The battle on aid is not won: NGOs shouldn't be soft on Cameron

If a law enshrining the 0.7 per cent aid target isn't in the Queen's Speech, development charities won’t be able to have their cake and eat it.

The Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliot has had enough. In his latest column, he takes a pop at both David Cameron and UK development charities. Britain’s Prime Minister, he argues, sees economic growth as a panacea but Cameron, he claims, "has been treated with kid gloves by most of the UK development charities."

Elliot remembers Make Poverty History, Blair, Brown and Bono with nostalgic fondness but his current pessimism is clear in his latest column. G8 countries, who are struggling to kick start their own economic growth and are imposing austerity at home, are looking jealously at the growth rates of developing countries, and are questioning why they should do more to help.
 
This is a crucial year for the global development agenda and as a global player, Cameron is key. As well as hosting the G8 summit in the UK in July, the Prime Minister is representing the G8 on the panel advising the UN on the next set of global development goals. The 'High Level Panel' that he co-chairs is due to report at the end of May and some kind of growth target looks like it is firmly on the agenda.
 
But inequality is not, and that’s mainly because of Cameron. The case for making inequality an explicit target is eloquently argued by the new head of the Overseas Development Institute, Kevin Watkins. Another of the ODI’s experts, Claire Melamed explains how difficult Cameron’s job is going to be, but she too concludes that a focus on jobs and unemployment, might be more productive than on national GDP.
 
There are two new facts in the post-Make Poverty History world: the majority of poor people no longer live in poor countries, while the majority of poor people that do live in poor countries, live in conflict affected states. Cameron seems to acknowledge the second fact but not the first. None of the conflict affected states are going to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, something which is not lost on a Prime Minister looking for stable trading partners. The New Deal seems to have firmly established its peace-building agenda and some kind of goal in this area looks certain.
 
But a fourth agenda, highlighted this week by the launch of the State of Civil Society report, is also crucial. "The freedom from want is nothing without the freedom from fear," writes the Secretary General the global federation of civil society organisations, Civicus. His report suggests that a third of the world’s internet users have experienced restrictions on the information they can access and the social media they can use to mobilise activists and hold governments to account.
 
The new development goals are intended both to guide the investment of aid by rich countries and focus the development efforts of countries and charities alike. But as yet another ODI expert, Romilly Greenhill argued this week, the UK development community has been far more focused on the amount of aid, rather than the direction of development.
 
And yet, the battle on aid is not yet won. The Queen’s Speech is a week on Wednesday and it is the deadline set by UK NGOs leading the ‘IF’ campaign for the coalition government to commit to legislate to enshrine 0.7 per cent into domestic law. When Osborne confirmed the DfID budget, NGOs celebrated with cake, despite a historic underspend by DIFD last year. If a law on 0.7 per cent isn’t in the Queen’s Speech, the UK NGOs won’t be able to have their cake and eat it. They need to once again wield a 'stick', as well as celebrate with the 'carrot' of a cake.
 
Richard Darlington was special adviser at the Department for International Development from 2009-2010 and is now head of news at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter: @RDarlo

 

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and David Cameron co-chair a United Nations meeting on tackling global poverty in Monrovia on February 1, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.