Sunday, 20 October 2019

Climate Action Leicester


Across the country, Climate Action Groups are starting up to bring together seasoned campaigners and people new to activism to call for action on climate change. They are asking local councils to declare a climate emergency and then adopt ambitious climate action plans to tackle the problem. 

In Leicester, we held a launch meeting for our Climate Action Group on Sunday 29th September. We had booked Secular Hall, expecting that to provide plenty of space, but then 85 people showed up and we were quite cosy! 



Mel and Zina facilitated the event on behalf of Leicester Friends of the Earth. We began by talking to each other about what had brought us to the meeting and what upsets us most about climate change. This gave everyone the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit. We also discussed effective campaigns for change that we had seen or been part of, to help collect ideas about what works. 


We then split into groups and looked at ideas for actions that local councils can take on climate change in different areas: transport, housing, green spaces and education. Everyone had time to consider every topic and vote for the ideas that they thought would be most effective in Leicester. When we collected all the votes together, we were able to identify the following policies that we want to see in Leicester City Council's Climate Action Plan:

General

  • To set annual measurable targets for Leicester to achieve net zero greenhouse reduction by 2030.
  • To require officers and councillors to identify for each council decision whether the recommendations would help or hinder carbon reduction.
  • That council to set up a cross-party, non-partisan Climate Emergency Advisory Committee.

Buildings

  • To enforce building standards.
  • To require higher standards than current national standards for all new developments.

Nature

  • To protect existing local green spaces, green belt and locally designated nature sites
  • To increase tree cover on council-owned land to 20%, update local planning strategies to double tree cover across the Local Authority area, ensure existing trees are properly protected to store carbon support nature, improve soils and water quality, aid flood protection and urban design.

Transport

  • To reduce car use through measures such as promoting car sharing, improving the bus service, and constraining road space
  • To prioritise transport investment into cycling, walking, trams and public transport, such as electric buses
  • To improve and integrate our public transport system.

We sent this list to the mayor, Peter Soulsby, and we have now set up smaller working groups to campaign in each area. If you missed the launch meeting but you would like to get involved in a working group, please email leicesterclimateaction@gmail.com. The City Council will be launching a 
consultation on their new Climate Action Plan this Autumn and we need as 
many people as possible to get involved in the campaign for action on climate 
change in Leicester!


Saturday, 31 August 2019

Michael Sackin

We were sad to hear recently that Michael Sackin, an active member of Leicester Friends of the Earth, died on 12th August. Michael had been part of the group since 1995, until his health prevented him coming to meetings. Even when he was unwell, he continued contributing to email discussions until just a few months ago. He was a dedicated activist and had been involved in all of our campaigns over the past few years. He spent many hours standing on street stalls and talking to members of the public about 20 mph speed limits, air pollution and the need to protect our bees. He was particularly concerned about genetically-modified organisms and agricultural chemicals. Michael will be fondly remembered by all of us as a true friend of the Earth.

His family have set up a Just Giving page to collect donations to national Friends of the Earth in his name and we will be making a group donation. 

Thursday, 15 August 2019

A Manifesto for Leicester's Wildlife


Today we presented our Manifesto for Leicester's Wildlife to Leicester City Mayor, Peter Soulsby. Our biodiversity campaigner, Malcolm Hunter, explains:
“All around us the natural world is in decline, but there is a lot we can do to help to halt and reverse this, even in an urban area such as Leicester, given the large amount of land now occupied by urban areas and the fact that urban areas can sometimes actually provide a haven for wildlife that is struggling to survive in surrounding intensively farmed countryside.

The City Council are already doing some good work in this area, but we believe that even more can be done and we hope that the City Council will find our suggestions useful and give serious consideration to taking them on board”.


City Mayor Peter Soulsby said:
“I very much welcome this initiative from Leicester Friends of the Earth and look forward to working with them to look at how we can best use their suggestions to further develop the City Council’s work in this area”.



A Manifesto for Leicester’s Wildlife

Across the world, nature is declining at an unprecedented rate. This will have serious implications for the long-term sustainability of human society[1].
When people think about nature, they tend to think about the countryside, but urban areas are also important as they now occupy a significant proportion of land.  In fact, cities can provide a haven for many species that are struggling to survive in intensively farmed rural areas.[2]

Leicester City Council has a 10-year biodiversity action plan[3], which contains many laudable aspirations and policies.   However, although progress has been made, such as in the creation of wilder areas in many parks, we believe that much more could be done.  We are keen to work with the Council and other stakeholders to look at how current good work can be built upon.   

