Category Archives: Political leadership

What can national government learn from the Greater Manchester Green Summit?

manchester small“Manchester is the place where people do things,” said Edward Abbott Parry, judge of Manchester County Court. “Don’t talk about what you are going to do, do it. That is the Manchester habit.” A love of Manchester and its new city region (including towns like Wigan, Oldham and Bolton) was on full display at the second annual Greater Manchester Authority Green Summit earlier this month. I don’t claim Manchester as my home town (I’m a ‘Woolyback’, a non-scouse Merseysider) but I did go to University there, lived there in my early twenties and have a deep love of the city.

As Judge Parry says, it’s a place where things happen. And that can’t be said of all political hubs at the moment. Despite the young climate strikers in Parliament Square and Extinction Rebellion shutting down roads (and putting on an interesting show in the Commons), there has been little parliamentary response. The business of the UK parliament has been brought to a halt by the yoke of Brexit.

So how refreshing it was to attend an event with energy, brimming with ideas and unashamedly facing the future, launching Greater Manchester’s five year plan for the environment up to 2024. I left inspired but concerned about how this could be replicated in other regions and at a national level. Here are some of the learning points I took away:

Start with a clear pathway
Climate strikers and the poet Lemn Sissay, both intimidating in their eloquence, opened the summit, but it was Alex Ganotis, leader of Stockport Council and head of the Green City Region, that showed real bravery, coming on stage to present a technical and robust carbon reduction plan to a hall of 2,000 people before many had even had a coffee. Greater Manchester wants to be carbon neutral by 2038 and has used the Tyndall Centre to set out a clear pathway for its carbon reductions. Admittedly, all the policy isn’t in place yet but the gaps have been identified with what needs to be done.

Although the UK government has a clear pathway with its climate budgets covering 2023-32, it does not currently have the policies to meet them. Green Alliance has previously proposed four straightforward solutions.

Link to other strategies
Alex Ganotis was clear that the five year plan for the environment could not be delivered in a silo. Instead, it is implicit that this decarbonisation strategy has to be linked to other Greater Manchester plans: the clean air plan, the waste plan, the natural capital plan and the spatial framework, as well as being a central plank of the overarching vision for the city region.

This approach is not replicated at Westminster. Whilst BEIS continues to be a champion for a clean growth economy, major players who will have to act to get us there, such as the Department for Transport and the Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government, continue to be completely disengaged on the issue.

Get business buy-in
The Green Summit was filled with businesses and at the ‘innovation zone’, hosted by the North West Business Leadership Team and the Business Growth Hub, hours were spent identifying roles for business in achieving the vision. Some concerns remain regarding the policy gaps that still exist with businesses asking for more long term certainty, but the recognition that nothing could be achieved without the business community onside was core to all the discussions.

Give it figurehead leadership
Whilst Alex Ganotis received recognition for the five year plan, the summit was very much metro mayor Andy Burnham’s day, darting from zone to zone to speak to different audiences. Although not known for his green credentials when an MP, he seems to have recognised that the future of Greater Manchester is green. Leading an area of ten local authorities, and an accompanying budget, means he has some punch (though perhaps not enough) to enact real change on the ground.

At the national level, the climate spokespeople of both the Conservative and Labour parties seem to be sidelined. Claire Perry remains a climate champion within the government but, even though she attends cabinet, she is not a fully-fledged member. And BEIS Secretary of State Greg Clark remains aloof on climate. There has been some recognition by Number 10 that the climate crisis and environmental decline are becoming increasingly important and relevant to future governance but there is no real energy to deal with it.

Have a good narrative
Manchester had the country’s first passenger railway; it was the birthplace of the suffragette movement; it invented the computer. Even if you didn’t know these claims at the start of the day you wouldn’t forget them afterwards, having constantly been reminded. Mancunians are proud of their history and their heritage and that’s exactly how this strategy was presented.

Not only does a clean growth economy benefit the city. As the city that introduced the first industrial revolution to the world, Manchester sees its responsibility at the spearhead of solutions to the problems it has subsequently caused. A just transition is vital to this. It was made clear that, to be successful, the plan had to be equitable at a local and global level. It aims to be locally inclusive, ensuring policies do not disproportionately impact the poorest on society, whilst also being globally just, recognising the need to act urgently to protect those around the world most affected by climate change.

