28 November 2010

Climate Change Time Again

By Mark Crutchley

A year ago our hopes were high that the Copenhagen climate change conference which was being attended by many of the world leaders, would produce a meaningful accord that would set us on route to tackling the problem of our excessive carbon dioxide emissions. Sadly it didn’t turn out that way and whether you believe the official line that the political accord reached was a major step forward, or the more common NGO view that it was a missed opportunity, you would be hard pressed to find evidence that much has changed in the past year.

The most positive interpretation I have heard of the outcome at Copenhagen was from David King at the UEA literary festival a couple of weeks ago. He effectively accepted that little had been achieved, but pointed out that this stopped us from pursuing the fantasy (my words) that some international accord was going to come along and save the day. Instead it forced individual governments to push ahead with their own plans to set emission targets as we in the UK have.

Now we are here again, though with rather less fanfare, as the world prepares to gather in Cancun to try to find a way forward. The UN is calling for concrete results to come out of the summit but with the Republican Party having taken control of the House of Representatives in the intervening period the chances of the Americans being able to deliver on any deal with binding commitments has diminished significantly. Without America, China is unlikely to make any firm commitments and without these two it matters little what the rest of the world may do.

So is that it? Game over. Do we stop trying and just accept that we are going to have to live with the problems that a 2, 3 or even 4oC hotter world are going to bring us? Or should we carry on trying to limit our emissions; stopping new coal fired power stations being built; trying to turn the tide against the expansion of agrofuels which are wreaking havoc in the forests of South East Asia; and lobbying against the push of oil exploration into ever more frontier territories such as the deep waters off Shetland, Greenland and the high Arctic?

I don’t think we have any choice other than to carry on taking the fight to the fossil fuel industry and I do believe that for all the failings of governments, the battle is still one which can be won. Ironically perhaps it is likely to be the Chinese, who are throwing up coal fired power stations like there is no tomorrow, who will be critical to progress. China is already the largest investor in renewable energy in the world and in its quest for ever more power needs to tap into all possible generation sources.

China is already the largest manufacturer of solar photovoltaic cells in the world, though largely for the export market. However the central government is now supporting expansion of domestic use and by the end of next year there is likely to have been a near 15 fold increase in their installed capacity over three years. With increasing domestic Chinese demand, solar PV could achieve even faster growth than the 30% per annum it has averaged in the last three decades, bringing even lower unit costs and competitiveness against other power sources. What’s more there are experimental solar technologies which are achieving far higher efficiencies than currently available that could be the way forward.

So this is our real hope for the future. Not a governmental agreement in Cancun or wherever next the circus moves on to, but a solar PV industry which makes all other forms of power generation uncompetitive. If we can hold the tide against fossil fuel and agro-fuel expansion over the next decade and make sure that we don’t lock ourselves into dirty technologies, then we might just avoid the worst of those climate changing scenarios.

One small point to end with. If someone tells you that our recent cold snap and the hard winter we had last year are proof that global warming isn’t happening, then just inform them that the UK is less than 0.05% of the Earth’s surface area. This year is going to be the hottest or second hottest on record regardless of what it may feel like to us.

22 November 2010

Support the communities of RAF Marham and RAF Lossiemouth

By Trevor Phillips

If you live in East Anglia you may currently be asked to back a campaign to keep open the RAF base at Marham in Norfolk. If successful, this will probably be at the expense of the closure of RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, northern Scotland. In Scotland, campaigners are lobbying to save RAF Lossiemouth.

The intended closure of one of these bases arises from the recent review of military priorities. Closure of either base would mean a loss of many jobs: perhaps as many as 5,170 at Marham or 2,631 at Lossiemouth, which is near the Kinloss RAF base already scheduled for closure and 1810 job losses. The local economy near Marham or Lossiemouth will suffer a knock-on impact of closure - further job losses and local decline. Both areas’ economies have a high dependence on their airbase which provides quality jobs - many using high levels of skill and expertise.

There is, of course, a view that spending on welfare not warfare ought to be the national priority in a time of 'austerity' and the government should cut military expenditure instead of social and caring services which face the axe. 70 % of UK people believe the disastrous Afghanistan war should be ended now. Military expense could be scaled down accordingly.

This is a view I support, but I also think the people employed at Marham - military or otherwise - have a right to employment, quality jobs, security and a healthy local economy. Their families are no less deserving than those of council care-workers expecting redundancy or 'outsourcing' to inferior employers in Norfolk.

Nor, of course, are the families in Lossiemouth. So why should these public servants and communities be in competition with each other for continued employment?

Having failed to diversify the vulnerable economies of areas such as North Scotland and West Norfolk, successive governments and local administrations bear some responsibility for the predicament of whichever community loses this sordid, fratricidal fight.

The government says it must tackle the UK's current budget deficit by getting rid of half a million public sector jobs. The victims of these cuts, we are assured, will soon find work in a revitalised private sector - liberated by the enlightened policies of a government serving enterprise. Well ask them in West Norfolk and Moray if they believe that.