This document is not intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of everything that needs doing.   However, it aims to contribute some ideas and encourage further discussion.

We would like to make the following suggestions:

Look at the city as one habitat.  Leicester’s existing biodiversity action plan is very focused on protecting sites of particularly high wildlife value and on identifying and improving other sites with high potential.  The rest of the City is also important because the total area of potential habitat involved is greater, even if its quality is lower, and one continuous area of habitat can support more wildlife than several separate areas.  The more that we can connect up areas of prime habitat, the better.  This could be achieved by a drastic reduction in both the frequency and degree of pruning of street trees and a further reduction in the frequency of cutting of roadside verges. 

Plant more trees.  The Council’s current policy is to replace any tree felled with a newly planted sapling, but this does not replace like with like, in terms of providing wildlife habitat or mitigating climate change[4].  Mature trees contribute far more to both than newly planted saplings.  The Council should acknowledge this and adopt a policy of replacing any tree it fells with, say, 20 saplings.  This would come much closer to replacing what has been lost and would allow for more informed decisions to fell mature trees. 

Become a pesticide and herbicide-free town.  Recent years have seen a massive decline in insect populations, with knock-on effects for other species.  Alongside habitat loss, a major driver of this decline has been the use of pesticides.  We would like to see Leicester sign up to become a pesticide-free town[5].   The Council should not only avoid the use of pesticides, but also adopt a policy of making sure that any seeds or plants purchased from external suppliers do not contain pesticide residues. 
Plan to make space for wildlife.  The Council should review its planning policies to check that it makes maximum use of the powers available to prevent environmentally damaging developments and to ensure that developments protect and enhance biodiversity.  This can be done with green spaces, sustainable urban drainage, nesting boxes, hedgehog holes in new walls and fences, restrictions on paving over of gardens and requirements to incorporate green roofs and walls.  In addition, the Council should review whether it has sufficiently robust procedures in place for monitoring whether planning requirements are actually complied with.
Incorporate green roofs and walls into Council properties.  The Council should consider incorporating green roofs and walls into the new council housing that it is hoping to build and its existing buildings.  Green roofs can also be added to bus shelters.[6]
Reduce light pollution to protect wildlife.  The Council’s current policy makes no mention of reducing the impact of light pollution on nocturnal wildlife; something needs to be added to the strategy on this issue.
Consider potential biodiversity and climate change impacts of all Council decisions.  While one part of the Council may be striving to act in an environmentally sustainable way, this may be undermined by the actions of other parts of the Council with different priorities.  We would like to see the Council declare a “biodiversity emergency”, in addition to its recent declaration of a “climate emergency”.  It should adopt a policy of assessing both the biodiversity and climate change impact of all Council decisions and these assessments should play a major role in guiding decision-making. 
Green up the Council’s purchasing and investment policies.  Beyond the boundaries of Leicester, the Council’s purchasing and investment decisions can have a major impact on biodiversity.  For example, the City Council has recently established Fosse Energy, a not-for-profit energy company that aims to source all the electricity it provides from renewable sources.  This is a very welcome initiative but they count electricity produced by burning biomass as renewable.  In fact, electricity generation from burning biomass is leading to large-scale felling of forests, with severe negative implications for nature and the climate.  The Council should avoid using biofuels for similar reasons.  
Engage all citizens of Leicester in helping to promote biodiversity and wildlife.  In an era of financial constraints, one avenue for reaching people is schools, not just in terms of educating and involving a new generation, but also as a way of reaching families.  Relevant teaching materials and lesson plans could be provided for teachers and the Council could consult with the Young People’s Council.  Local media outlets, such as the Leicester Mercury and Radio Leicester, could help get messages out.  As allotments can play a potentially important role in supporting urban wildlife; the Council could provide allotment holders with advice on how to best manage their plot to enhance biodiversity.

Organise a biodiversity conference.  Finally, to help catalyse a wider conversation, the Council could consider organizing a conference to look at further developing local policy.  As well as involving environmental organizations such as Leicester Friends of the Earth, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, etc., this could involve schools (with teacher and student reps); youth organizations; trades unions; the Chamber of Commerce; the universities; community and faith organizations.  To help organize this and to research what is happening elsewhere, the Council might look at appointing one or more graduate trainees.  