Despite being positive overall, there are still big questions to be answered if the mayor is to deliver on his vision. City regions are still limited by the powers they actually have and the money to implement what they want to do. Many of the intended actions rely on the UK government granting more powers or providing more funding. Likewise, more explanation is needed for those policies that rely on behaviour change, such as the idea that Mancunians should be more responsible consumers.

The summit didn’t get much coverage in national media last week but I guess that doesn’t matter much if the plan is not to talk about it but just to do it.

[Image: Manchester city. Courtesy of Filip Patock via Flickr]

What is Britain’s place in the world? Climate resilience and soft power

green future smallThis is not a story about Brexit. Outside the febrile corridors of Westminster, the 99.1% of the global population that isn’t British is only occasionally perplexed by the quixotic story of Brexit. Instead, the British story in the world continues to be told by its network of embassies and governmental organisations, like Ordnance Survey, the BBC, the Met Office and the NHS. What may surprise many is to learn that a central part of the UK’s story about its place in the world is its role in addressing climate change.

I know this because I had the opportunity to speak at a conference for young leaders in South Africa, last month, on climate resilience, hosted by Wilton Park and the Foreign Office in partnership with the Africa Climate Reality Project. It was set up following the prime minister’s commitment, last September, to lead international efforts on climate resilience for the UN Climate Summit in 2019. Theresa May’s decision for the UK to lead in spite of the chaos of British political life speaks to a national mission which has remained unchanged through a dozen governments and the greatest political crisis in a generation.

This constancy is essential to the UK’s much vaunted soft power, as is the campaigning mission it embodies. I saw why in person: my fellow conference participants were all under 40 and came from 11 countries across Africa. For them, climate change is happening right now. In Zimbabwe, 80 per cent of rural people depend on agriculture fed by increasingly unreliable rains. In Kenya, unpredictable new storm patterns threaten the lives of people who used to know when it was safe to head out to fish. In South Africa, Namibia and Botswana regional climate dynamics double global temperature rises, meaning that these countries are living in a two degrees world already, reducing their people’s ability to do physical work (including farming), and are on track to hit at least four degrees of warming, a level which will see lethal peak summer temperatures for a population roughly equal to that of the UK. During the conference, Cyclone Idai reached land in Mozambique, destroying 90 per cent of the buildings in Beira and spreading as yet untold misery.

Ranged against this are a set of British climate resilience partners: BBC Media Action is working out how best to communicate weather risk to rural people to enable them to move when necessary. The Met Office is helping national weather agencies to forecast more accurately and meaningfully. Ordnance Survey is helping planners across Africa to map flood risk. The NHS is lending its expertise in disaster mortality risk reduction. These partnerships are creating real climate resilience today.

All this effort, some funded as part of the UK’s commitment to overseas development aid, bolsters the UK’s credibility in international climate negotiations. It also has a human dimension: just as the fact that one in four heads of state were educated in the UK means these leaders will have fond memories of the UK, the real improvements these interventions make to people’s lives across the world, in the face of climate disruption, generates soft power. As these countries prosper in spite of environmental disruption, they will remember the UK for its role in stopping, and adapting to, climate change.

This matters. I was struck by the fact that I, still somewhat under 40, have grown up in societies in which the baby boom generation dominated politics. Their concerns and beliefs have shaped the art of the politically possible. But, in the room with 40 young African leaders, I realised that these are the new baby boom. They will shape the politics of Africa for the next 40 years. And they will do so in the context of a rapidly changing climate.

The UK has started to work with them to co-create climate resilience, but this has to go beyond just disaster relief and into clean growth. This was the core of my argument at the conference, which I’ll flesh out in a blog to follow. The take home message, though, viewed from outside the UK, is that Britain’s place in the world is being defined by its approach to climate change. If there is to be a global Britain, it will be green.

What would ‘Norway’ mean for nature laws?

RSPB smallThis post is by Donal McCarthy, senior policy officer at the RSPB.

On Monday night, MPs approved a motion providing parliament with the chance to hold a series of indicative votes on alternatives to the current Brexit deal. One of the alternative options that is being promoted by a cross-party grouping of MPs is a ‘Norway-style’ agreement (also known as ‘Norway Plus’ or ‘Common Market 2.0’).

This option would see the UK negotiate a future relationship with the EU similar to that enjoyed by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, the three members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) that participate in the EU single market under the terms of the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement. But what might this mean for the laws governing species and habitat protection across the UK?

Dynamic alignment with most EU environmental standards
The preamble to the EEA Agreement sets out a commitment “to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment” and to uphold the EU’s core environmental principles. The three EEA-EFTA states are required to comply with the majority of EU environmental rules, as listed in Annex XX. The EEA Agreement is also dynamic, meaning that new or revised EU legislation that is ‘EEA-relevant’ must be incorporated into the related annexes and protocols.

