Wednesday 3 March 2010

Hilary Benn webchat

Hilary Benn takes part in a webchat on 3 March 2010; Crown copyrightTo reduce the rate of climate change and adapt to the effects of a warming planet, we will have to change some aspects of the way we live.  As part of a debate on the issue running on Directgov, Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spent an hour answering your questions about achieving a greener society and proposals to make it easier for people to grow their own food.

Read the transcript

Moderator says: Hilary Benn has just arrived at Downing Street and we will begin the webchat in a few minutes.

Harry MYP: How can young people be more actively involved in the maintanence of their local area and environment. Are there any schemes or work through guides for this?

Hilary replies: Hi everyone. Sorry to be a bit late but I have been paying a tribute to the late Michael Foot.

Harry, if you see my answer to Rebecca – to follow – you will find an example of young people doing just that. If you go to the Greener Living bit of Directgov you will find lots of ideas and links.

Rebecca: A lot of people who can grow their own fruit and veg probably already are to some extent and won’t need that much encouragement to do more. The real problem is the people living in crowded urban areas, in blocks of flats with no real outdoor space (or none that they’re allowed to dig up!), commuting and working long hours. How will it be made easier for these people to grow their own? Will the Government be working with housing associations and private companies managing blocks of flats to encourage them to create allotments in their grounds for their tenants?

Hilary replies: Thanks Rebecca. As it happens I started the day at a community gardening project in King’s Cross. It was great. They have acquired six old skips and are growing leeks, fruit, lettuces, cabbages and other stuff. The local school is involved and people are getting to know each other. What’s really interesting is that they are doing this on a building site, using land that will be required in a couple of years but can be used now to grow veg. It’s a great idea.

To help we’re doing two things. One is developing a meanwhile lease so that people who have land they want to hand over for a while can have confidence about the terms on which it is done, and secondly setting up a Landbank to bring together people with land and those without who want to grow fruit and veg. Happy gardening.

Rachel: What is the government going to do to make it easier for people without gardens or allotments to grow their own vegetables?

Hilary replies: If you see my answer to Rebecca, Rachel, I hope it will answer your question.

NickJ: Are there any plans to standardise on what items Councils will and won’t collect in kerbside recycling schemes? The town where I live is managed by several different councils, all of whom have different rules, meaning some householders have glass collected while others do not.

Hilary replies: Dear NickJ

No we are not planning to tell councils how they collect – each area is different – but we are about to consult on whether we should ban certain things from landfill – like glass, paper, aluminium, food waste, wood and plastic. An increasing number of councils collect these and frankly it does not make sense to chuck them in holes in the ground.

Mr Flinty: There seems to be so much evidence building up that shows trees and woodland can help to tackle climate adaptation and will meet the needs of lots of policy’s. Will you be committing to doubling native woodland cover as part of addressing these areas?

Hilary replies: Thanks.

You are right. Trees are great at eating up carbon and planting a lot more will help us to meet our 2050 emissions target. In the last hundred years we have managed to increase forest cover in the UK – thanks to ther establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1918 – but we need to do more. The National Forest is a great example.

Kate – Climate Squad: Good Afternoon Mr Benn. What role do you see youth playing in a sustainably green society, and how do you intend to ensure the support is in place for them to do this?

Hilary replies: Dear Kate and good afternoon to you too.

In my experience young people are doing a lot already – as the pupils from South Camden Community School showed me this morning (see my earlier answer to Rebecca). To help, we have the Growing Schools Project which is encouraging schools to lift the tarmac or paving stones and start growing veg.

R Callway: Linking together issues of employment, youth and sustainability, DEFRA should be doing a lot more to support skilling-up of young people (in schools and school leavers) into green industries. This could include apprentiships and training progs etc. What can DEFRA do in the next decade to support this critical demographic group?

Hilary replies: One thing we are doing is supporting a 14-19 diploma for young people who want to work on the land. We have also significantly increased the number of apprenticeships. But the real change will come from the growth of green industries. Making wind turbines. Installing home energy insulation. And designing products to use less raw materials.

