Heathrow expansion and other backward steps towards COP26

The government’s decision not to review the expansion of Heathrow, despite the obvious impacts on the climate emergency, is just one of the backward steps on the journey to COP26. The backward steps are the big decisions on climate change that can be categorised as ‘business as usual’ and won’t appear on any government media release. The £27bn road building programme, the thousands of homes and buildings being constructed that don’t meet zero carbon standards and the large number of waste incinerators. Even the fact that we are holding an inquiry into a new coal mine in Cumbria, or dishing out development licences for oil and gas exploration is bizarre when the science is telling us that the Greenland ice sheet is going to disappear and the seas rise by at least 7m (the palace of Westminster is 6m above sea level).

The IPCC has had to adjust its prediction to take account of real time data that has been flooding the scientific community in the last few years. The extreme weather events being experienced in the last year were not meant to happen for decades. One group of climate scientists feel that we have lost 70 years, as extreme impacts are happening at a 1.3 degree increase, rather than the higher temperatures that their models predicted. The poles are warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. A realistic assessment of the climate emergency is that we are going to have to act fast and brake hard order to reduce carbon by enough to avoid losing large sections of the massive Antarctic icesheets.

Heathrow expansion is being justified on the grounds that the technology will deliver zero carbon planes. If that is the case, then build them, replace the existing ones and do it fast. Do your bit for climate change and remove that hurdle to expansion, but don’t try to expand while promising something that no one is certain will ever work.

Nor is climate change the only barrier that Heathrow has to jump. The Lord’s is pushing hard for an air pollution target for PM2.5 to be included in the Environment Bill. These are the smallest and most damaging of the tiny bits of soot and particles that enter your bloodstream, lungs and other organs. It is suspected that aviation and Heathrow in particular, is a major source of PM 2.5 and this could result in further legal challenges.

Let’s start taking big forward steps as the UK enters the COP26 negotiations. That means a U turn on Heathrow and other damaging infrastructure projects.

Give Metro Mayors more power to act on air pollution

I have tabled the following amendment to the Environment Bill that would enable Metro Mayor to set tough air pollution standards for their area and give local authorities more power to act on sources of bad air such as wood burning stoves.

Environment Bill Amendment 

 
Proposed amendment to grant powers to local authorities and metro mayors in air quality
improvement areas to apply restrictions to the use of combustion plant as specified in
Regulations made by the Secretary of State and for ending the sale and use of wood burning
appliances.
 
Insert the following new Clause — 
“Air quality improvement areas
(1) Where the air in a local authority area or any part thereof exceeds—
(a) any national air quality target(s) set for NO2, PM2.5 or PM10 under section 1
(Environmental targets), 
(b) the PM2.5 air quality targets set under section 2 (Environmental targets: particulate
matter), or
(c) the latest published World Health Organization guidelines for one or more air pollutants
referred to in (a) or (b),

the local authority or the metro mayor for that area may designate the area, or
part thereof, as an air quality improvement area.

(2) Any designation under subsection (1) must— 
(a) state the date and time from which the designation is to take effect,
(b) state which restrictions are to apply in the area and to which types of plant,
(c) state the date and time from which each restriction is to apply (which may not be before
the date and time referred to in subsection (2)(a)), and
(d) include a map of the area which exceeds any air quality target or guideline referred to in
subsection (1) and which is to be designated.
 
(3) At least two months before such a designation takes effect, the designating local authority
or metro mayor must publish details of the designation giving a description of its
effect (including which restrictions are to apply in the area)—

(a) on the local authority’s or the metro mayor’s website, and
(b) by advertisement in a newspaper circulating in the area to which the
designation relates, such notice to be published on two separate occasions, the
first publication to be not more than seven days after the making of the
designation. 

(4) The restrictions that the local authority or metro mayor may state are to apply in the area
to which the designation relates are such restrictions as may be applied in an air
quality improvement area under regulations under this section.
 
(5) The Secretary of State must make regulations specifying the restrictions that may
be applied in an air quality improvement area.
 