[1] Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

[2] This important role for urban areas is recognized in the IPBES report. A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife have also produced a list of policies that they would like to see adopted by towns and cities in the UK to allow nature to flourish.


[4] A recent report has the role of trees in mitigating climate change: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/76




Saturday, 13 July 2019

Clean up the banks!


To highlight that the banks are investing enormous amounts of their customers’ money in dirty fossil fuels, we staged a cleaning flash mob at branches of Barclays, HSBC, Santander and Natwest in Leicester city centre.



We wore our cleaning clothes and brought dusters, brushes and polishing cloths to symbolically clean up the banks. While some of us cleaned, Melanie Wakley explained why we were there with a loud hailer:

“Scientists tell us that we’ve got 11 years left to take action if we want to avoid irreversible changes to the climate.

Runaway climate change would be an unthinkable disaster – it would mean drought, floods, extreme heatwaves and sea level rises. The poorest people would be the worst affected and it would become impossible for humans to live on parts of the planet.

We need to be investing in clean energy and a liveable planet. It’s time for these banks to move their customers’ money out of fossil fuels.”

Outside the banks, we also spoke to customers about how they can move their money out of dirty energy.



Between 2016 and 2018, Barclays invested $85.1 billion in fossil fuels; they are one of the top investors in oil mining. In the same period, HSBC invested $57.8 billion in dirty energy, including tar sands, Arctic drilling, coal mining and fracking. Santander have increased their investment in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was signed in 2015, investing $14.9 billion in dirty energy in three years.



Following a meeting with a member of Leicester Friends of the Earth last week, Leicester East MP, Keith Vaz, signed a cross-party letter to the prime minister in support of onshore wind energy. Onshore wind turbines are now the cheapest source of energy in the UK. They are also hugely popular, with over three quarters of the public backing their use, according to the government’s own statistics. However, since 2015, the government has introduced planning and financial barriers that have stood in the way of new projects. The campaigners are hoping that Leicester’s other MPs, Jon Ashworth and Liz Kendall, will also sign the letter and support clean energy.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

'The Time is Now' mass climate lobby



A group of people from Leicester, including members of Leicester Friends of the Earth, Global Justice Now Leicester, Leicester Green Party and a Baptist minister, travelled to London today to attend ‘The Time is Now’. This mass lobby was organised by environmental and faith organisations, bringing people together to tell MPs to end our contribution to climate change and restore our natural environment.

The organisers estimate that 12,000 people attended. They stood in groups organised by geographical areas along the banks of the Thames and held up signs with the names of their constituencies, so that MPs were able to find their constituents. At 2pm, everyone set off alarms to wake up parliament to the climate emergency.

The activists were asking politicians to create policies to slash carbon emissions now and also pass a strong Environment Bill that can restore nature, cut plastic pollution and improve air quality.

The government has set a long-term target for ending our contribution to climate change but their energy policies seem to be going backwards. They are still pushing fracking and trying to open a new coal mine, while increasing taxes on solar panels. When we are facing a climate emergency, that is madness. The long-term target is meaningless without immediate action.

We were disappointed that Keith Vaz did not turn up. Liz Kendall and Jon Ashworth did come to speak to their constituents, however. We had an interesting conversation with Jon Ashworth about the connection between human wellbeing and the environment.



Sunday, 23 June 2019

Clean Air Picnic


We invited our friends and families to a ‘Clean Air Picnic’ in Jubilee Square on Sunday, to show support for action on air pollution in Leicester.

Thursday 20th June is national Clean Air Day, which aims to give people the opportunity to find out more about air pollution and ‘help make the air cleaner and healthier for everyone’. Air pollution in Leicester is above legal limits and is known to be damaging people’s health. We recently launched an updated version of our Healthy Air Manifesto, with a list of changes that we want to see to tackle the problem. 
When we had finished our picnic, we gave out copies of the Manifesto and leaflets about air pollution to passersby. We also had an activity for children, who helped to make clean air bunting that we will use at future events.


Saturday, 8 June 2019

Earth Movers award for clean air campaign

On Saturday, two members of Leicester Friends of the Earth attended Groundswell, an event organised by national Friends of the Earth in Birmingham to talk about climate change campaigning. We met four more people from Leicester and Leicestershire there and we hope they will come and join the local group! We were honoured to receive an Earth Movers award for our air pollution campaign and the Healthy Air Manifesto for Leicester that we have re-published this year.