiative, focussed on low-income housing, in which the owners/tenants may have been unable to pay otherwise. The savings accruing to these owners and tenants can keep many out of fuel poverty. Cities across the EU can copy London's initiative using if necessary the increased flexibility the structural funds now provide.

How can we fail to invest in initiatives such as this, when the technology to have zero energy or passive housing exists, when there are job losses in the construction sector, when fuel poverty leads many of our elderly to die prematurely and when the planet moves ever closer to a tipping point of no return?

80% of the EU's population live in cities or urban areas. These same areas produce 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in transport. Most city dwellers travel only relatively small distances each day yet many travel in private transport based on petroleum fuels. London's public transport services show how big cities can keep their transport emissions relatively low. In an effort to reduce transport's burden on our environment, the EU as part of the climate package, passed a directive which will limit the CO2 emissions from cars. The new directive is the weakest part of the legislative package and has sorely disappointed environmental NGOs and others. It limits CO2 emissions to 120 g/km for 65% of new cars in 2012, 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014 and 100% in 2015. The European Commission had initially proposed introducing the caps on all new cars sold in Europe in 2012. Greener cars mean Greener Cities but should in no way limit our investment in our cities' public transport services. Networks of pedestrian and cycle routes and adequate public information about them also have a part to play here. The kind of anti-congestion measures introduced in London by Ken Livingstone can also play an important role.

Recent moves at the EU level now mean that aviation is now included in the "emissions trading scheme" (ETS). While globally aviation is estimated to account for 2 or 3% of emissions we must bear in mind that in major cities with numerous airports this figure skyrockets as a percentage of a city's emissions. London's airports, for example, account for a third of its carbon footprint. Including aviation in the ETS will allow for airlines to pay the true cost of aviation. This new policy is due to kick-in in 2012, allowing more then enough time for the aviation industry to clean up its act. If it does so Europe's cities' emissions reduction targets will become all the more realisable. What will London's contribution be, given the present controversy?

Climate change is of course a global challenge. Individual cities can make progress in their own right but that progress can be spread across the world if proper functioning climate change networks are established. Exchange of best practice and learning for others' experiences are essential tools in allowing our cities to reach emission reductions targets.

The future very much lies with our cities, and more specifically with "Green Cities".

The EU climate and energy package is significant, notwithstanding its disappointing element. It sets binding targets which can only be met through sustainable means if cities lead the way. Efficiency, reduction and exchange of best practice are all necessary steps along the way. They each form part of the change that is coming, a change to our economy, a change to our attitudes and a change to our way of life. This is a change that must come, recession or boom. It can come efficiently and quickly, or slowly and at great cost.

London has shown how progress is possible and has shown more interestingly that cities are well placed to lead this change and to benefit from it through innovative approaches and through working together on the basis of practical plans in line with the EU's climate package and the needs of our urban populations.

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