On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh - where over a thousand workers making clothes for high streets in London and elsewhere lost their lives – London Green MEP Jean Lambert has urged the retailers and fashion brands who have not yet paid compensation to stop dragging their heels and stump up.
The Rana Plaza tragedy highlighted the appalling conditions faced by workers in Bangladesh's garment industry, most of whom are women.
A trust fund was set up to provide compensation for the families of those who were killed and the survivors, but only half the brands associated with the factories have made any contribution to date, and only one third of the funds needed have been paid.
As the European Parliament's Chair of the Delegation for Relations with South Asia, including Bangladesh, Ms Lambert has today (Thursday) written to those companies who have not yet paid asking them to make a much-needed contribution to the fund.
To mark the anniversary of the catastrophe, Jean Lambert today attended a War on Want event on Oxford Street, a global campaign raising awareness of the true cost of fashion.
Ms Lambert said the big names of London's fashion industry have to take responsibility for the safety and working conditions of those that supply them.
Ms Lambert is also visiting a clothing manufacturer in Finsbury Park, North London to highlight the importance of transparency in working conditions for fashion industry suppliers.
Ms Lambert is Chair of the European Parliament's Delegation for relations with South Asia and visited Dhaka recently to discuss the issues with working conditions and factory safety.
Ms Lambert said: “London is the fashion capital of Europe but behind the colour and glamour there's a darker side to the global industry – workers in appalling conditions struggling to make a living.
“The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh was a terrible tragedy which left over a thousand dead and thousands more facing possible destitution. All the big name brands who were supplied by factories in that building have a responsibility to the families and survivors, who lost their livelihood as well as their loved ones.
“We must also make sure it can never happen again. As consumers we all have a role to play in thinking about where our clothes came from, and the real human cost of a cheap t-shirt.
“The tragic loss of life shows exactly why trade unions are important to protect the rights of workers. Many lives could have been saved that day if exits had not been locked or blocked - and the workers need to feel empowered to speak up.
“Our fashion industry has to clean up its act, and make sure they take responsibility for the working conditions of those who produce their goods.”
“The victims of this disaster must never be forgotten. We must work to ensure no-one endures such appalling conditions in future, and all workers have the right to make a decent living from their labour.”]]>
Above the rescue operation on the ruins of the Savar building is taking place, photograph courtesy of Sudipta Das.
London's Green Euro-MP has urged Londoners to join her in one of the several events around the capital commemorating the Rana Plaza factory disaster, which took place exactly a year ago (April 24th, 2013).
Some 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured – mostly workers in the Ready-Made Garment industry supplying clothes to UK High Streets - when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Ms Lambert visited Bangladesh last month as chair of the European Parliament's Delegation to South Asia to discuss a wide range of political topics, including workers' rights and factory safety.
Tomorrow she will mark the anniversary by visiting a garment factory in Finsbury Park, North London, to compare conditions faced by workers in the UK and Bangladesh.
Then she will take part in a 'Flash Mob' on Oxford Street organised by 'Fashion Revolution' – a global campaign run by insiders calling for the fashion industry to clean up its supply chains.
Fashion revolution are urging people to wear clothes inside out for the day - so as to display the manufacturers' label – to raise awareness of the Rana Plaza disaster.
Speaking at a recent conference on workers' rights in the ready-made garment industry organised with aid charity Care International last week, the London Green MEP welcomed the 'good' progress being made on the appointment of factory inspectors, inspection of buildings and changes to Bangladesh's employment law.
Ms Lambert said she was pleased that over 100 unions have been formed in the garment sector in the last year.
But she said there were still problems making sure all victims of the factory collapse and the earlier Tasreen factory fire received compensation - as not all companies selling the clothes made at Rana Plaza have paid into a compensation fund agreed last year.
"There remain problems - not just in relation to full compensation, but also in terms of what happens to workers and their jobs if a factory is found to be unsafe and forced to close," she said.
"But the willingness is there from many stakeholders to make progress and better the living conditions and wages of the workers.
