Nearly 20% of Brits already living in poverty before cost-of-living crisis, report finds

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/nearly-20-of-brits-already-living-in-poverty-before-cost-of-living-crisis

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MILLIONS of people in Britain, including 3.9 million children and 1.7m pensioners, were in living in poverty even before the cost-of-living crisis hit, damning figures revealed today.

Around 20 per cent of the population, equating to 13.4m people, were living in poverty in 2020/21, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual poverty report found.

The report warned that there are elements in the benefits system that increase poverty, including the two-child limit, five-week wait for universal credit payments and unaffordable debt deductions.

About 7.2m people are skipping meals, showers and heating, it found.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/nearly-20-of-brits-already-living-in-poverty-before-cost-of-living-crisis

Continue ReadingNearly 20% of Brits already living in poverty before cost-of-living crisis, report finds

Flying shame: the scandalous rise of private jets

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/26/flying-shame-the-scandalous-rise-of-private-jets

It was a Labour spokesperson who said the prime minister was behaving “like an A-list celeb”, after Rishi Sunak made his third trip by private jet in 10 days. Last week, he flew from London to Blackpool in a 14-seat RAF jet – a 230-mile journey that would have taken about three hours by train. The week before, he did the same to Leeds, which he could have done in two and a half hours by train, but which wouldn’t have looked nearly so glamorous – to go by the ludicrous photograph of him looking important and being saluted as he boarded the aircraft.

Private planes are up to 14 times more polluting, per passenger, than commercial planes and 50 times more polluting than trains, according to a report by Transport & Environment, a European clean transport campaign organisation. “It goes against the fact that the government has committed to net zero by 2050,” says Alice Ridley, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Better Transport. “They have said they want to see more journeys by public transport, walking and cycling. Taking a private jet is extremely damaging for the environment, especially when there are other alternatives that would be far less polluting and would also be cheaper.”

Private planes carry far fewer passengers, while about 40% of flights are empty, simply getting the aircraft to the right location. Flying short distances also means planes are less fuel-efficient.

“A private jet is the most polluting form of transport you can take,” says Matt Finch, the UK policy manager for Transport & Environment. “The average private jet emits two tonnes of carbon an hour. The average European is responsible for [emitting] eight tonnes of carbon a year. You fly to the south of France and back, that’s half a year in one trip.”

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Ken Loach blasts Sir Kir as a ‘tool of the establishment’ in new documentary

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/ken-loach-blasts-sir-keir-tool-of-the-establishment

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer is a “tool of the Establishment” who deliberately undermined Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party, legendary film director Ken Loach has charged.

In excerpts from his interview in the upcoming documentary film Oh Jeremy Corbyn — The Big Lie, the award-winning film-maker said the ex-shadow Brexit secretary acted like an “undercover spy cop” at his predecessor’s top table.

In the film, due to receive its premiere in central London next month, Mr Loach says: “Every now and then, to show that we’re a democracy, there’s a change of government.

“The party changes, but it’s so important from the Establishment’s point of view that the alternative party won’t change anything — and that’s what Starmer is proving now.”

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/ken-loach-blasts-sir-keir-tool-of-the-establishment

Continue ReadingKen Loach blasts Sir Kir as a ‘tool of the establishment’ in new documentary

Government urged to scrap Raab’s ‘rights removal Bill’

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/government-urged-to-scrap-raabs-rights-removal-bill

A campaigner for advocacy group Liberty, dressed as Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, swings a wrecking ball at a temporary wall on the Southbank, London to share their concerns around the Government’s plans to pass the ‘Rights Removal Bill’, repealing the Human Rights Act 1998, ahead of Human Rights Day this Saturday. Picture date: Thursday December 8, 2022.

DOMINIC RAAB’S Bill of Rights was dealt a fresh blow today after a damning report warned the reforms would seriously damage people’s ability to enforce their rights.

A cross-party committee of MPs and peers has called on PM Rishi Sunak to totally scrap his Justice Secretary’s plans to overhaul Britain’s human rights laws, with committee members saying they found “hardly any support” for the changes following their inquiry.

