Forum Report: Tue 22 May 2007: Environment

Notes from the recent CWO Environment Forum

JOHAN ELIASCH

Founder of “Cool Earth”

Deputy Treasurer of the Party

&

BILL WIGGIN MP,

Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries

&

CLLR KAY TWITCHEN, OBE

Councillor, Essex County Council

Johan Eliasch:

Deputy Treasurer of the Party (since 2003) and involvement in foreign policy and foreign relations. Became interested in the environment through State visits and negotiating Trade agreements. Politicians are busy talking about the environment but no-one is doing much. The Kyoto Protocol issues are only really taken seriously by Japan and Iraq. Loves trees, and as Chairman and CEO of ‘HEAD’ which is dependent on the winter climate, his interest in climate change has increased

The biggest contributor to the rising levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Deforestation

Five billion tonnes of emission caused by change of land use; 18% of global annual emissions of CO2 from the Amazon.

The ‘Greenhouse effect’ has caused rising of temperatures and rising sea levels; some of the biggest effects have been at the Poles where the temperature has risen in excess of 15°C. The Gulf Stream may stop lead to be colder weather in Britain. Flooding of Bangladesh and southern China will mean 300 million people will lose their land, country and homes.

Deforestation is caused primarily by poor people cutting down trees to feed, clothe and provide accommodation for their families; there are no other options for them to earn a living. Cutting down the trees destroys the topsoil and leads to extremely poor farming conditions. Johan has bought 400,000 acres of Amazon rainforest and created a community based farming model where trees are more valuable to local people left standing; the land is worked, sustainably, free of charges. In return the community protect the trees – protecting their livelihoods. In 2006 there was hardly any illegal logging – just 4 trees in 50,000 hectares. The Amazon Project inspired the creation of Cool Earth: www.coolearth.org

Cool Earth promotes awareness of the problems and destruction that deforestation is causing. As at October 2006, there are 3,000 globally registered members. Stopping deforestation is the easiest way to reduce emissions and therefore positively affect climate change; 20 years can be gained by avoiding deforestation.

Questions and Comments from the floor:

Q: The people on the land are working which means the land is safe, but do they realise that this project is long term, and does it hold back their development?

Johan: The people are poor and desperate to feed their families. This way of working becomes part of their livelihood therefore protecting themselves and the land. Creating an infrastructure with local communities means not having to use guards to protect the land. Carbon credits are needed to make standing trees more valuable, creating a knock on effect for financial resources to eliminate poverty through education and development.

Q: What is your opinion on carbon offsetting for the rest of the world?

Johan: Each organisation and even individual people with the means should try and offset their own carbon footprint each year. There are voluntary schemes or clean development mechanisms which can help to do this. However, there are flaws in the system and more schemes need to be included in the offset. The frameworks have not been developed into legislation.

Q: India has accused the West of having done the damage and now they want to hold back the developing world, are there any discussions at government level and lobbying to get these schemes promoted?

Johan: I have had lots of contact with the government; the UK accepts the need to do something but there is much ignorance in the USA about the issue. Germany and some other European countries have a good understanding and are making efforts. Brazil’s attitude is somewhat ambivalent partly because of the dichotomy between conservation and economic development and, perhaps also because there is stigma attached to the idea of being paid to police bad behaviour.

Q: What can be done about reforestation – planting trees back into areas that have been destroyed – including in Western countries?

Johan: 200,000 trees have been reforested in my area, some areas that have been lost can be regained but there are problems caused by the open areas in the canopy, damaging the soil by too much sunlight. It is important to reforest wherever possible but there are fewer immediate, positive effects. The most important thing to do is to avoid deforestation in the first place as carbon emissions can stay in the atmosphere for 400 years and more. To some extent India is right to accuse the West, however India has benefited from trade agreements. There are many arguments about how much offset there should be for each country, for example China and the use of clean technology.

Bill Wiggin MP:

When we met Al Gore he said that the most important thing to be done politically is to get the third Kyoto round started as early as possible. The USA has now become more active at state level demonstrating that they are beginning to wake up to the environmental agenda.

Bill has written a book ‘A Better Agenda for the Environment’ laying out an agenda for politics and the environment; it is an umbrella for everyone detailing various policy areas such as transport and waste etc.

Sadly Carbon emissions have actually gone up under the Labour government.

Left wing answers have failed. The biggest driver in communities is innovation to provide better, cleaner, greener solutions. Hydrogen could be used as a road fuel as one can generate it from renewable energy and it then provides zero emission transport.

Innovation in communities ticks many boxes and allows people to do the right thing without feeling bullied or pressurised. Realistic goals and targets mean a genuine way to deliver benefits and improvements to the whole community.

A Parliamentary question was submitted by Bill asking all the government departments, ‘how many use recycled tyres on their department vehicles?’ only two tyres on a trailer in the Foreign Office were recycled!

Interestingly DEFRA was found to be the worst department for leaving lights on unnecessarily.

Conservative Policy Review Process: Quality of Life

About 200 experts are being consulted on policy providing a menu of ideas for the Front Bench. Tapping into a pool of expertise and testing policies with the media and public in advance. We also have a clear message for local elections, being ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’. Conservative councils are to be ‘cleaner, greener, cheaper, safer’. Councils are winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of groups which may not traditionally have voted Conservative.