"The European Parliament will be watching to ensure that progress is maintained and that workers - many of whom are women - will be able to make a decent living in safe conditions."]]>
Earth Day is an annual event taking place on April 22nd in support of environmental protection, you can learn more about Earth Day on their website.
London's buildings are often expensive to heat or cool and are poorly insulated – according to the capital's Green MEP.
In a message for Earth Day, which was marked by events across the globe yesterday, she said energy efficiency and conservation measures were key to cutting London's greenhouse gas emissions – and lowering energy bills.
Earth Day, marked by the UN each year on April 22, this year took as its focus 'green cities'.
The UN estimates more than half of the world's population lives in cities – and has called for a 'transition' towards renewable energy generation and investment in energy efficiency in urban areas.
Ms Lambert said: “Almost a decade ago I wrote a report looking in detail at how energy-inefficient London's homes were – and the contribution that made to high energy bills and climate change.
“Without a concerted focus on sustainability in housing by the Mayor of London, little has changed.
“London still has some of the most inefficient housing in the UK – and we'll have to invest in insulation and energy conservation if we are going to become the sustainable, healthy city Londoners need.
“Instead, we have a Mayor and a Government who are more concerned with weakening the laws protecting Londoners from the exhaust fumes and polluted air that's killing 4,000 Londoners early every year and allowing fracking in South and South-East London.
“But London, like all the world's great cities, will have to evolve as energy becomes more expensive and climate change worsens.
“As well as lowering our household energy bills, public investment in energy conservation could create thousands of much-needed jobs in London's construction sector.”]]>
London's Green MEP Jean Lambert has pointed to the chasm between UKIP claiming to defend British workers jobs, while doing nothing to defend their rights at work.
Speaking on the BBC today, she said: "Today an anti-EU poster campaign has been launched, suggesting that UK jobs are under threat from EU migrants.
“There is no fixed number of jobs so it is misleading to assume that a British worker loses out every time a non-UK national gets a job. We should also not assume that every vacant job has a local applicant with the necessary skills.
“We should be ensuring everyone in work has the same rights and earns a living wage. UKIP has not once defended workers' rights in the European Parliament and frequently speaks of such rights - to control working time, to parental leave, to equal treatment - as "barriers to business".
“These posters represent crocodile tears for British workers.”
She added: "This xenophobic campaign is just nasty: it is anti-foreigner and leaves many EU migrants - that's more than a million people in London alone, and British citizens from diverse backgrounds, wondering whether they should be here at all.
"The Green Party believes the UK should be at the heart of the EU, with a prime seat at the decision-making table: not only to boost employment and workers' rights, but to ensure we influence EU standards on air quality, its responses to climate change and that the UK has a voice on key decisions about how and where we get our energy from in future.”]]>
London Green Party MEP candidate Caroline Allen writes about Sunday's pro-cannabis legalisation rally.
Yesterday I spoke at the 420 event in London's Hyde Park. The pro-cannabis rally run by NORML-UK and UK Cannabis Social Clubs was well attended in spite of the truly awful weather and relentless rain.
The Greens are the only mainstream party with a long term commitment to decriminalisation of cannabis. For years we have stood against tabloid led hysteria about cannabis and our elected representatives have pushed the agenda forward.
In my speech I highlighted the hypocrisy of governments that take a tough line on drugs while refusing to do the slightest things to upset their friends in the alcohol and food industries -who are doing a lot more harm to people’s health.
After years being treated like pariahs it does now feel that the tide may be starting to head our way.
In the US, the very home of the failed war on drugs, two states are blazing a trail. Colorado raised 1 million dollars in taxes on cannabis in the first month of decriminalisation. That money would certainly come in handy now.
But more importantly we simply do not believe people should be criminalised for recreational use of a drug that is no more harmful than alcohol and tobacco.
We believe people should be able to safely buy cannabis through a safe supply chain, one that doesn't involve drug dealers and enriching the black market.