(6) Regulations under this section may—

 
(a) include restrictions as to the type of plant that must or may not be used in an air quality
improvement area including by reference to the amount of NOx and PM emitted by that
plant,
(b) include restrictions as to the time of day, period or occasion when the operation of
stationary generators is prohibited in any premises in an air quality improvement area
except during disruption of the supply of electricity to the premises,
(c) specify that restrictions apply only in respect of plant to be installed after a particular date,
(d) make different provision for different sizes or types of plant,
(e) make supplemental, incidental, transitional or consequential provision, and
(f) provide that breach of any of the regulations is to be an offence punishable on summary
conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.
 
(7) All wood burning appliances shall be prohibited from –
(a) sale in England from 1 st  January 2026, and
(b) use in England from 1 st  January 2029, subject to any necessary exemptions set out by
the Secretary of State in regulations.
 
(8) Any exemption referred to in subsection (7)(b) above must be limited to properties that
are—
(a) domestic residences, 
(b) located outside urban areas, and
(c) not connected to the gas grid.
Re-number LORD TOPE’S sub-clauses (7) and (8) as sub-clauses (9) and (10).
 
(9) Regulations under this section—

(a) are to be made by statutory instrument, and
(b) are subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House
of Parliament.
(10) In this section—
 
“local authority” means—
(a) any unitary authority in England,
(b) any district council in England, so far as it is not a unitary authority, 
(c) the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority
and, as respects the Temples, the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple and the
Under-Treasurer of the Middle Temple respectively.

 
“metro mayor” means a mayor of a combined authority
 
“NOx” means oxides of nitrogen comprising the sum of the volume mixing ratio (parts
per billion by volume) of nitrogen monoxide (nitric oxide) and nitrogen dioxide
expressed in units of mass concentration of nitrogen dioxide (μg/m3
microgrammes per cubic metre);
 
“plant” includes—
(a) boilers fired by gaseous fuels which have a rated heat output of less
than 1MW,
(b) non-road mobile machinery,
(c) stationary generators with a rated thermal input equal to or less than 1MW,
(d) solid fuel boilers with a rated heat output of less than 1MW,
(e) combined cooling, heat and power plant, and
(f) combined heat and power plant;
“PM” means any particulate matter;
“unitary authority” means—
(a) the council of a county, so far as it is the council of an area for which there are
no district councils;
(b) the council of any district comprised in an area for which there is no county
council;
(c) the council of a London borough;

 
“wood burning appliances” means any fireplace, stove or other heating or cooking
device that is fuelled by burning wood.

We still need a ban on Fracking

I have tabled this amendment with a view to banning fracking once and for all. In doing so, I want to celebrate all the hard work of campaigners and activists across the country who delivered massive opposition against this dirty and dangerous polluting industry, often in the face of poor policy decisions by the Government and the fracking industry’s might-is-right attempts to quash them. In particular, I applaud the Preston New Road campaign in Lancashire. It was a thousand days of protest by the anti-fracking Nanas, a bunch of mainly older women led by Tina Rothery. They fought so hard in the face of well-financed and rather nasty, threatening behaviour by Cuadrilla.

Here in the UK, there are still legal loopholes that could allow fracking to be forced on communities. I am most worried that, even if the Secretary of State did reject planning permission for fracking, this could be overturned in a judicial review. For this reason, we must change the law to reflect what is now common agreement: that fracking is banned in the UK.

I spoke to this amendment in the House on Day 8 of Committee Stage of the Environment Bill: My amendment is on something that I care about very deeply, namely fracking. I have tabled it with a view to banning it once and for all. In doing so, I want to celebrate all the hard work of campaigners and activists across the country who delivered massive opposition against this dirty and dangerous polluting industry, often in the face of poor policy decisions by the Government and the fracking industry’s might-is-right attempts to quash them. In particular, I applaud the Preston New Road campaign in Lancashire. It was a thousand days of protest by the anti-fracking Nanas, a bunch of mainly older women led by Tina Rothery. They fought so hard in the face of well-financed and rather nasty, threatening behaviour by Cuadrilla.

In the 2019 general election, it was announced that we had won on this particular issue. The Conservatives, along with every other political party in Parliament, declared themselves to be against fracking. However, we in the UK are still supporting fracking in Argentina, which means we are offshoring the horrid stuff, so we do not have to count all the carbon emissions and so on, and Namibia is being exploited by a Canadian company. Ireland called for an international ban this year, and calls are now growing for an Irish-led global ban on fracking. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is something that the Government might support.