The reforms seek to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law, with a new Bill of Rights.

Mr Raab says the overhaul is needed to prevent abuses of the current system, often citing cases where human rights defences have been used to halt deportations.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/government-urged-to-scrap-raabs-rights-removal-bill

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Ambulance workers stage another day of strike action as dispute over pay for overstretched staff shows no sign of ending

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/ambulance-staff-stage-another-day-strike-action-dispute-over-pay

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THOUSANDS of ambulance workers staged more strike action today as the bitter dispute over pay for overstretched NHS staff showed no sign of abating.

Nearly 2,000 paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff across north-west England downed tools for 12 hours from midday, their union GMB said.

The walkout, which followed industrial action by thousands of GMB, Unite and Unison ambulance employees on Monday, came ahead of what could be biggest-ever NHS strike on February 6, when all three unions are due to strike alongside nurses.

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Continue ReadingAmbulance workers stage another day of strike action as dispute over pay for overstretched staff shows no sign of ending

‘When the NHS goes private, we’ll be paying for ambulances’

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/when-the-nhs-goes-private-we-be-paying-for-ambulances

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MORE than 25,000 ambulance workers walked out on strike today as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that it would be “lovely to wave a magic wand” and give them the pay rise they want and deserve.

His pathetic response to the mounting NHS crisis was in stark contrast to the determination and courage displayed by tens of thousands of health workers intent on winning pay justice and on defending the NHS from destruction at Tory hands.

On freezing picket lines across England and Wales, ambulance workers told their own stories of the life-saving jobs they do and the tragic, unnecessary deaths caused by the deliberate run-down of ambulance and health services in what is increasingly believed to be preparation for the Tories’ ultimate privatisation — the NHS.

Members of three unions — Unison, GMB and Unite — took strike action together.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/when-the-nhs-goes-private-we-be-paying-for-ambulances

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HSBC’s secretive loan to a coal company bulldozing a village

Original article from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism republished under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

HSBC made a secretive multimillion-dollar loan to an energy company that is bulldozing a village in western Germany to expand a huge coal mine, just three months after the bank pledged to stop funding coal.

HSBC, which claims it is “helping to lead the transition to a more sustainable world”, approved the $340m deal with energy giant RWE after internal discussions in which senior figures at the bank recommended that its involvement should not be publicised.

Violent clashes broke out at the site of the mine on Wednesday as riot police tried to drag away protesters to make way for the bulldozers under the glare of the world’s media. Hundreds of environmental activists have set up camp in Lützerath, the last of several villages to be sacrificed for the 35 km2 Garzweiler mine, which is owned by RWE, one of Europe’s largest energy companies.

HSBC bankers raised concerns about the expansion of the mine and the demolition of the villages but ultimately greenlit the deal. The disclosure of the loan will mark a further blow to the bank, which has raised at least $2.4bn in so-called “sustainable finance” for companies worsening the climate crisis and recently had a series of adverts banned by UK regulators for greenwashing.

According to data from Refinitiv, RWE borrowed a total of $5.4bn in loans arranged by a group of 25 banks including HSBC, Barclays and Santander. All three have committed to aligning their financing and investments with net zero by 2050.

At COP27 last year the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said that it was reprehensible to use “bogus net-zero pledges” to cover up “messy” fossil fuel expansion. “It is rank deception,” he added. “This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.”

HSBC told the Bureau: “Details of this [deal] and all its participating banks are in the public domain, as is normal. We have processes to ensure our financing aligns with our policies, which include an expectation on clients to produce and implement credible transition plans.”

Barclays declined to comment on the RWE loan but said it is phasing out financing of thermal coal mining and coal-fired power generation. Santander declined to comment.

Image: Mike Langridge 2008

‘We don’t want our name associated with it’

At the end of 2021, HSBC committed to withdraw financing from clients that are expanding the production of thermal coal and phase out funding for coal-fired power and thermal coal mining.