At the rally we heard from numerous people who had benefited medically from using cannabis. The Government refuses to admit any evidence exists for a medical benefit, yet a pharmaceutical derivative has been licensed to relieve symptoms of MS, yet some people suffering from MS have been denied it by their Doctors/ Primary Care Trusts.
More widely Greens are calling for a different approach to all drugs.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has achieved the support of more than 100,000 people signing her petition to ensure that her call for an independent assessment of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act will be debated in Parliament.
This is a broken law, there has never been any assessment of its impact.
And the cost of this war on drugs are enormous. In England and Wales alone, an estimated £3 billion a year is spent fighting it, to little effect.
And over half of the 85,000 people in prison are thought to have serious drug problems.
As Greens we believe this law does more harm than good and this petition is hopefully just the start of an evidence based policy on drugs.
Other countries are showing that alternatives work.
Airports, such as Heathrow, may soon be able to operate to a much larger extent during the night.
Euro-MP Jean Lambert has warned that Londoners living near Heathrow and City Airports – and under flight paths to and from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports – could suffer increased noise level, especially at night.
The European Parliament has voted on revisions to EU rules dealing with airport noise which let economic interests override rules on noise. Green MEPs hit out at the agreement, which will enable the European Commission to overrule flight restrictions – such as night bans - at airports.
Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, said:
"This review is a blow for all those European citizens living near airports. It will leave many more people being subjected to the noise, pollution and all other miseries caused by planes.
“Instead of working to ensure stronger EU rules, to reduce the nuisance, pollution, health problems and safety risks posed by airports, the European Commission gave in to heavy lobbying from the aviation industry and the US administration.
“Now MEPs and EU governments have cleared these wrong-headed plans for take-off.”
Commenting on the UK context, where the Airports Commission is considering increased aviation capacity, Ms Lambert added:
"This vote today in Brussels takes on an added significance in the context of the UK Government’s desire to cater for ever-increasing numbers of flights. A new runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow would leave more people affected by noise and air pollution and more climate-damaging pollution.
“This is exactly what European laws should be aiming to prevent, and today's vote is a source of regret to this end. We can’t just keep catering for rising growth in flying. Instead, we need to reduce demand and explore how aviation could function within environmental limits.”]]>
Members of the European Parliament have called on national governments to enforce rules designed to protect foreign workers posted overseas from ruthless employers.
The decision should give so-called 'Posted Workers' – those temporarily sent by an employer to work in a different country – the same rights as anyone else at work.
It will protect them from tax scams, ensure they are paid at least the minimum wage, given holidays and so on.
London's Green MEP Jean Lambert said there were a large but ever-changing number of 'Posted Workers' in the capital, and that many had suffered exploitation.
Ms Lambert, a member of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee, said: "This new legislation is an important step forward for the rights of those posted to work temporarily in other EU member states.
“Proper enforcement of EU rules on posted workers will help prevent the exploitation of posted workers and ensure they are granted their rights.
“With countless examples of exploitation, some here in London – most undocumented but particularly in the thriving construction and food processing sectors, it was essential for the EU to take action.”
She added: “The responsibility for ensuring 'Posted Workers' get the protection at work to which they are entitled rests very firmly with national governments – and they really need to co-operate better and ensure the rules are enforced.”]]>
Stricter laws on disposable plastic bags will "massively benefit our environment" says Jean Lambert. Photograph courtesy of Pauline Eccles.
Using plastic shopping bags could become a thing of the past after Euro-MPs agreed to Green proposals to end their use, which creates massive amounts of waste and litter – as well as posing a danger to wildlife and spoiling the environment.
MEPs agreed that new rules proposed by the European Commission didn't go far enough, and called for mandatory targets to reduce bag use by 50% in three years and 80% over five, as well as requiring that shoppers pay for their bags.
London's Green MEP Jean Lambert said the rules would make a real difference in the capital.
“Parts of London have discarded shopping bags in trees as far as the eye can see – they are unsightly and dirty and present a real threat to wildlife,” she said.
“Any measures to dramatically cut their use are to be welcomed: they'll massively benefit our environment by significantly reducing plastic waste, and quickly.