It is saddening to watch MPs from Norfolk and Scotland cynically lobbying to put each other's community out of work, feigning to be ‘champions’. The ‘Make it Marham’ petition demands no safeguards for the potential unemployed at Lossiemouth. The ‘Save RAF Lossiemouth’ petition seeks nothing to protect the people of West Norfolk. Neither petition demands any national coherence.

How easily such politicians divide and rule. How easily local fear is mobilised and abused, enabling thousands of skilled workers and their communities to be abandoned. “We did our best” one group of MPs will soon tell its shattered community - and possibly be believed and re-elected.

It is also sickening to see the same Norfolk MPs declining to make - even equivalent - campaign efforts to save the jobs of thousands of local public-sector workers: staff who care for the elderly and disabled and support the young, the troubled and the unemployed; tax collectors, postal workers, teachers and others. Nor are they challenging student fees which will deter the bright working class.

Instead – together – all of those MPs should be forcefully telling their government chums that a new economic direction must be adopted. There is an alternative. The budget deficit can be tackled both more slowly and more fairly. There should be proper collection of many tens of billions of pounds of taxes currently avoided or evaded by wealthy individuals and businesses. Witness, for example, the cosy government deal which instead let Vodafone underpay £6 billion, recently. (See Private Eye magazine http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=in_the_back ).

A Robin Hood tax on speculative transactions could raise billions more. A levy on empty properties, a curb on bankers' bonuses and higher taxes for super-earners would also help to quickly wipe out the deficit.

If the armed forces need rationalising, it should be done in a timely and considered way. Surplus workforces should be offered redeployment or reskilling and support in a transition programme which protects employment, mortgages, families and communities.

The government should have a strategy for partial demilitarisation of the economy and redirection of employment and resources to meet modern national needs. When we end our futile adventure in Afghanistan, military workforces and dependent communities should not be competing for remaining work or abandoned to unemployment and local economic collapse - they were surely fighting for more than that. Their skills should be fully employed in government backed schemes to develop new civilian technologies for transport, energy, civil emergencies and a greener economy. Workforces may have ideas of their own, as did Lucas Aerospace staff in the 1970s when developing an Alternative Plan for socially useful products.

Outside County Hall in the grounds of Norfolk County Council, a replica fighter aircraft looms in memory of staff at the former nearby RAF Coltishall. Will the council, if it proceeds to sack 3000 of its own dedicated staff, also erect a statue in memory of their vital services? It might portray a carer or youth worker. A social worker, fire-fighter or librarian perhaps? The county’s MPs would certainly come along for the picture.

I hope those seeking to defend jobs at RAF Marham will join the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts and its demonstration in Norwich on Saturday 4 December (assemble 12.00 at Chapelfield Gardens, http://norfolkcoalitionagainstcuts.org/ ). The right to work and dignity is not divisible: it cannot be protected at the expense of someone else’s plight. It requires us to campaign together for all communities, not just ourselves.

7 November 2010

British Aid - who benefits?

By David Seddon

British aid refers to concessionary loans and grants to developing countries, provided by the British government, ostensibly to reduce poverty and promote sustainable growth. The main institutional mechanism for distributing aid is the Department for International Development (DfID). Under some governments, this department has been a full ministry with a seat in Cabinet; under others, it has been closely linked with the Ministry of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (FCO). The present Minister - under the Coalition Government - is Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative MP, who was Shadow Minister for International Aid from 2005 to 2010.

Spending on international aid is one of only two areas, along with health, that the Coalition Government has pledged to protect as it slashes domestic departmental budgets to try to tackle a public deficit running at about 11 percent of national output. In fact, it has gone much further than that and has increased the aid budget significantly, to a total of 13 billion pounds a year. Government has made clear that the international development budget will increase to 0.7% of Gross National Income from 2013. While most in all three major parties welcomed this initiative, there were many who were strongly critical.

Defending the government's decision to continue spending taxpayer money in other countries at a time when Britons are being warned to expect tough cuts to public services, Andrew Mitchell said, in an interview in July 2010, that it was ‘in Britain's national interest’. "We are making the choice not only on moral grounds but also on national interest grounds," he said. "It is an issue of national interest because many of the problems which make our world much less secure emanate from very poor developing countries often caught up in crisis and conflict." In the case of Afghanistan - a prime instance of a developing country which the Coalition government (like the previous Labour government) argues is a security threat, Mitchell claimed that there would be 40 per cent more going into the development budget.

The major focus of development aid is undoubtedly selected developing countries, and the major stated criterion for the selection of those countries is their poverty. Undoubtedly, some of the recipients are by no means among the poorest and some should probably not even be classified as ‘’developing’. Furthermore, it was revealed recently that, over the last five years, 45.6 million pound was spent by DfID directly on projects based within the UK, with almost half of that – £22.7 million – spent on the Development Awareness Fund, a fund for "projects which raise awareness and understanding of global poverty and how it can be reduced". Last year alone, DfID spent £13.6 million on projects based in the UK.