As is the case for EU member states, the EEA-EFTA states are free to develop more ambitious environmental policies than the EU if they so choose. In other words, the agreement acts as a floor rather than a ceiling for the parties’ domestic environmental ambitions.

Compared to the current Brexit deal, a ‘Norway-style’ agreement would potentially provide stronger guarantees that environmental standards will not be weakened after Brexit. As well as locking the UK into most existing EU environmental legislation, a ‘Norway-style’ agreement would also require the UK to update its domestic statute book so as to mirror future changes in relevant EU laws and standards. The UK would still be able to contribute to the EU legislative process but would no longer be formally represented in the EU institutions and so would have a diminished role in the development of new EU laws relative to the EU member states.

More robust oversight and enforcement
EEA-EFTA state compliance is monitored by the EFTA Surveillance Authority and enforced by the EFTA Court. These bodies perform similar functions to those carried out by the European Commission and European Court of Justice (ECJ) in relation to EU member state compliance. In fact, except for the important lack of a power to impose fines, the EFTA Court has similar enforcement powers to the ECJ.

Overall, the EEA Agreement has stronger mechanisms for enforcement than any standard free trade deal. It is therefore expected that enforcement of environmental standards would be more rigorous under a ‘Norway-style’ arrangement than under the current Brexit deal, which relies heavily on the robustness of the UK’s new domestic arrangements for securing compliance with environmental standards. As things stand, the UK government’s proposals for environmental governance reform fall considerably short of the effectiveness of current EU derived systems.

Potential gaps in coverage
Although most EU environmental legislation is incorporated into the EEA Agreement, there are some notable gaps, including the EU’s nature conservation rules (although there are strong arguments for adding them). This means that the EEA-EFTA states do not currently have to comply with the Birds Directive or the Habitats Directive, two key pieces of EU legislation that are considered to be the driving force for conservation across Europe. More than 100 species and 75 habitat types listed under these directives currently occur in the UK.

There is a risk that we could see a  roll-back of the protections these directives currently provide if they are not covered by the EU-UK future relationship. At the very least, there is a risk that future governments across the UK might opt for greater flexibility on certain elements of this legislation, such as relaxing the protection afforded to Natura 2000 sites or removing certain species from the lists requiring strict protection. In such a scenario, we could very quickly see damaging divergence across the four UK nations and between Ireland and Northern Ireland as well.

Of course, international biodiversity commitments, notably the Bern Convention, would continue to apply to the UK, but these do not offer anywhere near the same level of protection. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that numbers of certain key species are significantly higher and trends significantly more positive in countries covered by the EU’s nature legislation compared to those such as Norway that are merely bound by the Bern Convention.

Similarly for habitats, it has been argued that Norway’s protected area network does not sufficiently cover all relevant habitat types, with the proportion of Norway’s forests that are fully protected comparing unfavourably with  its closest EU neighbours (Sweden and Finland).

EU is likely to insist on safeguards for nature
Right from the start of the Brexit process, the EU has expressed a degree of concern that the UK might seek to undercut its social and environmental standards post-Brexit in an attempt to gain a competitive economic advantage. Given that the UK economy is over five times bigger than the combined size of the three EEA-EFTA economies, such concerns are unlikely to diminish in a scenario in which the UK seeks to negotiate continued access to the EU single market via a ‘Norway-style’ deal. The EU will also be keen to avoid a situation in which the UK is perceived to gain additional flexibility over the implementation of key environmental rules whilst also retaining the benefits associated with EU single market access.

In January 2018, the European Commission set out its initial thinking on this issue, signalling that nature conservation should be considered for inclusion in the list of key areas of environmental policy where it would be necessary to secure a ‘level playing field’ in the EU-UK future relationship. Then, in November 2018, the draft Withdrawal Agreement was endorsed by the European Council, committing the EU and the UK to maintaining existing levels of environmental protection in areas including nature and biodiversity conservation post-Brexit.

Although these commitments are contained within the Ireland/Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ and relate to non-regression, as opposed to regulatory alignment, their real significance is that they probably represent the baseline model for the treatment of environment and ‘level playing field’ issues that the EU is likely to accept under any form of future trade agreement with the UK. Indeed, the accompanying Political Declaration calls for a set of commitments in the future trade relationship that “build on” those in the Withdrawal Agreement.