“We've see, in Ireland, for example, that where plastic shopping bags are taxed, and alternatives provided, their use drops off very quickly, and ambitious targets to reduce them can be achieved: putting a price on single-use bags is a proven and highly effective policy tool for reducing their excessive consumption."]]>
New legislation will improve cyclists' safety on the road says Jean Lambert. Photograph courtesy of Jeremy Hughes.
MEPs in the European Parliament have voted to support measures which will improve the design of lorries to make them safer for cyclists.
The new legislation, on the dimensions of trucks in Europe, will force manufacturers to improve windows and mirrors to heighten cyclists' visibility – which in turn could save hundreds of lives in London and across Europe. In 2013 nine of 16 fatalities on London's roads involved lorries.
MEPs also voted to improve the efficiency of trucks and lorries, and vitally, voted to hold back measures which could pave the way for 25-meter long ‘mega-trucks’ to hit European roads.
Jean Lambert, London's Green Party MEP, said:
“MEPs have voted today to introduce EU measures which will make cyclists more visible to lorry drivers. These improvements will reduce the number of accidents which sadly occur on our roads.
“In the UK alone, thousands of cyclists are seriously injured on our roads each year. I’m therefore delighted that measures which will improve visibility for lorry drivers have been supported. As a Green MEP, I believe we must do all we can to make our streets safer and cleaner, and this can begin by making roads safer for cyclists.
“I really welcome this vote today: We need to upgrade the cab design of lorries in order to keep vulnerable road users safe. We have seen too many deaths and serious injuries to cyclists on our roads and of the 16 fatalities in London last year, over half involved lorries. Changes such as better visibility from the cab, and better wing mirrors will help responsible drivers avoid tragedy.”
The new regulations are expected to come into force in 2016.]]>
Responding to the news that MPs are to launch an investigation into the state of London's air pollution, London Green Party MEP Jean Lambert said:
"We welcome the news that politicians are finally taking seriously the threat posed by London's air pollution epidemic. The London Green Party and organisations such as Clean Air in London have been campaigning tirelessly for the Mayor Boris Johnson to sit-up and take notice but all we've seen is bluff, bluster, and buffoonery as 4000 Londoners are killed prematurely every year by this silent killer".
This investigation is a positive step and sends Mr. Johnson a clear message: if you won't take this matter seriously, others will. We hope this inquiry will result in the kinds of action we've been calling for that will cut air pollution in the city and protect Londoners' health: introducing 20mph speed limits to make it easier to get about by bike and on foot; working with the European Union to ensure internationally agreed air pollution limits are enforced; and raising standards in the Low Emission Zone so that polluting, heavy, and old diesel vehicles are included and charged. Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air."
What the BBC described as “Germany’s dirty secret” is really not much of a secret at all. Most school children in Germany know that lignite, a form of coal, is still being mined across the country. That’s because in Germany, discussions about energy are factual, balanced and open. We know the score. The British public are deprived of such an honest debate. The press stir up hysteria about climate change and about the “vast” subsidies being paid for renewables whilst neglecting to mention the subsidies fossil fuels and nuclear power plants receive – not to mention the terrible impact these industries have on wildlife and the environment and the deadly affect they are having on human existence.
The truth about the lignite story is that there really is no story to tell. The minor upturn in coal production right at the end of the graph featured in the BBC’s article ignores the fact that Germany’s CO2 emissions have fallen by some 20% since 1990 and that German energy consumption has been falling for the past two decades. Germany is, as the article states in its opening, very much still a “world leader” in the battle to reduce emissions. The article fails to mention the fact that between 2002 and 2012 Germany installed enough capacity from renewables to increase electricity supply by over 92 terawatt hours to 136TWh – equivalent to over one-third of Britain’s electricity needs for one year.