Here in the UK, there are still legal loopholes that could allow fracking to be forced on communities. I am most worried that, even if the Secretary of State did reject planning permission for fracking, this could be overturned in a judicial review. The Government may have changed their policy to be against fracking but, if this conflicts with the law in a judicial review, their policy will be ruled unlawful. For this reason, we must change the law to reflect what is now common agreement: that fracking is banned in the UK. I hope that the Minister will agree.

Read the whole debate on Hansard

CO2 Emissions from Vehicles

This is an almost sneaky little piece of legislation, because it is presented as a regulation to continue the status quo but it is actually backfilling a regulatory loophole that was created by the Government; it did not have to be created. I am concerned that this little loophole has allowed some highly polluting vehicles to be sold in Northern Ireland. It is only in September of this year that the loophole will close, so highly polluting vehicles can still be sold until then. Clearly, it was negligent of the Government to allow this to happen. For some strange reason, they dropped Northern Ireland out of the EU emissions regime two weeks before the end of the transition period and then allowed a nine-month window of lawlessness when it came to selling polluting vehicles.

Continue reading “CO2 Emissions from Vehicles”

Environment Bill Committee Stage Day 6 – Planning

I know that the Green Party’s 450 or so councillors sitting on over 140 local authorities, along with thousands of other environmentally aware councillors from other political parties, would be able to achieve a huge amount with these new powers—in particular, the ability to prohibit inappropriate activities that would be detrimental to biodiversity. Continue reading “Environment Bill Committee Stage Day 6 – Planning”

Environment Bill Committee Day 6 – Water

We currently use water in an extremely illogical way. Clean, drinkable water is flushed down the loo when there is a really obvious alternative: to not use it. The separation and capture of grey water should be routine, and the Government should make it a requirement in building regs, because the benefits are so blindingly clear.

When we combine the separation and reuse of grey water with the separation of sewage from drainage, we have a much more sustainable water system. I hope that not very long into the future we will look back on the idea of using clean water to flush our toilets and then mixing it with rainwater, before spending huge amounts of money getting the sewage back out, as illogical and disgusting. Continue reading “Environment Bill Committee Day 6 – Water”

Police Cuts and bodyworn camera footage

According to a recent report, some videos showed that police officers were poor at communicating and lacked patience and de-escalation skills. Is it possible that the pressure on the police from 11 years of swingeing Tory cuts to their budgets and numbers is responsible for that sort of pressure? Their numbers are still not back to pre-Conservative Government levels of 11 years ago.

I have also submitted a written question:

“To ask HMG what assessment they have made of the need to update the College of Policing’s body worn camera guidance to (1) reduce officers’ discretion about its use, and (2) specifically discourage the practice of turning away from an incident to avoid recording wrongdoing by a fellow officer.”

Continue reading “Police Cuts and bodyworn camera footage”

Environment Bill Committee Stage Day 5 – Air Pollution

Air pollution is a national health crisis: it costs us billions every year. It affects the old and the young. Several of us have mentioned Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived next to a dirty, filthy road and died at nine years old because of her asthma. It is children who will have health problems all their lives because of living near polluted roads. This Bill is an ideal opportunity to fix this problem. We know what the solutions are, and they are here in these amendments.

My amendments seek to create a comprehensive system of targets, monitoring and funding to reduce air pollution levels to World Health Organization guideline levels. It is not possible to end this crisis without significant public spending. The Government must make the money available to local authorities to transform their communities and clean up their air.

Continue reading “Environment Bill Committee Stage Day 5 – Air Pollution”

Environment Bill Committee Stage Day 5 – Waste

We all know that the international waste economy is a nasty, polluting system, where the richest countries are using the poorest countries as dump sites—as giant landfill sites. Many people would be outraged to see that the recycling that they so carefully do is just baled up and dumped on poor countries and among poor communities, who then have to suffer the pollution that it causes.

I am also concerned about the increasing capacity of UK incinerators. From what I can see, the planned capacity of these incinerators will soon far exceed the amount of waste that the UK produces. Many local authorities are, of course, tied into 25-year contracts with such businesses. This means they will be looking around for waste to burn.

Continue reading “Environment Bill Committee Stage Day 5 – Waste”