Many would argue that ‘development education in the UK’ is a good way to spend ‘development aid’ but others are highly critical. The International Policy Network (IPN), for example, believes that "it is ridiculous for DfID to spend tens of millions of pounds right here in the UK. Foreign aid should be just that – money spent overseas, not wasted on wishy-washy feel-good projects in the UK. The Tax Payers' Alliance also argues that "DfID funds are intended to help the world's poorest people, not pay for politicking here in the UK. Tory MP Douglas Carswell, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, claimed that "these schemes are about making people feel good rather than helping Third World countries. It is time to radically overhaul how DfID spends our aid budget."

There are also many who are critical of where international aid goes, even when it goes abroad and is not spent in the UK. Early this year it was revealed that 10 million pounds were to be given over the next five years to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), an Indian organization run by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the controversial chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), despite growing concern over its accounts. At the end of October 2010, its UK head re-submitted its accounts to independent auditors after 'anomalies' in its accounts prompted demands for the Charity Commission to investigate. The decision followed a Sunday Telegraph investigation into the finances of TERI Europe, which has benefited from funding from other branches of the British Government including the Foreign Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The decision by DfID to fund Dr Pachauri's institute, based in Delhi, will add to growing concern over allegations of conflict of interest, with critics accusing Dr Pachauri and TERI of gaining financially from policies which are formulated as a result of the work he carries out as IPCC chairman. Dr Pachauri has built up a worldwide network of business interests since his appointment as chairman of the IPCC in 2002. The post, argue critics, has given him huge prestige and influence as the world's most powerful climate official. According to TERI’s own website, both Dr Pachauri and his wife are on the jury panel for the 2010 awards, and Dr Pachauri has been on the jury panel in previous years. A DfID spokesman, however, described Teri as a “globally respected institution”. “Their accounts are externally audited and annually submitted to the government of India,” he said. “As is routine, DfID is undertaking a full institutional assessment of Teri as part of our due diligence process.” But one has to wonder.

Finally, also in October, and closer to home, The Sunday Times alleged that the international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, had intervened improperly on behalf of multimillionaire cocoa dealer, Anthony Ward, who funded his office in opposition. Ward, known as "Chocfinger", had asked Mitchell to lift a ban on his firm, Armajaro Holdings, which had been banned from trading in western Ghana after one of its contractors was alleged to have been involved in smuggling. John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, referred Mitchell to John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, for further investigation. Mann said: "The reports that Andrew Mitchell lobbied on behalf of 'Chocfinger' raise serious questions to answer about the secretary of state for international development's conduct. Was Mr Mitchell acting in the best interests of the British government or a donor that has subsidised his parliamentary office and funded the Conservative Party?”

2 November 2010

One World Column - Looking Back, Looking Forward

By Marguerite Finn

The e-mail came out of the blue on 26th August 2010. It informed us that the One World Column (OWC) due out on Saturday 28th August would be the last one. This news came as quite a shock because there had been no prior discussion with the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) and no hint that the column was about to be axed.

The reason given, that the EDP wanted to “ring the changes” was not particularly convincing as we pointed out to them the OWC had six columnists all taking turns to write on a variety of subjects in very different styles, which we considered was “ringing the changes” every week! However, the Editor’s decision was non-negotiable so, after more than six years and over 320 columns, the OWC in the EDP came to an abrupt end on 28th August 2010.

The EDP has assured us that it will give “green” politics and environmental issues a “fair shout” – and no doubt it will, in its own way. But there is one category the EDP did not mention and that missing category is “peace issues”. This was a key area of comment for writers of the One World Column, along with international development, poverty, globalisation, human rights, international relations and the environment. The columnists’ aim was to provide a positive voice for the future and to represent a wide group of concerned Norfolk people.

We will continue to do this through our website http://www.oneworldcolumn.org/

The OWC started in May 2004 when the Iraq war was at its height. The EDP gave us the opportunity to have a column after a group of us in the local peace movement demanded a meeting with the then Editor, Peter Franzen, to complain about the pro-war stance of the paper and the lack of any alternative view point.

There were five columnists at the outset: Andrew Boswell, Jacqui McCarney, Marguerite Finn, Dr Rupert Read and Ian Sinclair. In time, we lost Ian Sinclair and Jacqui McCarney and we were joined by Liam Carroll, Juliette Harkin, Dr Nicola Pratt and Dr Lee Marsden. Over the years, these too moved on to other things and new people came along. Every column is available to read on our website.

The columnists today are: Marguerite Finn, Dr Rupert Read, Professor David Seddon, Charlotte Du Cann and Trevor Phillips. We will continue to write weekly columns offering a different way of looking at things. We hope you will join us regularly on http://www.oneworldcolumn.org/ and let us know what you think.