Bankers asked internally whether lending money to RWE would comply with this policy and raised concerns about RWE’s plans to demolish several villages. The Garzweiler mine produces 25m tonnes of lignite – the dirtiest form of coal – every year.

After several meetings, the sustainability and reputational risk department approved the deal but said that RWE should not publicise HSBC’s involvement.

An HSBC banker, who asked to remain anonymous, said of the deal: “We’re saying, ‘We don’t want our name to be associated with it, but here are the funds and please don’t tell anyone that we gave you the funds.’ I acknowledge that this approach is questionable.”

The deal was initially structured as a sustainability-linked loan, meaning its terms include a commitment from RWE that it will hit certain climate targets by 2025. But the penalty it would face for failing to do so is a tiny increase in the interest it pays on the loan. This would come to $86,700 a year for a company whose most recent annual revenues were $26bn.

Sustainability-linked loans are meant to encourage polluters to transition to more environmentally friendly operations, but companies that raise funds through the loans do not face any restrictions on how that money is used.

The HSBC banker said: “There is no guarantee that the [RWE loan] won’t be used to help pay a supplier, or pay salaries of contractors involved in the coal mine project.”

Protesters near Lützerath in January 2023. Photo: Lützi lebt/Unwisemonkeys CC BY-NC 2.0.

A condemned village

The vast Garzweiler open-cast mine has already swallowed 13 villages, according to Friends of the Earth Germany. Thousands of residents have been resettled and churches, schools and village halls have all been bulldozed to satisfy the voracious demand for energy in a heavily industrialised area.

Local residents and environmental activists across Germany have campaigned to protect another six neighbouring villages that were slated for demolition and appear to have had some success. RWE recently said that it would stop using coal in 2030 and so would drop its plans to raze five of the villages.

That just leaves Lützerath, where police are battling to evict hundreds of activists who have been living in abandoned buildings and makeshift treehouses for the past two and a half years. They have built a skate hall, farmed their own food and run workshops on climate justice.

Eckardt Heukamp was Lützerath’s last remaining resident until he moved out last year. “You saw how the church was torn down and dug up, how the villages have vanished,” he told the Times. “At some point you just say to yourself that it can’t keep going on like this, being subjugated and driven into a corner all the time.”

The showdown between the authorities and occupying activists escalated on Wednesday as riot police armed with batons moved in to evacuate the area, hauling out protesters and making arrests as fires burned in the streets of the village.

Just a few hundred metres away, one of the world’s largest land vehicles continues to carve away at the earth, bringing the edge of the mine ever closer to Lützerath.

Meaningless targets

In order to secure the loan, RWE committed to reducing its carbon emissions per unit of power generated, across all its energy sources. This means that, as long as it adds enough wind and solar power into the mix, the company could in fact increase its emissions from coal – and its planet-warming emissions overall.

It also committed to increasing the proportion of energy it generates from renewables and the amount it is investing in sustainable energy.

The penalty if RWE fails to meet all three targets is an increase in the interest it pays on the loan of less than 0.03 percentage points.

“It’s almost meaningless,” said Tariq Fancy, BlackRock’s former chief investment officer for sustainable investing. “Because the only thing that really changes behaviour in financial markets is when you change incentives. And you can’t change incentives with something so miniscule.”

Critics say RWE – which is Europe’s largest emitter of CO2 – could single-handedly stop Germany meeting its climate targets. Catharina Rieve of the German Institute for Economic Research said this will be the case if the company follows through with its plan to burn 280m tonnes of coal from the Garzweiler mine before 2030.

RWE told the Bureau it disputed this projection because the EU’s emissions trading system means that “if one company emits less, other companies elsewhere can emit more”.

The company added: “In the current energy crisis, ensuring security of supply is vital. At the same time, protecting the climate remains one of the key challenges of our time. RWE supports both. The company invests billions of euros into accelerating the energy transition.”

The HSBC banker said it was questionable to view a company as transitioning to net zero while it was expanding coal extraction, and that the bank’s attempts to challenge polluters on their transition plans was minimal.