James Goff: Will you admit that the anthropogenic global warming theory is a fraudulent scam to make money and impose new laws? Climategate, Glaciergate, Africagate, Amazongate? What’s next, Defragate? The so-called science is flawed and does not stand up to scrutiny, as demonstrated time and time again. If you sincerely believe in this, then have a televised debate with Lord Monckton, Christopher Booker, Richard North or James Delingpole, I’m sure all would happily oblige.

Hilary replies: Crumbs James. I disagree. I am not a scientist but I have read what the consensus of scientific opinion is, and in the light of what they say and of the evidence it seems to me that we have an obligation to act.

Nicola Lee: Our rpimary school has a very active gardening club where children are encouraged to grow then eat veggies. Is this encouraged everywhere?

Hilary replies: Good for you. I hope more schools will follow your example.

What veg are you growing?

xyz: Growing crops for biofuels has helped to destroy virgin rainforest and to reduce the amount of land used for growing food. Is the government going to continue with plans to increase the amount of biofuels used in the future. If so, why? It does not strike me as being very green.

Hilary replies: The answer on biofuels is not as straightforward as some in the enviromental movement thought was the case five or ten years ago. The first task is to measure the direct carbon impact compared with the petrol or diesel you are hoping to replace. Some biofuels are better and some are worse. It’s the indirect land use effects that are complicated which is why the UK has been pressing for sustainability criteria to help stop bad practice.

Claire Adams: On sustainable lifestyles more generally: we have some idea of what sustainable choices would look like (e.g on energy and transport),and we know to some extent what influences behaviour (information, marketing, incentives etc). But so far we have not seen the big shift in behaviours that we need. How is Defra tackling this difficult issue?

Hilary replies: Claire

This is exactly what the work we are doing on a greener society is all about. On energy, it’s insulating your home and designing new homes that use much less energy. It’s about generating more renewable electricity – from windpower (where we lead the world in offshore electricity) – and running battery-powered cars recharged by renewables. It’s about walking more where we can. It’s about using home delivery services for food shopping – one van trip replacing ten or so individual car trips. And lots more.

On behaviour changing, look at the huge reduction in the use of plastic bags in supermarkets – down 50% in two years – a symbolic change. On recycling, we have come from 8% for domestic waste to 38% in 12 years – and if you see my answer to NickJ, I mentioned what we are planning to do on landflll bans.

Craig Bickerton: Will anything further be done than the new ‘feed in tariffs’ to try and encourage peeople to generate their own energy at home? Mainly things like subsidising smaller wind turbines and solar panels.

Hilary replies: Thanks Craig. As you will know, they are coming in from April and I think they will give a big boost to micro-renewables. They are a great way of helping to make these technologies happen – that’s the evidence from other countries that have had them – and I think we will see the market develop pretty quickly.

Kate – Climate Squad: Thank you to your response to my earlier question; however I don’t feel you’ve answered it fully. There is much more to a Green Society than growing vegetables; how do you propose to fully engage with young people including those not in education, employment or training in order to encourage action in homes, communities, and indeed all aspects of their life?

Hilary replies: Fair point Kate! I was using vegetable growing as just one example. There are lots of other ones – as my subsequent answers have, I hope, pointed out.

brian harwood: Good afternoon, what are your views on unnecessary travel?

Hilary replies: If it’s unnecessary then think again!

Mick Denness: What is the best way of finding out about the likely impacts of climate change on the natural environment and how current land / conservation management practices should change in the light of this?

Hilary replies: Well Mick we are currently doing a National Ecosystem Assessment to try and answer exactly that question. Bob Watson – our excellent Chief Scientific Adviser – is co-chairing this and we hope it will report later on in the year. We will need, for example, to grow more food as a world while impacting less on the environment. Using less water is one example, and we have been doing research that has found that you can grow great strawberries while using a lot less water than traditionally is used.

Declan Delamere: We’re on a waiting list for an allotment here in Salford, but with waiting times of up to 20 years there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of growing our own… can you help?

Hilary replies: Sorry to hear this. Your council is responsible for making allotments available, but what we have been talking about today is all about trying to find other bits of land that can be used (see my answer to Rebecca). You could contact The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, or get more details on the Greener Living section at Directgov.