It isn’t just Germany that is leaving Britain behind in renewable energy production. Over the last 10 years enough renewable energy sources have been installed in Spain to generate 50% of the country’s electricity needs and they are now looking to upscale that figure to 100% by 2020. Not only is this pumping cleaner energy into Spanish homes but this growing industry has also provided a buffer against the impacts of the economic crisis – a lesson there for a certain Mr. Osborne.
Now to put this in the British perspective. In 2012 all nuclear reactors in this country produced some 64TWh of electricity and received vast subsidies in the process. Rather than talk about “Germany’s dirty secret” we could so easily be talking about “the nuclear industry’s dirty secret”. The money that has been wasted on new plants that produce no more than a trickle of energy has been widely discussed in Germany but never in Britain. Alternatively we could speak of “fracking’s dirty secret” and discuss the extremely high levels of methane this process of gas extraction pumps into the atmosphere or how it pollutes local water supplies.
There is cause for some hope, however. A recent comment piece in the Telegraph talked about how investment in solar energy could soon overtake the money being pumped into fossil fuels and it is undoubtedly government funding and leadership that is needed. It was this major investment initiated by the German Green Party between 1998 and 2005 that kick-started a whole new energy sector and created millions of jobs and no emission energy.
Though such stories are encouraging, we have to keep challenging world governments to invest in energy supplies that have longevity and will protect the environment and humans alike. The world is not flat, we can fly to the moon. There are so many possibilities out there – all we need is the political will to make them a reality.
Jurgen Huber, Co-Chair of West Central London Green Party
Place du Luxembourg, European Quarter of Brussels, photograph courtesy of J Logan.
The EU must remain focused on environmental policies – and not just concentrate on economic revival, London’s Green MEP Jean Lambert said this week.
Speaking at a conference entitled 'A Better Europe Now' organised by the Spring Alliance – an umbrella group of civil society groups and trade unions working in Brussels - she said we faced an environmental crisis as well as a social and economic one.
“The Spring Alliance has today called for a lot of great policies for the future of Europe – and I'm delighted to be here offering it my support,” she said.
“The 'Spring Alliance' brings together many of the organisations working to try to improve EU policies on development, equality, workers' rights, the environment and the economy.
“It's vital that the EU tackles the triple crises the world is facing: environmental, economic and social. They are all intimately linked, and unless we tackle them together we can't really hope to solve any of them.
The Spring Alliance has called for a more democratic EU, a reduction in poverty, an end to austerity measures, job creation, environmental improvements, more renewable energy generation, and a more just tax system.
“I hope the European Parliament has the necessary representation to put pressure on the European Commission and Member State governments after the May 22 election to make sure that happens.”]]>
Migrant workers are vital to the UK economy and work in important sectors such as healthcare and education. Photograph courtesy of Louise.
Anti-immigration and poor labour market policies mean the UK is missing out on the skills and abilities of migrants, especially women, according to London's Green MEP Jean Lambert.
Speaking at a conference organised by the European Network of Migrant Women, Ms Lambert said that London would grind to a halt without the skills of the thousands of migrant women working as nurses, carers, teachers, office and shop workers, engineers and doctors – and in many other professions and temporary roles.
Migration brings net benefits to all Londoners, but the anti-immigration and poor labour market policies of some politicians means we all miss out on what many migrant women have to offer, she said.
“The reality is that the economy, in London and much of the EU, is dependent on migration, yet too many politicians seem to be arguing that we should make it harder for migrants, even those from the EU, to work here in the UK,” said Ms Lambert, who is also the Green Party's Spokesperson on Immigration.
“In fact we should be welcoming the role that migrant workers – and especially migrant women – play in making our economy work.
“We need to make it easier, not harder, for women to use the skills and qualifications they already have: far too many are working in jobs which don't match their skill levels, and there are practical measures we can take to address this at national and EU level.”
The conference, which brought together academics and policy-makers – including Jitka Markova, the director of Tower Hamlets young people and women's centre The Arbour - saw the launch of a new series of pamphlets about how migrant women are seeking to improve access to employment in the EU.
