Happy New Year to all supporters and campaigners of Birmingham Friends of the Earth. Once again we have been experiencing some pretty cold winter weather, but overall the world keeps getting hotter, pressure on animal habitats is increasing and we have to keep pushing politicians to act on climate change and resource use, as well as helping people to find ways to live more sustainably locally this year.

The year just gone

cows & tories

While 2010 didn’t have the massive focus on an international agreement to tackle climate change that 2009 did, it was another important year for environmental campaigning. The international negotiations this year were in Cancun and while the outcome wasn’t as bad as the previous year in Copenhagen, there is still much work to do if we want to have any chance of avoiding temperature rises above two degrees and untold environmental damage. See FoE’s summary of what happened here.

There’s a rather nice ten reasons to be cheerful about 2010 on their website, too.

The biggest and highest profile campaign of the year for our group was the Fix the Food Chain Campaign, for which we got more postcards signed and sent off to MPs than any other group. Despite all our work and that of other local groups round the country, the sustainable livestock bill was not passed when it had its second reading, but we gained the support of 2 local MPs and organised a great event to promote local food in the Autumn.

We have also been promoting the setting up and use of grow-sites where people take over disused pieces of land and grow food on them, which helps to solve the problems caused by a shortage of allotment spaces in Birmingham. We are sure that more of these will be created in the next year and have produced a guide for anyone wanting to set one up.

Swap Shops became a regular feature of our calendar over the last year with regular ones taking place in the Prince of Wales pub in Moseley, but also several others in the city centre (in the Made in Birmingham shop in the Bullring and at the climate change festival). The idea is simple; bring along stuff you don’t want or need any more and take away stuff that is useful to you. This stops a lot of things from being thrown away and also promotes re-using things and means fewer resources are used up in making new products.

Crafting has also become a regular feature of our monthly schedule with sessions happening every 3rd Monday showing people how to make things out of things which could be considered rubbish and giving them opportunities to learn practical skills and indulge their creativity.

On the transport agenda over the last year, we’ve had a change of cabinet minister, but little indication of any change in policy regarding two of our key asks; 20mph default speed limits on all residential roads and reallocation of road space to ensure the effective use of buses which will not be caught in congestion and provide dedicated cycle lanes to keep cyclists away from fast-moving traffic. After collecting over 500 signed letters asking for 20mph limits to be introduced and being met by the same flat refusal (in fact exactly the same letter) as before we’d collected any in response, we are now looking at new tactics to push this campaign forward for next year. If you’d like to help us, please get in touch.

The airport are still pushing for public help to build the runway extension, so we have been trying to fight the use of taxpayers money to further subsidise the aviation industry. We have continued to poke fun at them, with this video explaining what planet we’re on to their CEO as well as the more serious work of debunking their arguments that more flying is good for the economy by showing that it is a drain on resources and produces a net loss to the region. Unfortunately, even in these supposedly austere times the council seems determined to pump money that could be much better spent helping local transport for local people into propping up this project to provide more capacity for the more affluent people to fly.

High Speed Rail has become a really hot topic and we have continued to put forward a coherent argument for the most efficient use of resources to ensure our transport system is de-carbonised and that people have a reliable way of getting about every day.

Our work in responding to consultations has been really impressive over this year, with more to come over 2011. We have looked at the Big City Plan, the first stage of the Local Transport Plan and the council’s Climate Change Action Plan, producing detailed analysis of each of these. A huge thank you goes out to all the volunteers involved in doing that.

Our work on these has guaranteed us respect and the ear of business people, politicians and transport professionals as we have had regular meetings with each of these to put over our ideas on how to improve aspects of the city.

We put on some thought-provoking and informative speaker evenings over this year on biofuels and GM crops v traditional agriculture, green job creation and making money out of renewable energy as well as regular discussions on some of the burning issues of the day, such as electoral reform and zero waste.

certified and finished

We also arranged some great events, such as the previously-mentioned Edible Birmingham, a Green Spring Fair, a party for 10:10:10 and a fund-raising walk around the canals of Birmingham – the canal canter.

So, what can we expect from this year? We’ll be holding the government to account in its claim to be the greenest ever and also ensuring that Birmingham City Council continues to take the right actions to move towards its target of reducing the city’s CO2 emissions by 60% in the next 15 years. This means engaging more people in our work and arranging more events to allow them to participate in the discussion with policy-makers.

We want to ensure Birmingham moves quickly to provide more people with warm and efficiently heated houses where energy wastage is kept to an absolute minimum. The talk about improving the public transport system in this city and making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists needs to be translated into action, so we will be building grass-roots support for this as well as engaging with formal consultation processes.

Waste is much in the news at the moment with the strikes leaving streets piled high with black bags and recycling boxes not collected for over a month. We want to ensure that recycling is given a much higher priority and the waste strategy in this city does not mean throwing everything in the burner and forgetting about it, but creating new jobs from an economy based on re-using, recycling and repairing. Food should be composted or put into an anaerobic digester, but this requires collections to be arranged for this to happen and education to take place to reduce the amount of waste. More sites for people growing food themselves would help considerably with this education.

We’ll continue to track and highlight the effects of the bad planning decisions that have been made as well as stopping more being made and making proposals for better ones to be made in future. Supermarkets have been allowed too much of a license to take over, so it’s time to get back to supporting local businesses that bring far more benefits to the area.

Working together to build the skills of our volunteers and partners we will do whatever we can to improve the environment in this city and help communities to have a voice in demanding better facilities. If you want to make a difference in 2011, please get in touch and help us to make Birmingham a greener and better place.