Bruce: We live on an estate in Lambeth, London, and having been inspired by the ‘Good Life’ exhibition at the museum of Gardening we want to ‘grow our own’ fruit and vegetables in the local community, rather like the ‘Dig for Victory’ idea. There is some grass around the estate and we were wandering if we could have support to start a local allotment here? This could also benefit and bring the community together in a constructive way.

Hilary replies: Have you and your neighbours talked to your local councillors, Bruce? That’s where I would start. Good luck.

Grant: Hello Hilary. In the UK we seem set on a road towards increasing car dependency, clogging up streets with ever increasing numbers of (moving and parked) cars, causing air pollution, emitting climate altering gases, destroying local communities and making us all lazy and unfit. We need a top-down rethink of how we transport ourselves, NOT one based around electric vehicles (which after all does nothing to stop the social problems of car dependency, and presumably just moves the emissions to where the electricity is generated). What do you think can be done to tackle the car dependency ingrained in UK culture?

Hilary replies: If the electricity is generated by renewables then there is a gain, but sure when we can walk or use public transport than that helps and it’s good for our health. But we do also reply on our cars – eg people living in rural areas – to get to work, look after our relatives, and other things.

xyz: You mentioned wind power. Wind turbines use rare earths, the mining of which causes terrible pollution in China (where 95% of them are mined). Water is poisoned, land becomes unusable, farmers cannot farm for miles around. This is one of the huge costs of ‘green’ energy that is not accounted for. Each wind turbine uses about 2 tons of rare earths. Wind turbines work only when the wind is blowing. They are commercially viable only because they receive enormous grants from the government. Not one single coal or oil powered power station will be decommissioned as a result of wind turbines because they will always be needed for when the wind doesn’t blow. Why not just go nuclear? Then we would not be dependent on other countries for gas and oil or on the beneficence of the wind.

Hilary replies: We need a range of sources of power and nuclear needs to be part of the mix.

Nicola Lee: A very wide range – from the usual potatoes, leeks, carrots etc.. to salads and edible flowers. The kids love it and use it to raise a bit of money for the club too

Hilary replies: Glad to hear it. Your leek and potato soup must be pretty tasty!

stevet: I am sorry i do not believe there is anything we can do as climate change is a natural cycle and just an excuse for your government to use as an excuse to tax us.

Hilary replies: I am sorry too, but I do not agree!!

Mick Denness: Where do we go next after the failure of the Copenhagen Summit?

Hilary replies: Dust ourselves off, get on with implementing what was agreed, encourage more countries to sign up to the Accord and enter their commitments to cut emissions on the Register, and get a legally-binding agreement.

Mark: Hi Hilary, your answer to the first question raised sounds a very interesting and innovative way of growing food, do you have any more details on the project? A further question I would like to ask is that, getting communities to work together to grow food locally is fantastic, but could I ask if there is any current, or planned future financial support from government funding available to community groups to help them set up projects. In my experience, community groups have the will and motivation, but not the financial means to get set up. If there is to be a national step change with regards to the accessibility of, and growing of Local Food, there needs to be more help.

Hilary replies: Mark, the organisation that is running it is called Global Generation – go to their website for more info. They had got funding in part from the Big Lottery – and – of course – help from the developer at King’s Cross.

Susie Rutherford: The world’s greenest cities were recently published – how long do you think it will be before a UK city makes the top 5?

Hilary replies: Don’t know in all honesty, but the greening of the Olympics will give us a great chance to show the world what can be done.

Annamarie Rafferty: With all the current hype of electric vehicles, and the various car manufacturers developing technologies to “cash in” on the hype, what are you views on moving the CO2 and nox gasses from one industry to another? Namely, the automotive industry to the Electricity providers. Will there be a move towards greater dependency on nuclear power?

Hilary replies: Depends, Annamarie, on how the power is generated.

seany: What are your plans to get young people more involved in achieving a ‘green society’?

Hilary replies: Sorry Seany but I have to go now, but I hope the other answers I have given will help.

Thanks everyone for taking part. Best of luck!


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