Saturday, 6 June 2015

All progressive MEPs should oppose TTIP

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West of England is doing excellent work opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. I wrote to Molly (and all the MEPs representing the South West) expressing concerns about the increase in corporate power and the difficulties TTIP would create for governments wanting to regulate markets for economic, social and environmental benefit. I voiced concerns in particular about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a specially created legal mechanism allowing investors to bring cases directly against countries hosting investments, without the intervention of the government(s) of the investor’s country of origin. I received a very prompt and detailed reply from her. [Almost simultaneously had a reply from the Conservatives Ashley Fox MEP, who strongly supports TTIP, shortly followed by Conservative MEP Julie Girling – as yet no reply from Labour MEP Clare Moody or UKIP MEP Julia Reid.*] Here’s the content of the Green reply, which lays out the crucial issues and indicates a very clear position opposing TTIP:
Greens agree that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism is a threat to democratic decision-making. Corporations should not have the right to challenge democratic decisions taken in the public interest, which serve to safeguard our health, environment, social and labour standards, and much more. Corporations should not benefit from a parallel and private legal system.

As the Parliament has developed its position on TTIP, the Greens have put forward amendments arguing against ISDS in every committee. We have rejected ISDS in the strictest language, as well as arguing that our high standards in labour rights, environment, food safety and animal welfare are not negotiable. Last Wednesday the INTA (trade) committee voted on the TTIP report, which sets out the Parliament's opinion on this trade deal. The trade committee was the final committee to have its say, before all MEPs vote on this report at the plenary session in June.

Unfortunately the Socialists & Democrats group in the Parliament (S&D, where Labour MEPs sit) compromised on their earlier opposition to ISDS. Whilst publically they claim to argue against ISDS, they finally accepted a far weaker 'compromise' amendment, joining forces with the conservative EPP Group, in a move which removed any criticism of ISDS from the report. It even removed any mention of ISDS by name.

We were also disappointed by S&D members' refusal to support our crucial amendments protecting EU-wide environmental standards, which were deemed "out of scope" of this report, and were therefore not even voted on. Disappointingly, they also failed to deliver cast-iron protections for public services, in failing to take a full and coherent "positive list" approach to service liberalisation. We need to ensure that MEPs clearly reject a "service liberalisation by default" approach.

The Green members of the trade committee were shocked by the absence of a clear defence of democratic decision-making in the final report, and, because it did not explicitly oppose ISDS or prioritise the public interest, we voted against it.

Soon we will face the same battle again when the report is voted on in plenary session on the 10th June. This vote expresses the final opinion of the Parliament on the TTIP negotiations. Again, we will table amendments fighting ISDS and upholding high standards for health, environment and society.

You can count on the Green Group to vote against ISDS and to defend public services. But if we are to have a chance for a majority, we need other progressive MEPs - including those in the S&D group - to do the same. So if you wish to take any further action, I would urge you to join us in encouraging other MEPs to support our stronger amendments, rather than joining the right-wing compromise. S&D can and should take a principled and explicit stance – do not give the Commission leeway to undermine democratic decision-making and negotiate away our strong European standards. W.e need all MEPs to vote according to wishes of citizens, not corporations.

We would ask you to please email your MEPs to remind them of your opposition to TTIP. In particular, please email your Labour MEPs*, stressing to them the risks TTIP poses for the NHS; that environmental standards are indeed relevant and should not be compromised; and that ISDS is undemocratic and should be named and shamed as such. You can find out who your MEPs are, and email them directly, using the WriteToThem website:

[Done this but no reply received either from Labour or UKIP*]

Greens in the European Parliament will continue to fight against TTIP and its dangers. For more information, please see the TTIP:Beware What Lies Beneath blog.

These short films summarise the Greens concerns about TTIP:

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Making city buildings energy efficient

What is energy efficiency and why is it important? What social, behavioural and technical ways of improving it in buildings are available?

Efficiency is one of the pillars of sustainability. It means cutting waste of energy and materials. It’s about being thrifty, getting more output squeezed from every input of energy, material, effort, money, time...It means doing the same or doing more, using less.

Why have energy efficient buildings? It’s always going to be more cost-effective to save energy and be efficient than it is to generate it. Not only does it cut household bills, make public organisations money go further and increase the profitability of businesses by reducing their outgoings - it also cuts pollution rapidly, is a very good job creator, increases comfort, cuts noise levels, and can be done using materials often thrown away.

Climate changing gas emissions have, on average and over decades, fallen in the UK (some of the direct emissions at least) but still have a very long way to go to be on target and in accord with the scientific advice and the UK Climate Change Act 2008 (requiring at least an 80% cut from 1990 levels by 2050). Department of Energy and Climate Change figures clearly show that the rate of decline in emissions is slow.

Buildings use a lot of energy and 37% of UK greenhouse gas emissions comes from them (see the Committee on Climate Change on this). A large chunk of city and town eco and carbon footprint comes from buildings. Energy used in buildings largely derives from fossil fuels, which are finite, non-renewable and climate change causing.

One way to define cities is that they are built environments with large numbers of people living and working in them. A higher population leads to more buildings, which means more energy use. Buildings old and new need attention.

So, what are the factors affecting building energy sustainability? Energy use and efficiency; energy type and source; and individual and group behaviour, including management practices, are the key ones.

Some energy efficiency methods that can be used are: insulation; efficient lighting eg LED; high efficiency glass; more reuse and recycling; water saving devices and systems.

Greener energy sources include: various on-site renewable energy sources eg photovoltaic panels; ground-source heat pumps; designed-in wind turbines; combined heat and power (CHP); combined cooling, heating and power systems (CCHP).

Energy efficiency and sustainability can be improved through behaviour change alone, though the most effective approach is to coherently combine efficiency methods, greener energy sources and behaviour change. Being aware and using energy efficiently; switching off when not in use; developing high efficiency habits, like having sufficient heat and wearing warm clothes; managing energy well and to an agreed policy are important.

See the great work being done in Bristol on energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy sustainability here and here.

Improving an organisation’s behaviour with respect to energy efficiency and sustainability requires accounting for external and internal forces.  External forces such as: technology; markets; social change; political factors; legal factors. Internal forces like: personnel changes; poor organisation; workforce composition; workforce motivations; need to avoid inflexibility and/or inertia.