Posted by: Veronica on Jun 22, 2012
Tagged in: Untagged
Richard Howitt Labour MEP is in Rio +20 at the moment negotiating for more sustainable business practices. Make the Link - Climate exChange has been following closely and been very curious to know what the progress has been. So Make the Link - Climate exChange was really excited when we were given the opportunity to interview him to find what's going in Rio +20.
Questions come from St Christopher’s CE High School and Sixth Form, Accrington, Eastbury Comprehensive, Essex, Wymondham College, Attleborough and youthonclimate.
So let's begin:
1. What do you see as best possible outcome of Rio +20?
The frightening reality is that we are currently living well beyond our planet’s means. The global population now over 7 billion and by 2050 it is expected to reach nine billion, adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources and so we need to act quickly to make our lifestyles, our economies and our communities more sustainable for the future.
The best possible outcome of Rio+20 will be that global governments including the UK agree to take steps to change our ways to make sure that sustainability becomes a central part of our economy and a central part of how we all live. We can’t continue to live today like there will be no tomorrow or we just might be proven right!
"We can't continue to live today like there will be no tomorrow"
2. What is the impact of Rio +20 going to be for young people in Europe and Africa?
Young people today both in Europe, Africa and across the globe are facing the same future if we don’t act. It will be today’s young people, tomorrow’s children and future generations who will face the consequences of the decisions made this week in Rio.
What we must achieve from working on in Rio is a sustainable future. I have been working as part of the UK and European team to press for real targets, for goals to be established on sustainable development and on supporting environmentally friendly jobs and business which are low in emissions, and for all of us to use our resources in better ways.
We know that climate change is no respecter of national borders. Whether its hose-pipe bans that we saw recently across East Anglia, flooding in Bangladesh, wildfires In Australia or desperate droughts in the Sahel region of Africa, the root causes can be tracked back to the way as a world we are living unsustainably, we cannot ignore the problem.
3. Why do so many schools still burn fossil fuels for energy so in turn releasing emissions when there are alternative ways or projects to cut our carbon footprint, for example Carbon Capture?
We need to encourage schools, businesses and people at home to use energy more efficiently and to try to use alternative energy sources. The best way to reduce our carbon footprint is simply by avoiding carbon production, this could see an old inefficient school boiler being replaced by a more energy efficient model, or having more students (and teachers) walk or cycle to school. We have to look at all the ways we can reduce our own carbon emissions.
4. Why are schools not getting more recycling, composting and self-efficiency support from the government?
I agree that schools deserve more support. I work a lot with environmental groups such as the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust and they can offer loads of great ideas, free advice and suggestions on what schools can do.
I really would encourage you to take up the challenge yourself, have a look online at what other schools are doing and talk to your teachers about new ideas on recycling and saving energy which you can come up with. It could be as easy as making sure the heating is not on when not needed and lights being used sparingly. Small changes can make a big difference.
5. As we look to the future of our planet with our younger and future generations in mind – what steps will be taken to ensure that the key players (energy companies – green – anti nuclear campaigners/governments etc) put aside vested interests and give a truthful/balanced account of the key issues which face our planet and its energy needs?
Brilliant question, what I have been really focusing on in Rio this week has been to make sure that big companies as well as governments are made to be honest and clear about their impacts on our environment and our society.
Many companies, especially those in the UK, have already started to do this, but others are hiding, trying not to be noticed while they pollute and hurt communities especially in developing countries. I have teamed up with governments including South Africa, Denmark, France and Brazil to try and make sure that companies act responsibly, and I am proud that we are making real progress in holding companies accountable for their activities with new global rules.
6. With the world’s population likely to grow by 4 billion by 2050, how are you planning to preserve the world’s natural resources such as crude oil, which is running out at an alarming rate?
We cannot just continue to depend on fossil fuels because by their very nature they are unsustainable, once you mine the coal, suck the oil well dry, burn the wood from the forests that’s it, they cannot be quickly or easily replaced.
So I am clear and have been working in Rio to try and promote renewable forms of energy production from solar and wind energy to using the wave energy off the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk. In the East of England we are the leaders not just for the UK but for the whole of Europe on promoting clean energy. We have offshore windfarms out to sea in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, we are using solar and wind energy across areas such as fenland, and I have seen for myself local companies inventing and building new wave energy platforms.
All these forms of energy won’t solve our energy demands on their own, but by mixing them with other forms of energy we can cut our carbon use and reach towards hitting the European Union targets on cutting carbon emissions by one fifth by 2020 which I was proud to back as your Euro MP.
