The weekend before last was Friends of the Earth’s annual Local Groups Conference at Reading University, which some of use from BFoE attended – in fact it was our largest ever contingent – 11 people in total! The weekend consisted of workshops, seminars, talks, presentations and debates, as well as a few socials of course!

Tony Jupiter (Executive Director of FoE) spoke a couple of times, given an overview of the last year. I found him a particularly engaging speaker. He talked about our success over the past year with the Big Ask campaign, which has resulted in the Draft Climate Change Bill from the Government, which should be transformed into law by early next year. He also pointed out that whilst it’s great news we’ve come so far, so quickly, we still need to keep up the pressure on MPs to ensure that the final legislation is strong and meaningful.

A first this year was a guest visit from Hillary Benn (the current serving Environment Minister), who gave a speech to the conference. He encouraged us (and the environmental campaign movement as a whole) to keep asking questions and putting pressure on the Government, because it does help drive awareness and policy forward. Despite this encouragement, he did dodge a few issues in the question and answer session. Most notable was the exclusion of international aviation emissions from the Draft Climate Change Bill, although he did raise a chuckle at the question; “isn’t not counting aviation emissions a bit like going on a diet, and not counting the chocolate bars?”

I also went on a workshop on low carbon homes, which was very interesting. As people may have heard, the Government is to insist on all new houses build from 2016 onwards being zero carbon homes. Great stuff you may think, but we found out that 25% of all U.K carbon emissions come from households (rising to 50% including
personal transport), and that by 2050 there will be a 23% increase in the number of households, but 87% of all homes will be ones that are with us today! Clearly the new zero carbon homes are to be welcomed, but what is the Government doing about all our existing carbon spewing homes? Not a lot it would seem!

To round off, there was also the annual Earthmovers awards, where we heard all about the fantastic local groups, campaigns and people that are part of the Friends of the Earth network. BFoE was even nominated for Group of the Year (many thanks to Louise Hazan the Midlands Network Developer for nominating us), but alas, we were
beaten to it by Leicester FoE – maybe next year ehh! But nevertheless, it was great to see some well deserved awards handed out, by none other than FoE’s Hugh Ellis, who always manages to raise a few laughs with the audience.

We all had a great time, learnt new things, and although feeling a little tired by the end of it, we’re positive and ready for another year of worthwhile campaigning!

Ben Mabbett