Monday, 26 May 2008

Ham&High overplays opposition to eco report

The Ham&High recently claimed that opposition politicians had characterised the latest report from the Camden Sustainability Task Force - on Food, Water and Biodiversity - as “ridiculous”. But no opposition politician has said that. The three Labour members on the Task Force – Cllrs Abraham, Robinson and Vincent – support it, as do the three Green members – Cllrs De Souza, Goodman and Oliver.

Two Conservatives, Cllrs Davies and Greene, have previously railed against the mistaken idea that we are advocating vegetarianism, but they now understand that we’re calling for less meat and dairy to be served in Camden Council’s canteens because the livestock industry is responsible for 18% of the world’s carbon emissions and because eating too much poor quality meat is ruining our health. The Task Force now comprises 18 councillors from all four parties – one third of the Council. All of them support this report in its entirety.

Apart from a reduction in meat and dairy we’re also calling for:

1) Bonuses/penalties for senior Council officers linked to their departments securing reductions in carbon emissions

2) A massive local food growing experiment on unused spaces in Camden eg roofs and current hard surfaces on housing estates

3) Locally produced food to be sold or bartered in local markets (in contravention of the 1908 Allotments Law)

4) Elimination of all unhealthy food from school menus to improve health outcomes and concentration in the classroom

5) Only fish from sustainably fished stocks and no bottled water to be sold in Camden Council canteens

6) Thames Water to be encouraged to introduce meters wherever possible and a progressive tariff structure with a free per capita allocation of water and the price rising steeply thereafter

7) Water run-off taxes and/or financial incentives to encourage householders to green roofs and hard surfaces to help mitigate flooding

8) Exposing the Kilburn and Fleet underground rivers wherever possible to create new waterscapes and to help slow down stormwater

9) All Camden’s trees to be given a price based on their environmental value which would have to be paid before they were felled

10) Green roofs to be installed on any public or private buildings that can support them

This is a radical and challenging report but implementation is perfectly feasible. Most of the recommendations are already reality in councils elsewhere in the UK or Europe. For example the German city of Bonn charges a 100,000 euro eco tax for cutting down a tree. France has no obesity epidemic among children because food choices are constrained. And last year Middlesbrough conducted an amazingly successful urban food growing experiment by turning over all unused land to local residents.

The latest Council survey of residents suggests 79% think climate change is serious and 74% think the Council should play a leading role in action to combat climate change. Hopefully this report will go a long way towards helping the Council and the Executive understand what can and should be done to respect residents’ wishes. What we are advocating is not aspirational or unobtainable; it is hugely practical and do-able. And, as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, as the obesity epidemic gets worse, and as the era of cheap oil draws to a close, I am convinced that what we are advocating will be seen for what it is - essential. All that is required is political will.

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