As MPs debate these issues in the coming days, they should feel reasonably confident that a ‘Norway-style’ future relationship has the potential to deliver some significant environmental improvements over the current Brexit deal, including for nature.

Biodiversity loss is more than an environmental problem, it is a development, economic, social and moral issue

biodiversity smallThis post is by Professor Sir Robert T Watson FRS, strategic director of the Tyndall Centre and chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The IPBES recently published four landmark regional assessment reports of biodiversity (ie genes, species and ecosystems). There is one each for the Americas, Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and Asia and the Pacific, and an assessment of land degradation and restoration.  The findings of these assessments are based on thousands of scientific reports, as well as indigenous and local knowledge. They clearly demonstrate that biodiversity is as much a development, economic, social and moral issue as an environmental issue. Read more

A Green New Deal for the UK? Part 5

GND 5 small.pngWe asked individuals from environmental and social justice groups, politics, academia, businesses and young people to tell us what they think it might mean for the UK. This is the last in our series of posts featuring their replies.




Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion
ClucasOver the past eight years, successive governments have built a bonfire out of the measures designed to cut emissions. Zero carbon homes was scrapped. Onshore wind has been effectively banned. Solar power has been shafted. The Green Investment Bank has been flogged off. And, whilst MPs grasp the severity of this situation, we know there are still many glaring inconsistencies in mainstream political thinking. For example, we cannot tackle climate change and build new runways, or prop up North Sea oil and gas, or spend billions on new roads. We cannot tackle climate change with an economy built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air, clean water and rare species can magically regenerate themselves in an instant, that somehow the Earth will expand to meet our voracious appetite for new stuff. If we are to truly avoid climate catastrophe, we must go beyond what is considered politically possible. We must change the debate.

A Green New Deal would do just that. It would mobilise resources on a scale unprecedented in peacetime, to tackle the climate emergency and address spiralling inequality. It would involve huge investment in clean energy, warm homes and affordable public transport, delivering a decent, well paid job to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. It would rebuild once proud communities that have been hollowed out by deindustrialisation and austerity, allowing them to thrive as part of a collective endeavour to protect the planet. And it would protect and restore threatened habitats and carbon sinks like forests, wild places, soils and oceans. Anything less simply won’t be enough.

Rebecca Willis, research fellow, Lancaster University
RebeccaWillis2048x3072The biggest impact of the Green New Deal on the UK could be symbolic, but highly significant: it could encourage, or even force, politicians to speak openly about climate change. In a way, President Trump paved the way for the Green New Deal in the US. His election – and with it, the blow to the cosy certainties of centrist politics – made it possible for his opponents to throw caution to the wind, and think bold. And that’s just what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done. As a result, no Democratic presidential candidate can now afford to remain silent about climate action.

Compare that to the UK, where climate change is conspicuous by its absence in mainstream political debate. My research with members of parliament showed that politicians have been reluctant to speak out on climate change, shying away from discussion of radical action. It has suited them to keep quiet. It used to be like this in the US. But the Green New Deal has put climate back where it should be: as the defining political issue of our time. It may just provide the spark for a similar shift in the UK.

[Image: Sunrise movement in December 2018. Courtesy of Becker1999 via Flickr]

A Green New Deal for the UK? Part 4

no more excuses smallWe asked individuals from environmental and social justice groups, politics, academia, businesses, and young people to tell us what they think the Green New Deal might mean for the UK. This is the fourth in a series of blogs in which we feature their responses.



Fernanda Balata, senior researcher and programme manager, New Economics Foundation
Balata square
The Green New Deal is an incredible opportunity for the UK to deliver the transformative economic change that is needed, within the timeframe that we have, to avoid climate breakdown. There are a number of people, organisations and communities all over the UK who have been working to address social, economic and environmental injustice. For too long now, these efforts have remained at the margins of the heavily unbalanced and unfair UK economy.

Rather than making empty promises for a more sustainable and fair economy that works for everyone, whilst continuing to invest in what’s causing the problems in the first place, a Green New Deal is a coherent national framework and investment plan that tackles complex problems head on and shifts the value system of our economy towards what really matters to people and the planet. It’s not just about the outcome, it’s also about the process. The Green New Deal’s power for change should be rooted in places, effectively allowing us all to be a part of that conversation, to collectively make the important decisions which will affect our lives and those of future generations, and take urgent action to the benefit of happier and healthier planet for everyone.

