At the end of 2006, we announced that we had achieved the aim of our Big Ask Climate Change campaign: the Queen announced that her Government will produce a climate change bill in the coming legislative year. This happened because of the work of Friends of the Earth. With local groups’ activism, we motivated 170,000 members of the public to contact their MPs, calling for a climate change bill in the Queen’s speech. Focussing our efforts on the Big Ask campaign demonstrated what an immense force Friends of the Earth local groups can be when we all work together. Grass roots action, of course, was crucial to the success.
In the Spring this year, the Government unveiled its draft climate change bill, which includes an end target of cutting CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050; five-year interim carbon budgets and an independent commission to set the interim targets. Crucially, the five-year targets are binding. The Government will be legally bound to meet the targets. If they fail to do so, the courts could force their hand to act. No other country in the world has such a law that legally obliges it to meet emissions reduction targets. So we have a law in the pipeline that Friends of the Earth got on to the legislative books and is regarded as world-leading. Clearly, Friends of the Earth is a powerful leader within the world’s environmental movement. We can almost certainly state the claim that within Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we have the largest membership base and we are definitely one of the most active and hard-hitting.
OK, enough back-patting! The bad news is that the climate change bill is not as strong as we would like it to be. The Bill’s weaknesses:
• The 60% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 is too timid, so say the scientific community. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill all agree with us.
• International aviation and shipping emissions are not included in the Bill. Can you imagine going on a diet and not counting the calories from chocolate? Aviation is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions and they must be counted. The three Commons Committees that looked at the draft bill have questioned the omission of CO2 from international aviation and shipping. Two Committees said that the internationally agreed method agreed at Kyoto of attributing emissions to individual countries be included in the Bill. The third Committee suggested that the emissions should be reported every year so that they are taken into account when setting targets for other emissions.
• The Bill includes proposals for five-year carbon dioxide budgets but several of these five year periods between now and 2050 will span more than one Government. In this case, Governments can easily blame the previous administration for going over the limits in carbon dioxide emissions. As the Bill currently stands, the five-year budgets are an in-built get-out. Annual milestones must be introduced so that there is a real check on whether or not policies were on track to deliver as planned and shortfalls could be tackled in a timely way. Can you imagine companies with five-year targets for profits? This would not be unusual but it would be strange if they failed to measure their profits on an annual basis as well in order to analyse if their policies are delivering the changes expected. The three Parliamentary committees were unanimous in agreement that annual milestones must be introduced.
Friends of the Earth knows how to give the Bill some strong teeth but how do we convince MPs of this? With a lot on their plates and many people competing for their time, this is not a simple task but we do know that this is achievable. The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and smaller parties are already on board in supporting what we are calling for but Labour has the majority and we need some Labour MPs to back our calls as well if we are to force change at the Parliamentary level. We are communicating with Labour MPs to seek their opinions and encouraging those MPs who agree with us to make a public statement of their support for our key aims for the campaign. A statement can be via a joint press release, a You Tube-style video to make a statement for the Big Ask online virtual march, writing a piece for the Birmingham Friends of the Earth blog, the MP’s own blog or website and anything else imaginative.
With eight Labour MPs in Birmingham, one Independent Labour, one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat, we have a lot of persuading to do. Thankfully, some Labour MPs are already on board but we still have the rest to convince. Every MP has received a whole lot of campaign postcards signed by members of the public who support our campaign and many MPs have also received personal letters, You Tube video clips emailed to them from constituents, been to talks that we have organised and had community groups contact them.
A whole host of other organisations are also supporting our campaign, including the RSPB, Oxfam, Christian Aid and the World Development Movement. In Birmingham, we have made links through this campaign with Islamic Relief, Practical Action and the Birmingham TUC.
But we need your help… MPs want to hear from their constituents, not just Friends of the Earth. What can you do?
• Easiest: Send a postcard (you may have one within this newsletter)to your MP .
• If you have 10 minutes: write a letter to your MP based on the three points mentioned in the bullets above.
• If you have 10 minutes and are technically minded, film yourself or a friend for a 20 second clip and upload it to the campaign’s own You Tube-style website: http://www.thebigask.com
• If you have 1 hour, visit your MP at their surgery for a 10 minute discussion about the climate change bill. Get in touch with us if you need help and advice with this or would like to know if there is anyone else you can go with.
With all of this encouragement, our Birmingham MPs are far more likely to be going to the votes on the climate change bill in Parliament in the coming weeks and voting the right way. Remember, it is the voters that put our MPs in power and it is our task to demand that they do a decent job. Get in touch with us at Birmingham Friends of the Earth if you would like advice on how you can campaign on this issue. Whether you need help or not, if you do one thing this month, get in touch with your MP!