At the Newham Oxfam Climate Question Time: Stephen Timms MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, was very keen on aviation growth....whilst making it clear that us mere mortals have so many ways in which we can reduce our
emissions! Strangely for a Financial Secretary to the Treasury , there was NO mention of what BUSINESS could do to help with climate change, the local environment and the required reduction in emissions: that is until that issue was raised in relation to aviation by a member of the audience.
Timms is very keen on allowing the rich (the richly subsidised and pocketing aviation industry in particular) to trade in carbon credits - the European Emissions Trading Scheme. This is the answer to all the climate issues of the world, well that's what he believes. We'd like him to review that after what he heard at Wednesday's meeting.
Apparently the tax that will be collected from the scheme would be of great benefit when government throw a brown paper bag of notes over to areas such as flooded Bangladesh, after the damage from climate change has already occurred of course. Timms referred this to 'environmental mitigation' . Mitigation in Newham - it's put into policy and planning documents but rarely put into practice for the benefit of it's residents.
Personally, we suspect this money wouldn't be any more use at that point, in terms of 'mitigation', than a few sandbags being handed out once everything has already been lost and washed away. It was pointed out that this was simply allowing the rich to pay to pollute the poor, that it was selfish and an irresponsible policy unless the government was willing to halt growing emissions, from the aviation industry for example. Otherwise surely it was a case of continuing to allow the annual 3,000 premature deaths in London and the floods in Bangladesh to further deteriorate, and to throw money at those groups after they suffer, and lives are lost, whilst government and big businesses continued 'business as usual' wasn't it? This surely at the very least is nothing more than patronising, devalues the worth of individuals, and once again values money above all other factors?
Public transport, poverty and car use in Newham was also raised. There's a lot of problems with transport and inequalities in Newham. Timms displaying just how out of touch he is with residents in his borough, claimed that there had been huge transport improvements: DLR (paid for by taxpayers) and Eurostar..and that buses had improved. DLR and Eurostar are a luxury to residents in one of the most socially deprived boroughs in London.
A lady on the bus told us that she couldn't afford/nor was it practical to travel by tube/DLR to her job in EC1.She spends almost 4 hours a day travelling into the city for her minimum wage. It takes so long as the bus often simply doesn't turn up so she has to allow extra time, lots of extra time. Her 4 children and husband are used to her being out 12 hours a day, but are not happy about it and worry about her safety. We've heard from more than one MP say they wouldn't use public transport/or go out alone in the evening because of concern for their personal safety. Unfortunately most residents don't have employers (yes, us the taxpayers) who will pay for them to stay over in hotels, or perhaps pay for them to travel by taxis so they don't have to face those scary, and long commutes over short distances to and from work. It's no wonder so many people struggle to run cars to get around, but they are the very people who government appear to be looking to for reducing emissions whilst big business carries on increasing theirs. These issues clearly all provide barriers to employment, and a way out of poverty and pollution in Newham, but they are certainly not ones that the local politicians seem to grasp.
But don't worry, residents might not be able to afford to get to work in a time efficient way, or have the time to travel to work for 4 hours a day because of family responsibilities...BUT there are more flights for the rich, who don't live in Newham, don't contribute to Newham but whom DO use London City Airport and whom leave rather a lot of pollution behind for the less privileged to breathe.
It was interesting that Timms started his initial answer to all these points that 'the answer is not to shut London City Airport' (trebles all round for that statement in the airport hospitality room for Timms next time he visits). Strangely the audience member who posed the questions had not even made such a suggestion that the airport should close, but instead highlighted the importance of 'balanced decisions, taking all issues into account, but certainly not allowing the airport to expand''. .
But Timms is banking on biofuels for aviation (he failed to mention about the mass de-forestation and food crops declining as a result of the current poorly planned quest for unsustainable biofuels though). Unfortunately you couldn't help but feel that banking might be the operative word, yes governments banking that money all the way to the bank, whilst further damaging our environment, communities and seeing premature deaths continue to rise in London. In fact Newham even knows a bit about biofuels as it's also approved a more than controversial biofuel plant which is alleged will pour yet more harmful emissions and asthma inducing pollutants into the already over polluted air in East London.
Timms, although we are sure he is an exceptionally personable individual is sorely misguided and wrong. He simply misses the issues that are right beneath his nose in his own constituency, let alone globally. Perhaps this was apparent in his inability to answer the questions that were put to him.
Thanks to Oxfam for their great work in encouraging debate in communities and bringing the issues to a local level and also to the two NGO panel members invited by Oxfam: Sabino Miranda of the Climate Change Youth Development Trust and Monjural from the European Action Group on Climate Change in Bangladesh. These groups and individuals are carrying out such valuable grass roots work, building communities and building understanding.