Bryn Kewley, executive member, Socialist Environment and Resources Network
KewleyNothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come and the notion of a Green New Deal has arrived at the perfect moment. As the Brexit and Trump phenomena mature, we need more popular ideas rooted in good sense to re-establish trust in our institutions, our social contracts, and a rules-based consensus.

In the US it can be a tool to prove the political popularity of action on climate change and investing in our children’s future. In the UK, where for the first time not a single Conservative MP stood up to deny climate change during a recent debate in parliament, the Green New Deal idea has arrived at the confluence between rising climate awareness and an increasingly clear economic case.

The World Economic Forum says fighting climate change could add $26 trillion to the global economy by 2030. The economic opportunities are everywhere, but we’re doing little to drive them with an under supported renewable energy sector, opportunities to build electric vehicles rapidly diminishing and UK export finance focused on the fossil fuels of the past, rather than our growing renewables sector. We need ambitious policy commitments to drive a clean green future that we can all benefit from.

Labour have already announced bold policies in renewable energy, transport decarbonisation and a net zero economy, but also a serious and well-funded commitment to insulate homes which will cut bills and reduce fuel poverty. A UK based Green New Deal wouldn’t just mean good green jobs and better prospects, it’s also how politicians of all stripes prove that they’re listening and are bold enough to act.

A Green New Deal for the UK? Part 3

GND smallWe asked individuals from environmental and social justice groups, politics, academia, businesses, and young people to tell us what they think the Green New Deal might mean for the UK. This is the third in a series of blogs in which we feature their responses.



Eamonn Ives, researcher, Centre for Policy Studies
Eamonn ivesMake no mistake about it, the Green New Deal is anything but. While paraded as a plan to help the environment, a light scratch beneath the surface is all it takes to reveal its true, altogether redder, colours. Fundamentally, it is a blueprint to expand government control in a way never seen before, and besiege the very system which will give the world’s largest economy the best shot at arresting climate change. The UK would be foolish to follow suit.

This is not a hymn to unchecked, wanton free markets. Proponents of laissez faire economics can and, indeed, should support such reasonable principles as internalising externalities. But the GND makes the fatal error of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Capitalism is the only mode of production capable of maximally harnessing humanity’s creative ingenuity to overcome complex problems. Within the context of climate change, it is the entrepreneur, not the politburo, which has furnished us with cultured meat, renewable energy, low carbon transport and much else besides. Certainly, it is these advancements which have allowed the UK to see its carbon emissions steadily drop from their peak in the late-20th century.

The GND is admirable insofar as it acknowledges the symptoms of a warming planet. But it dismally miscalculates the diagnosis, and, crucially, the cure. Less and better applied government, not simply markedly more, gives us the best chance of unleashing that ultimate resource – the human mind – to invent, refine and disperse the technologies which will vanquish climate change once and for all.

 Emma Degg, chief executive, North West Business Leadership Team
DeggA Green New Deal could stimulate growth that does not undermine the carrying capacity of our planet. If our growth is high quality, innovative and sustainable, then we will set ourselves apart from the pack; we will have a significant sustainability advantage and we’ll have healthier business and communities. If we grasp the opportunity to be pioneers, we will secure an advantage not just for our country, but we will also be exporting sustainable solutions and ideas which will have a progressive and positive impact the world over.

There is only one outcome that matters and it is a sustainable future. If we want to be able to look back a generation from now and see, with pride, how we accomplished a huge and positive change, we have to realise, fundamentally, that achieving sustainability is not a nice to have, an optional extra or a bolt-on boost to our social responsibility. It is essential.

Chris Saltmarsh, co-director: climate change campaigns, People & Planet
Chris saltmarsh newThrough the divestment movement, British and Irish students have forged the space for transformative climate action by stripping fossil fuel companies of their social licence operate. Now the Green New Deal offers a framework for governments to systematically dismantle the fossil fuel industry while investing to deliver a just, zero carbon economy.

The prosperity promised by the Green New Deal is its strength. But, without a confrontation with the fossil fuel industry, which has actively blocked climate action since the 1970s, the plan will fail before it begins.

The UK is the centre of so much fossil capital. BP and BHP are based here. So are banks like Barclays and HSBC which provide billions in corporate and project finance to continue extraction. A Green New Deal in the UK must rein in the banks, break up the companies responsible for climate breakdown, and ensure a secure and prosperous future for all.

[Image: Sunrise Movement in South Francisco call on Nancy Pelosi to advance a Green New Deal. Courtesy of Peg Hunter via Flickr]

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