Nevertheless, in terms of climate change it is important to stay in context, the UK are only 2% of the problem, and as much as 15% if we include the impact we can have through city investments. The UK can have impact on the rest of the world through innovation, but there are hurdles to the individuals’ ability to do the right thing. These hurdles include planning permission for solar panels and windmills and some LPG cars faced with the congestion charges. The government needs to cut the red tape and bureaucracy and lead by example proving it is easier to do the right thing.

Questions and Comments from the floor:

Q: What are your views on the local measures that are being introduced i.e. waste collections fortnightly, spies in rubbish bins?

Bill: I am completely opposed to the idea of this type of bullying, it is much better to promote the positive side of recycling. For example a decrease in council tax because of recycling would provide a recycled asset as well as a positive image and a direct benefit to the individual. If people see waste being mixed up in the same lorry it gives the most negative image.

The fortnightly collections do make it easier as one week there is a collection for food waste and the next week for recyclable rubbish. Swindon is an excellent example, their lorries are second hand, they have dividers for each kind of waste, and will use bio-fuel in the future.

Q: What about nuclear power for the future and for waste management?

Bill: It is the government’s responsibility to prepare the framework but not to choose the technology used; solutions should be provided by industry. I personally like renewable energy such as wind, solar and tidal power. The government should not pick winners but they should lay out what we need, such as low cost, secure low carbon energy generation. Then it is up to the suppliers to fulfil the criteria. Energy has to be regulated to meet surges in demand. Gas fired stations can be controlled but wind cannot. Hydrogen could be generated at night as a way of storing energy. We must keep innovating and creating markets here, or else the earth will be over the tipping point at which it cannot repair the damage done.

Q: The recycling of batteries in the UK compared to Europe.

Bill: Not surprisingly I do not like more regulations, however we can do a far better job at collecting batteries and other electronic and electrical waste. The Government has a lousy record. Remember the Fridge mountains, where we collected old fridges and then found we had no machine to recycle them? There are other European directives signed up to and then once the headlines have been published – forgotten. This is why people lose faith in the Government to do the right thing, even little details like collecting batteries help. As a party we all need to be setting an example and doing our best to support recycling whenever possible.

C Cllr Kay Twitchen, OBE

I became a grandmother for the first time a few days ago, and one of my environmentalist colleagues said to me ‘The birth of a baby in a family reminds us why we do what we do’. We are setting the scene for future generations and the environment has to be at the forefront of this. The environmental issues are currently a very hot topic and they will continue to be so. I would encourage women aspiring to be candidates to understand environmental issues, and in particular gain some specialist knowledge.

Policy Review Commissioners

10 Commissioners pulling together sound, scientific based ideas on a wide range of policy areas which will be presented to the Front Bench for their consideration.

Local Actions

18% of damage in the environment may be caused by deforestation (referring to a previous speaker) but it is important to address what the individual can do about the other 72%. Small actions by individuals and communities do have an impact, for example saving water and using low energy light bulbs.

1. Sustainable Development

There are proposals from the Government for huge amounts of developments in the South East, but very little talk about the environmental infrastructure for sewage, water, flood risk management or waste management. If we do not include environmental infrastructure in our approach to planning, we will be building the slums of the future. The Environmental Agency has estimated that the real cost of environmental infrastructure in the South East is £20,000 per new home.

2. Waste Management

My passion. A fascinating subject because it involves economics, protection of the environment, politics and human behaviour. There is no such place as away. Local Authorities are having to meet the challenge of diverting household waste away from landfill and encourage people to change their behaviour by producing less waste. There is no one ideal collection procedure – each Local Authority has to design the system which best suits their area.

3. Resource Conservation

Apart from conserving the earth’s resources, recycling is a huge energy saver because by and by less energy is used to manufacture something from recycled material than from virgin materials – the best being aluminium, where the energy saving is 95%. There has to be a global market for recyclables because we manufacture so little in Europe, whereas China and the Far East are hungry for raw materials.

Questions and Comments from the floor:

Q: What are your views on the local measures that are being introduced i.e. waste collections fortnightly, spies in rubbish bins?

Kay: I think the recent publicity is very unfortunate and certainly makes me very uncomfortable. But the fact is Local Authorities do need to encourage people to change their behaviour. I think this is best done by education and by providing recycling services which are good and easy to use. The two weekly waste collection system does generate more recycling and less waste, but it is not appropriate in all areas. I think a conservative view would be that we can change behaviour by offering incentives to people rather than penalising them.

Q: What about an increase of benefits to Councils who take a long term view on carbon footprints of Boroughs? We need to reduce lighting and what about swapping VAT onto new builds?

Kay: In Essex a number of Local Authorities are experimenting with reducing their carbon footprint by turning off street lights in some roads between 1.am and 5.am. This saves energy and also avoids unnecessary light pollution. Sometimes these changes can be difficult to achieve, but I would always encourage other Councils to be courageous in their environmental goals.

Q: What about nuclear power for the future and for waste management?

Kay: We should be aware of the lack of security of the supply of energy in the UK. We import much of our electricity from France’s nuclear power station and that makes us vulnerable. The UK needs to be more localised in energy creation and develop energy sources where they are needed, ‘micro generation’.

Q: The recycling of batteries in the UK compared with Europe.

Kay: There is not much capacity in the UK to recycle batteries but later this year a new EU directive will come into force and the picture will change.

See Also: ‘A Better Agenda for the Environment’ by Bill Wiggin MP

Website: www.coolearth.org

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