In the North West, we were once known as the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. Now, we have the chance to lead the next economic and social transformation for a zero-carbon economy.
We can be the northern greenhouse, fostering a desperately-needed green revolution, where the benefits of new ideas are shared equally across all of our communities. It’s completely achievable – the technology is there.
What we need is political backbone from our leaders to give small community energy producers a level playing field, help our small and medium-sized businesses and listen to what our young people want.
A green revolution is more than just an attractive proposition for the economy, jobs, environment, health and wellbeing – it’s essential.
With increased extreme weather like heatwaves, melting in icy regions and flooding, climate refugees are already a reality. Entire communities having to relocate due to their homes becoming untenable places to live will become a common theme and many communities are already suffering.
The urgent need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Paris Climate Agreement, has never been clearer. A Green New Deal is the route to recovery and beyond, covering four essential areas: sustainable travel; reducing emissions from land-use agriculture and forestry; energy efficient buildings; and energy production.
One quick win for sustainable travel is to introduce an aviation fuel tax. Currently, all the costs of the climate damage of flying are borne by the public, not just those who take the most flights. We know from statistics that 70 per cent of all flights by UK residents are taken by just 15 per cent of the population.
In terms of public transport we should look to European cities such as Copenhagen which place active travel at their heart – prioritising people and children who cycle and walk, with safe and easy-to-navigate networks integrated with a well-funded public transport system.
Efficient buses and trams make taking public transport a pleasure and cause a quick shift away from cars in our cities. This helps to mitigate climate change, improve air quality and reduce the number of pollution-related deaths. Manchester and Liverpool, together with towns in the North West, currently have over 2,000 unnecessary pollution-related deaths each year.
When it comes to reducing emissions from land-use agriculture and forestry we need to think about how we pay the farmers and landowners who are guardians of our most precious asset. They should be paid not for output but on how well they are looking after the natural world and biodiversity.
We need to localise our food economy, moving away from industrial factory farming. Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy must cap the payments it makes to any one farm at around £18,000. This ensures industrial farms are not making huge amounts of profit at taxpayers’ expense, while smaller farms struggle.
Increasing the capacity of forests, wetlands, grasslands and farmlands to remove carbon from the atmosphere will also help to stabilise the climate.
Energy-efficient buildings are a win-win for everyone. They reduce energy use, make our homes more pleasant to live in and cut fuel poverty. What’s not to love? And while a programme for high-quality energy insulation for our existing housing is not easy, it requires local government innovation as well as central government financial support; it will create much-needed jobs.
Energy security and efficiency can be maximised with diverse, renewable energy sources. Our government however, continues to subsidise fossil fuels and is still backing the fracking industry with tax sweeteners and slack regulation.
The Green wave of success in the European elections tells us that people want change, they want politicians to act. But our government is only listening to the voices of the powerful lobbyists in the fossil fuel industry and profit-driven multinational corporations.
We have an opportunity to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in the UK and beyond, but we only have a short window of time to make the crucial and radical changes that are necessary.
The time is now.
Gina Dowding is a county councillor for Lancashire, a city councillor for Lancaster and Green MEP for the North West in the European Parliament (ginadowding.org.uk)
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