Friday, December 3, 2010

Nellie drops in on City Council’s climate change conference

On Tuesday 30th November, a cold and snowy morning, campaigners from Manchester Climate Action took a giant white elephant (lovingly named Nellie) to greet the public and organisations attending Manchester City Council's Climate Change stakeholder conference at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The first annual stakeholder conference aimed to engage with residents and businesses of Manchester about reducing their emissions. It was an initiative which came off the back of the council’s Climate Change Action Plan, named ‘Manchester: A Certain Furture’ (MACF), which was published in 2009 and took some important first steps towards considering the impact of our lives and industries on the environment.

Most significantly, MACF set targets for the city to reduce emissions 41% by 2020. However, as this commitment doesn’t include the flight emissions from Manchester Airport (55% owed by the city council and the regions biggest source of emissions) it seems a little feeble.

So the airport is still the council’s ‘elephant in the room’, and Nellie assisted campaigners in highlighting this, and embarrassing the city council. Everyone attending the conference, including the airport’s biggest supporter Councillor Richard Leese, was handed flyers explaining the elephant and detailing the councils omission of the airport from its climate change plan, as well as its plans to drastically expand over the next 30 years and demolish local homes to do so. Campaigners received a warm reception from both those attending the conference and staff at the museum who express their concerns about the council’s attitude towards the airport.

Sarah Thomas from Manchester Climate Action said “Although the city council are engaging with climate change and intends for the airport to be carbon neutral within the next two years this does not include the emissions from flights taking off or landing at the airport. Our concern is that if the council supports the airport in going ahead with plans to increase flights from 30 million flights a year to 50 million by 2030 then any emission reduction achieved elsewhere will be outweighed. Essentially residents and businesses in the city will be cutting their emissions in order for the airport to increase theirs.”

The event succeeding in getting new people and organisations discussing their emissions reduction plans - as well as the creative delivery of some of the six parallel workshops that happened throughout the day.

The protest was raised in a Mule interview with Councillor Nigel Murphy, Executive for the Environment at Manchester City Council:
MULE: The protestors in the lobby complaining that you’re ignoring the airport, do they have a point that you can’t really make a climate change plan for Manchester without considering the impact which the planes taking off from the airport have?

Nigel Murhy: We’ve never said that we don’t consider the effects but we’re trying to deliver where we can make change. As an organisation the airport are doing their own delivery plan. Airside emissions are not something we can change on our own in Manchester, there has to be an international agreement. More than happy for them to protest, but we’ve got to look at what we can change and what we can change now.

Nellie’s appearance at the conference took place just a week before 11 activists from Manchester Plane Stupid stand trial at Trafford Magistrates Court following their involvement in shutting down the airport in May 2010 in order to draw attention to the council’s plans to allow Manchester Airport to expand at the expense of demolishing local homes and destroying areas of important biodiversity. Their hearing begins on Monday 6th December 2010 and is expected to last one week.

A campaign titled ‘Manchester Airport on Trial’ is being run around the court trial and has received support from Heathrow Labour MP John McDonnell, Johann Hari, writer and journalist for the Independent, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. The campaign is playing an important role in highlighting to both the airport and council that people from all sectors of society are concerned about the planned expansion, and also that direct action is being increasing recognised as a legitimate way of opposing the plans due to the lack of effective democratic avenues.

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