David Cameron has two weeks to save the world

At three big international summits being held in the UK over the next fortnight, nothing less than the fate of the world’s poorest people is at stake.

At three big international summits being held in the UK over the next fortnight, nothing less than the fate of the world’s poorest people is at stake. Not to be overly dramatic about this, but the UK is about to play host to two weeks to save the world. OK, maybe that is a bit overdramatic.

This afternoon in Hyde Park activists and campaigners will gather for ‘The Big IF’. It’s the first time in eight years that the UK development NGOs have pooled their resources and campaigned together. I’ve got my white wrist band, but will a big party in the park really achieve anything?

The campaign is asking for a lot of different things. There are no less than seventeen demands covering eight categories: tax, nutrition, land, biofuels, agriculture, climate change, transparency and accountability. “What do we want?” OK, that might be too complicated, so “when do we want it?” “Now,” of course. When might we might we actually get it?

There are some causes for optimism. This weekend David Cameron hosts a ‘Hunger Summit’ and campaigners, led by Save the Children, hope to squeeze a billion dollars out of the US, the World Bank and the EU. This kind of cheque book signing, or “pledging” of existing aid budgets in the case of the UK, is a relatively easy, soft pro-government agenda. Of course child nutrition is important, but is only one part of the much wider IF agenda.

The following weekend, at another summit, Cameron’s “golden thread” will be weaving its way through the thorny issues of the ‘three Ts’: trade, tax and transparency. That might sound like pretty big agenda but, as Kevin Watkins at the ODI says “you can park expectations on trade” because it’s not going to happen.

Tax dodging is a hot issue, but can a global deal be done? Long-time tax campaigner Melanie Ward of Action Aid warns that a deal with tax havens could leave poor countries “out in the cold” and “would be a victory for self-interest and continued subordination of the world’s poor, rather than progress towards justice”. Tax is a far more challenging agenda for the Government. While Cameron has talked tough on tax, he has shown little sign of action when dealing with tax havens, many of which are, after all, still British overseas territories.

That leaves us with ‘transparency’. As Kevin Watkins explains, “the problem is that transparency initiatives are at best weakly linked to wider strategies for building capacity, strengthening the entitlements of marginalised groups, and giving the poor a voice”. Significant movement on this agenda is more likely to come through revisions to the UN’s Post 2015 Development Agenda, where civil society at least gets a name check, if not yet a tangible target. To better understand why ‘voice’ matters, read Civicus President Jay Nadoo’s passionate call for the voices of the global south to be heard among the professionalised global debate.

So what about the actual G8 summit itself? Like every big leaders’ summit, a lot will depend on the work done by the sherpas ahead of the event itself. You can’t expect the heads of the eight richest countries in the world to just rock up and magically find a consensus. They arrive only in time to dot the ‘i’s, cross the ‘t’s and smile for the photo op. So the next few weeks are crucial, because this is the time that UK Government Ministers will be calling their opposite numbers to thrash out the details of the deal.

The toughest area of all could be preventing land grabs, the more structural issue that the hunger summit will park and leave for the G8 to sort out. So even if the fortnight starts with a victory at the hunger summit, it could end in defeat for the main aim of the IF campaign: Enough Food for Everyone. Then what? Will the UK development NGOs go their separate ways, pursue their own agendas and refuse to work together again for the next eight years, until the next time the UK hosts the G8? Or will the campaign continue onto Russia next year, when Putin hosts the G8, the G20 and, coincidentally, the Winter Olympics?

Having all the eggs in the G8 basket was something IPPR & the ODI warned against at the start of the IF campaign. The whole premise of ‘IF’ was that it was contingent. But that nuance might have been lost on the public. Having such a wide ranging agenda means at least some success is guaranteed but the complexity has made it harder to get the public engaged. With hindsight, a simple focus for this year on tax might have been a better strategy. But there is no doubt that UK development NGOs should have done more to build, sustain and deepen public engagement over the last eight years.

IF is not ‘Make Poverty History’ and 2013 is not 2005. Blair, Brown and Bono at Gleneagles feels like a lifetime ago. But to quote the great Nelson Mandela on the steps of Trafalgar Square, “sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that great generation.” No pressure Dave.

Richard Darlington was Special Adviser at DFID 2008-2010 and is now Head of News at IPPR

He tweets: @RDarlo

Nelson Mandela in Trafalgar Square in 2005. Photo: Getty

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.