"Solar and wind energy..won't solve our energy demands on their own"
7. Fracking will add to CO2 levels – why has it been allowed?
My party has been asking the Government this exact same question. We should not rush into using energy sources without considering their short and long term impacts. Huge questions remain over the use of fracking including the chemicals used in the process and the impact on the quality of our water. I and my colleagues in the UK Parliament in Westminster are being clear in telling the Government that all the places where fracking is being looked at should have full environmental research carried out to see exactly what impacts there could be.
8. How can you use your position to influence climate policy?
Well I am writing this from Brazil where as your local Euro MP I have been meeting with world governments, including the UK Environment Minister and the EU’s Environment Commissioner, speaking with groups such as the UK’s Christian Aid, companies like the UK’s Aviva and with MPs from around the world specifically to try and improve climate policy.
Also as your Euro MP, I work on and vote in the European Parliament to back strong environmental laws which have set legal targets for all European countries to hit by 2020 on cutting environmental emissions by 20% so I think as your local Euro MP I have a really strong role to play in influencing climate policy.
9. Governments want to reduce fuel emissions and people’s carbon footprints, yet politicians fly all over the world for climate conventions. What about using technology such as “skype” to speak to each other?
I agree with you, and whenever possible I travel by train and use skype myself to try and cut down on my carbon footprint. On an issue like this where there hundreds of hours of negotiations and over one hundred and ninety UN countries and thousands of voices from communities, youth groups, environmental charities and businesses who all must be involved, then the easiest way to do it is just to get everyone together in the same place. We try not to have these global conferences too often and the Rio+20 conference is a follow up to the Earth summit held twenty years previously in 1992.
"Hundreds of hours of negotiations...and over one hundred and ninety UN countries...the easiest is to get everyone together"
10. If the definition of a green economy is left for each to country determine – how will the UK be defining it? And, doesn’t this render the term a little meaningless?
What we have been trying to do in the Rio+20 negotiations is to actually agree a common idea of what exactly “green economy” is and how to promote it across the globe. Green economy is one of the two key focuses of the negotiations at Rio+20 and a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and helps include everyone in building our society.
11. Will the EU stop stimulating the RES (won't retarget 20/20/20 goals which are already met) and will encourage the energy efficiency or will think more strategically and will promote new targets ?
I am proud that our UK Government was one of the first to really take climate change seriously when the last Government agreed a revolutionary law on combating Climate Change in 2008 which set clear targets which we have to meet.
I am also proud that the EU has been a real leader in trying to show the rest of the world that we can create jobs which don’t pollute. The good news as you point out in your question is that renewable energy sources (RES) have developed quickly and are being used at a better rate than we expected. So we are now in the European Parliament looking at how we can update these targets even earlier than we expected. Also, in these days where our economy is struggling this is also a good way to create jobs, by the end of 2010, the European renewable energy industry employed over 1.1 million people.
It’s also worth noting that in our climate change negotiations with other countries we have also offered to actually go further and raise our targets to 30% if other countries will agree to cuts also. Europe and the UK cannot stop climate change alone and so we are working to convince other countries, especially those in Africa, Asia and South America that they can become more prosperous without destroying their forests, their rivers and their air.
"Renewable energy industry employed over 1.1 million people"
12. Is the carbon market good enough to stimulate green growth?
The carbon market is a good idea and is being put into practice across Europe. Again it will not solve all of our problems on its own but it can be part of the overall solution. The idea is simple that companies should be made to pay for each tone of carbon they release into our environment and by putting a price on it then it makes companies think more about polluting.
The less companies pollute the more carbon credits they can cash in and it means that we can limit the overall amount of carbon being released into our environment.
13. What inspired you to work in Politics?
Growing up on a council estate with a single mother showed me that in order to change things for the better you really have to get involved in your local community. I have always been really passionate about equality in my community and before I got involved in politics I worked trying to improve how people with disabilities are treated.
In my house growing up with my mother we were always talking about the news and decisions taken by the Government which were making life really hard for ordinary people. So when I was asked if I would be interested in standing for the Labour Party to be a local councillor in Harlow in Essex I jumped at the chance. I was lucky enough to win the election and eventually became the Leader of the Council and then later became your Euro MP. It’s a job I am very proud and privileged to hold.
14. What did you do as a child to make you want to be a politician or to help you to get your job?
As a young person (a few years ago now!) I was really interested in what was going on in my community and aware of national events from watching the news and looking at newspapers. When I was growing up there were strikes and protests about jobs and the economy just like there are today and I asked my mother questions about what was going on and why, and we had some really great chats about it.
People who become politicians come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all different kinds of experiences growing up which can help them. For me seeing the challenges which my mother had to go through to keep our family together really drove me on to try and make life a bit easier for people.
Also work hard at school!