The series includes pamphlets addressing some of the most common problems facing migrant workers abroad: recognition of qualifications, how to prevent de-skilling, and how to set up in self-employment abroad.]]>
The "It Starts With You" campaign from streetchildrenday.org
Euro-MP Jean Lambert has backed a call for the UN to launch a new campaign to improve the lives of 'street children'.
Speaking at a Brussels event to mark the International Day for Street Children, which takes place tomorrow (April 12th), she said a global effort was needed to improve the lives and prospects of the estimated 700 million children forced to call the streets home – as many as 100,000 of them a year in London.
The Green MEP, who is also a member of the European Parliament's cross-party Intergroup on Youth Issues, said: “A child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK – that's 100,000 children a year – many of whom end up on the streets of London.
“Though many return home quickly, some don't: and we know that however long a child is on the streets she is more likely to suffer violence and sexual exploitation, to become malnourished and suffer disease - with little or no access to healthcare – and to have their education disrupted.
“In many countries, it's much worse of course, with children starting life on the streets.”
She added: “We really need a global focus on this: and the UN is the body to co-ordinate one. There is lots of good work happening on this issue, not least at EU level, but it really needs to be joined up. Our children, in London and around the world, deserve better.”
Campaigners say the International Day for Street Children is a platform for the millions of street children around the world – and their champions – to speak out so that their rights cannot be ignored.
They want the UN to adopt the Day – when the UN adopts a Day it gives the issue greater global exposure and increases pressure on governments to act.
You can add your support for the campaign by signing the petition at streetchildrenday.org]]>
A #smogselfie in London, part of the London Green Party #smogselfie campaign.
Public Health England has released statistics today on the number of people dying because of air pollution. Across England it is estimated that 25,002 people died because of air pollution in 2010. In London alone it is estimated that nearly 3,400 died.
Jean Lambert, the Green Party’s MEP for London and a clean air campaigner, said:
“These new statistics, which show that thousands of people are dying because of air pollution, make it clear that urgent action is needed to clean up our air.
“The fact that thousands are dying because of air pollution each year should be a source of shame for Ministers. Yet, despite the mounting evidence of this major public health threat, the Government is doing far too little to reduce air pollution.
David Cameron, who last week flippantly blamed the smog entirely on Saharan Dust, should be ashamed of himself. The Government knows that the smog last week was in part caused by the high levels of pollution we have in this country, yet, shamefully, they refuse to accept responsibility. Now that these stats reveal thousands of deaths are caused by air pollution, it is time for Ministers to take this issue seriously and take urgent action to protect people’s health.”
In Ms Lambert's London constituency 3,389 deaths in 2010 were associated with air pollution. Public Health England's report estimates that 7.2% of deaths in London were attributable to air pollution.
Ms Lambert, who is a founder supporter of Clean Air in London, went on to say:
“With almost one in 12 deaths in my London caused by air pollution it is abundantly clear that action is needed.
“We need to radically rethink the way they are dealing with air pollution. To protect people’s health we need both the UK Government and the Mayor of London to be bold in tackling air pollution – and stop trying to water down the rules.
“We need a 'very low emissions zone' for central London, cleaner buses, a strategy to reduce pollution from taxi exhaust, 20mph speed limits as standard in residential areas, and more steps to encourage walking and cycling.
“It’s time we recognise that air pollution is a political issue. We can clean up our air, but we need to force politicians to take the issue seriously.”
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in 2011 reignited the debate on the safety of nuclear energy.
A proposed taxpayer subsidy of more than a billion pounds to two new nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point in Somerset would be illegal under EU law, according to London Green MEP Jean Lambert.
Adding her name to a submission made by scientists from University College London, Ms Lambert said the payment would distort the European energy sector and make it harder to invest in cleaner, safer, renewable energy in future.
“The proposed subsidy would breach EU law,” she said, “and, as governments around the world are realising in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, would be promoting a dirty, unsafe energy technology at the expense of the renewable and community-level solutions we need to combat climate change and keep the lights on.”
