A new report, the Green New Deal in the North West, provides an outline of a radical restructuring of the economy that is needed to improve the quality of lives of all species, while increasing biodiversity and enriching the land so that it can provide good, nutritious food and be resilient to extreme weather conditions. Sounds like a fantasy? Not so!
Many of these objectives are already being delivered, albeit in some cases, small scale. This plan is a positive, ‘can-do’ plan which describes a rapid transition to a smart, zero carbon, nature-friendly economy that will create thousands of rewarding jobs – a true ‘Green Powerhouse’ in the North.
This is why I was delighted to launch this Green Party report in Manchester last week.
Food and farming
One of the most challenging areas is that of land use. We require a fundamental transformation of our relationship to the land, our food and those who provide it. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
Farming subsidies do not support nature, healthy food or small-scale local farmers. Soil depletion is largely due to decades of intensive farming and over-use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers.
Our industrialised food system is not only failing our planet, but also our health and well-being. Our current farming subsidy system promotes an agri-business model focused on global markets and international companies.
The North West has the lowest forest cover in the UK; our peat bogs are in poor condition and we have experienced unprecedented flooding in recent years.
Solutions lie in creating smaller, organic farms. These provide more jobs per farm in the UK than conventional agriculture and provide jobs which are more interesting and rewarding.
More support is required for the Northern Forest. This is a partnership between the Woodland Trust and local community forest organisations, who plan to plant 50 million trees across the North, from Liverpool to Hull. It will cost an estimated £500 million over the next 25 years and will require considerably more government investment.
The transition from fossil fuel energy to renewables will be ‘just’. This means that the move from fossil fuels, road and air transport will include re-training (or early retirement) for workers in these traditional industries to enable them to work in green industries or environmental restoration schemes.
The Green New Deal eschews fossil fuel developments and untested new nuclear in favour of upscaling on and offshore wind, solar and green hydrogen power. All of which have the capacity to create thousands of jobs for decades to come.
Increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings in the North West is the most obvious way of tackling the climate emergency while at the same time, delivering social justice for all. Fuel poverty is higher in the North West than anywhere else in the country.
Well-insulated, warm homes mean healthier and happier residents, less spending on public health and in turn, this would contribute towards a more productive economy.
Similarly, an overhaul of the North West’s inefficient transport system is essential to tackling the climate emergency and contributing to social exclusion and inequality.
Greater Manchester already has ambitious plans to introduce Clean Air Zones and to improve public transport and cycle and pedestrian routes. Other local authorities are stymied though, as they are not accorded the same level of devolved powers as combined authorities with directly elected mayors.
The report calls for this inequality to be addressed. Without doubt, airport expansion must be curbed and frequent-flyer levies applied.
Under the Green New Deal many low carbon initiatives already underway in the region would be accelerated and expanded. A few examples of these:
- The glass industry along the ‘Glass Corridor’ stretching from Liverpool to Hull, with the support of local government, has come together to support Glass Futures, a not-for-profit R&D project aiming to eliminate carbon from the manufacturing process;
- Crystal Doors, a small manufacturer in Rochdale which has reduced its energy use by 75 percent and where the reduction of carbon footprint underpins every aspect of the business;
- Carbon Co-op, based in Manchester, a unique citizen-led organisation which provides tools, knowledge and training on whole house retrofits for people and communities;
- Arcola Energy, a leading engineering specialist in hydrogen and fuel cell vehicle technologies. This London-headquartered firm is building a new manufacturing facility in Knowsley to support the development of hydrogen-powered transport in the region;
- FarmStart, an incubator programme provides access to affordable land, shared equipment, training and local customers to build a new generation of organic growers.
The Green New Deal report has nearly 40 recommendations. They include:
- Establishing a Just Transition Commission which would have a dedicated fund and would protect and enhance jobs in heavy industry;
- Making energy-saving a national priority;
- Declaring the state of housing a national emergency and launching a multi-billion-pound deep retrofit scheme with associated vocational training schemes;
- Supporting reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy to put a cap on payments and to ringfence at least 50 percent for eco schemes;
- Passing a new Clean Air Act and enshrine it in law;
- Obligating planning departments to prioritise the climate emergency in project appraisals;
- Bringing public spending on walking and cycling up to at least £10 per capita per year and ensure new housing developments are designed with active travel and public transport in mind;
- Piloting new measures of wellbeing alongside GDP.
Gina Dowding is the Green MEP for North West England, a county councillor for Lancashire County Council and a city councillor for Lancaster.
Read about the Green New Deal for the North West here.