HSBC decided the loan should not be classified as “sustainability-linked” internally, even though environmental targets remained part of the agreement. The bankers agreed it should not count towards HSBC’s target to contribute up to $1tn in sustainable finance by 2030 because of RWE’s plan to expand the Garzweiler mine and demolish several villages.

Barclays and Santander declined to comment on whether they are counting their parts of the RWE loan package towards their internal sustainable finance targets.

HSBC told the Bureau: “We have been clear we will finance energy companies who are taking an active role in transitioning to a net zero energy future, and we remain committed to this goal amid the double challenge of tackling climate change and an acute energy crisis in Europe.”

RWE is not the only company expanding fossil fuel production that has borrowed money under the guise of sustainable finance. Refinitiv data shows that Chrysaor – now part of the UK North Sea’s biggest producer of fossil fuels – raised $4.5bn with a sustainability-linked loan arranged by HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Natwest and a number of other banks.

One of the biggest oil producers in the US, Occidental Petroleum, raised $4bn, and the world’s biggest oil services provider Schlumberger raised $912m, also with sustainability-linked loans arranged by HSBC and other banks.

Tony Burdon, chief executive at Make My Money Matter, which campaigns for greener investments, said: “HSBC took an important first step in ceasing direct finance towards fossil fuel expansion projects. But as this report so clearly shows, they haven’t gone far enough.

“By continuing to provide sizeable corporate loans to companies involved in fossil fuel expansion such as RWE, HSBC is not just damaging the environment and displacing communities, they’re undermining their own climate targets.”

Lead image: Riot police stand in front of burning barricades as activists stage a protest in Lützerath. Credit: Bernd Lauter / Getty

Reporter: Josephine Moulds
Environment editor: Robert Soutar
Impact producer: Grace Murray
Global editor: James Ball
Editor: Meirion Jones
Production editors: Alex Hess and Frankie Goodway
Fact checker: Andrew Wasley

This reporting is funded by The Sunrise Project. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.

Original article from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism republished under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Continue ReadingHSBC’s secretive loan to a coal company bulldozing a village

New Cumbria coalmine likely to break UK’s climate pledge, analysis says

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/17/cumbria-coalmine-uk-climate-goals-methane-emissions

The new coalmine in Cumbria is likely to prevent the UK from meeting its internationally agreed commitment to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, analysis has suggested.

The Whitehaven colliery, controversially approved by ministers shortly before Christmas, will release about 17,500 tonnes of methane every year, according to estimates from the Green Alliance thinktank.

That is about the same as 120,000 cattle, or about half the beef herd in Cumbria at present, and could put the UK’s methane-cutting targets out of reach.

The analysis comes as campaigners also raise concerns about the filing of more than 100 oil and gas drilling licence applications.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/17/cumbria-coalmine-uk-climate-goals-methane-emissions

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Extinction Rebellion paints Michael Gove’s office black over Cumbria coal mine decision

Image: William Joshua Templeton / Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion protests Michael Gove’s decision to allow coal mining at Whitehaven, Cumbria at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities in London.  The mine is UK’s first new deep coal mine for 30 years.

Sarah Hart, a mother of two from Farnborough said: “2022 saw record global greenhouse gas emissions, and record global temperatures. Where is the government’s ambition to act on this Climate and Ecological Emergency? How dare they even think of opening a coal mine now? Gove claims this mine is carbon neutral but he completely ignores the emissions from burning the coal. We demand an end to all new fossil fuel projects.”

Dorothea Hackman, a 70 year old grandmother from Camden said: “Opening a coal mine today means the UK can’t argue that China and India should decrease their own coal emissions. Whitehaven coal isn’t even wanted by British steelworks, it’s going to be exported, there is no argument for domestic production.”

Extinction Rebellion is inviting everyone to Westminster from 21 April 2023 to demand a fair society and a citizen-led end to the fossil fuel era. ​Find out more about The Big One.

Continue ReadingExtinction Rebellion paints Michael Gove’s office black over Cumbria coal mine decision