Ms Lambert made her comments as more than 100 academics and politicians of all parties – including a number of Greens - responded to a European Commission consultation on the proposed funding of new nuclear power stations in the UK.]]>
Photograph courtesy of Kevin Pluck.
Green MEPs Jean Lambert (London) and Keith Taylor (South-East England) have launched a bid to ban 'canned hunting' - the practice of shooting captive lions and other wildlife for trophies.
They have asked the European Commission to ban the import into the EU of any such trophies, which have increased in popularity since hunting lions and other endangered wildlife has been outlawed in many countries.
According to UK-based charity Lion Aid, as many as 8,000 lions are being bred in captivity for holiday-makers to shoot with bows and arrows and even pistols in South Africa alone.
“So-called 'canned hunting' – the practice of shooting a captive-bred animal for trophies – is an abhorrent and sordid business, and should be banned immediately,” said London MEP Jean Lambert.
“While it is mainly happening outside the EU we can't directly put a stop to it, but we can ban the import of any such 'trophies' that result to discourage EU holiday-makers from taking part in this unacceptably-cruel activity.”
South-East England's Green MEP Keith Taylor, who has co-signed the request to ban the import of canned hunting 'trophies' into the EU, said: “We must try to stop the breeding of mammals simply for holiday-makers to kill for fun: banning the import of these 'trophies' is something we can do almost immediately.
“As a recent World Trade Organisation ruling observed, it is perfectly lawful to restrict imports on moral grounds.”]]>
London Green MEP candidate Amelia Womack asks: how many more people have to die before we see serious action to tackle London's air pollution?
The word “smog” conjures thoughts of a Dickensian London of blackened buildings and thick air – but last weeks smog warnings remind us that the air pollution we thought had been relegated to the annals of history is still with us.
Time and again Mayor Boris Johnson has been called to act on air pollution and although he has now pledged to "beat the smog", his reactive statement only serves to highlight his eight years of complacency on the issue. The Mayor’s complacency has not only caused a 34% increase in the NHS treating people with breathing difficulties but follows a consistent pattern of reactive rather than proactive legislation on toxic air.
In 1952, "The Great Smog" closed in around London. In just two days it managed to claim the lives of over 12,000 people. This impact on the population of London of poor air quality could no longer be ignored and the government felt compelled to legislate. The result was the Clean Air Act of 1956 which sought to reduce the volumes of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere.
Though the government had acted, it was not enough to save the lives of the 12,000 claimed by the respiratory problems caused by the “Great Pea Souper”. Sadly, it is this retrospective strategy towards air pollution that has characterised our politician’s approach to London’s air pollution ever since. We’re still waiting for the holistic, wholehearted effort to clean-up the capital’s air that Londoners desperately need.
Legislation has not been enacted to protect the residents of London against pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrous oxide - which are still occurring at levels above the EU’s legal limits and costing over £20 million per year in social damage. Sadly every warm day that Londoners enjoy brings with it more smog warnings, sore throats, runny noses and poor visibility. That’s the price we continue to pay for a Mayor that refuses to act on air pollution.
Air pollution doesn’t just result in these (relatively) mild irritations. The levels of air pollution experienced in London has been linked to cardiovascular problems, respiratory disease, brain disease and cancer. The worst affected are the elderly and young children, especially those with already present respiratory problems. With schools lining the busy streets of London, their exposure to harmful air pollutants has meant that around 15-30% of all new cases of asthma can be attributed to air pollution. Overall, it is estimated that over 4000 lives are lost prematurely each year in London due to air pollution.
Current air pollution strategies in London are simply not fit for purpose. Despite the carcinogenic emissions in diesel, there are still over 8,500 diesel buses and 20,000 diesel taxis on London’s roads. The UK is not even honouring the commitments it has already undertaken: though officially compelled to comply with the EU directive on air quality, the government has simply stated that it will not be possible to reach the agreed benchmarks within the foreseen timeframe. The Commission has even launched court proceedings against Britain as a result of 15 years of failure to reduce Nitrogen Oxide levels across the country.
Sadly, Boris Johnson’s approach to this can best be summed up as an “air pollution, what air pollution?” attitude, followed by sweeping statements that don't have a clear path of action. In comparison, Jean Lambert, London’s Green MEP since 2009, is calling for strong actions that will ensure that Londoners can breathe safely in the capital. The Greens targets to achieve this are: to create a very low emission zone such as the one in Berlin; clean up the buses ensuring that all vehicles are hybrid, hydrogen or electric; develop a new taxi strategy to reduce emissions from taxis; safer cycling routes to encourage people out of their cars; and a 20mph speed limit to cut emission through developing smooth flowing traffic. These goals can not be achieved overnight, and with Johnson rejecting these plans when they were presented at City Hall just last month, it looks like we're going to see more delays in these changes that will fundamentally save lives. Even as smog enveloped London in recent weeks he refused even to issue a public health warning – further endangering the lives of Londoners. How many more people will die as a result of air pollution before robust laws to protect the population are introduced?]]>
A week after smog hit England, and with the UK facing EU fines because of air pollution levels, Greens across the country are calling for urgent action to clean up the toxic air threatening people’s health.
With 29,000 people dying every year because of air pollution, Greens have hit out at the Government’s record and accused Ministers of ‘astonishing complacency’.
Greens are speaking up on air pollution today as one of the Party’s MEP’s, Keith Taylor, launches a report which shows that thousands of children in South East England are going to school near polluted roads.
The new report by Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP for South East England, shows that approximately 27,920 children of primary school age are attending schools in South East England within a 150m radius of heavy traffic points. Many thousands more go to school within 450m of the region’s busiest roads. The report, which covers West Berkshire, East Sussex, West Sussex, Oxfordshire, Bracknell and Kent local authorities, comes just days after the region was hit by a serious smog episode.
The report compiles information from Freedom of Information requests sent to councils across South East England.
Keith Taylor, the Green Party’s MEP for South East England and a clean air campaigner, said:
“The last week has shown the Government’s astonishing complacency on air pollution. Despite 29,000 people dying every year because of toxic air, and the European Commission beginning legal proceedings against the UK, the Prime Minister had the audacity to blame last weeks smog entirely on Saharan Dust.
“Of course the smog that hit the UK last week was partly because of dust from the Sahara but it was hugely exacerbated by the unacceptably high levels of air pollution we have in our towns and cities.”
Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, said:
"I awoke this morning to bright clear skies in London, without the visible of last week. But we mustn't be fooled. The health-threatening nitrogen dioxide and small particulates are still there, being belched out by vehicles on our congested streets.
"Keith's report is a reminder that up and down the country many millions in cities, towns and even villages are being subjected to high levels of this pollution, with particularly bad effects on our children. Once their lungs have been effected they will carry the effects for life; we have to act to end this health threat."
Road traffic is the biggest source of air pollution in the UK. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Particulate Matter (PM) and Ground Level Ozone (O3) are the pollutants which are particularly dangerous for human health, causing both respiratory and heart problems.
Children and the elderly are most at risk from high levels of air pollution. Research has shown that living near heavy traffic points (roads where 10,000 or more cars pass daily) can be attributed to 15-30% of new asthma cases in children as well as affecting the development of lung capacity. Short term exposure to air pollution can result in irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, as well as bronchitis and pneumonia. In the long term, air pollution can result in lung diseases, cancer, nerve, kidney, liver and brain damage, as well as heart attacks.
Keith Taylor, who produced the ‘Polluted Playgrounds’ report, said:
“This report makes clear just how many children across South East England are going to school near busy roads that are likely to be very polluted.
We know that air pollution is a serious threat to children’s health, and we know that thousands of people die every year because of the effects of air pollution.
It’s abundantly clear that action on air pollution is needed. Many of our towns and cities need to radically rethink the way they are dealing with air pollution.
We need clean public transport options, plus a huge improvement in the numbers of people cycling and walking. With the EU Commission threatening to the fine this county we also need the UK Government to take this problem seriously and invest in local schemes that will cut air pollution.”