German Judges put secret EU-US trade negotations into the spotlight

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

German judges have dealt a blow to US-EU free trade agreement talks after declaring a proposed arbitration court illegal. But the decision is a rare glimmer of good news for opponents of the secretly negotiated trade agreement, as the signing of the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is imminent, and comes hard on the heels of the already signed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – another international trade agreement that was negotiated in secret between tweleve Pacific Rim nations including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Peru, Mexico, Vietnam and Japan. 

 
As part of the TTIP the European Commission had proposed setting up an investment tribunal court that would allow firms to challenge government decisions: these are the so called Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions –  instruments of public international law, which grants an investor the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign government. Critics says the new court, which is intended to replace the actual ISDS system, would be even worse – and would will pressure governments into clawing back consumer protection rights, pushing up the price of medicines and watering down  environmental protection to favour of corporate interests. 
 
Now the German Association of Magistrates, the Berlin-based umbrella organisation for the judiciary, said it “sees neither a legal basis nor a need for such a court”. It says existing national courts are good enough and that efforts by the Commission to create a new court undermines jurisdictions across the Union saying  “The German Magistrates Association sees no need for the establishment of a special court for investors” and the new investor court would alter national court systems “and deprive courts of member states of their power.” The German magistrates also cast doubt on the independence of the judges in the new system, as well as their appointment procedures.
 
Proponents, for their part, say the investment tribunal court is needed to both protect and attract foreign investment from potentially hostile governments or biased domestic courts. EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is heading the TTIP talks, last year said the new court would be “subject to democratic principles and public scrutiny”.
 
Katja Kipping

Katja Kipping

If you wonder why this is of concern – Global Justice recently highlighted the $15 billion legal action brought by energy infrastructure corporation TransCanada against the USA for President Obama’s actions cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Keystone XL was designed to carry tar sands oil from Hardisty in Alberta to Steele City in Nebraska, thus increasing outlets for the most carbon-intensive oil currently produced, and reinforcing the dependency that industrialised countries like the US have on fossil fuels. The legal case is being brought under the auspices of NAFTA, a predecessor of the current crop of free trade agreements such at TTIP, CETA and TPP –  some of the most alarming legal instruments ever devised to subvert democracy. Why any government would agree to fetter their own power is questionable (at best) – and the potential of the end result is simply terrifying. And yes, President Obama IS the elected leader of the dominant economy in the so called ‘free world’! But it has been Obama’s administration that has pushed through these trade agreements – but not without sustained criticism from both Republican and Democrat elected representatives.The TTIP talks, which have been largely held in secret since 2013, aim to remove non-tariff barriers to trade. One German MP, Katja Kipping, an elected representative ofcourse, was one of the first German MPs to gain access to the new TTIP – but only underr close supervision in a reading room opened in Berlin. As Ms Kipping notes: ” TTIP, the EU-US free trade deal, has secrecy written all over it. Those responsible for it live in dread of any public scrutiny. If it was up to me, I would give everyone who’s interested the chance to make up their own minds on the text of the agreement in its current form. Sigmar Gabriel, Minister for Economic Affairs and a top cheerleader for TTIP, has now set up a reading room in his ministry where since the beginning of February German MPs can each spend two hours looking at those texts on which consensus has already been reached.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren

In May 2012, United States Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that “the majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. […] More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a model of transparency. I disagree with that statement”.   In 2013, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) were among a group of congressional lawmakers who criticized the Obama administration’s secrecy policies on the TPP.  Warren reiterated her opposition in a speech and press release, And in December 2014 Presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders denounced the TPP saying: “Let’s be clear: the TPP is much more than a “free trade” agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system. If TPP was such a good deal for America, the administration should have the courage to show the American people exactly what is in this deal, instead of keeping the content of the TPP a secret.”

 
Returning to the TTIP, Ms Kipping says “Even the registration procedure for the reading room speaks volumes. Once I’d registered, I was sent the instructions on how to use the room. The first thing that I noticed was that the terms and conditions had already been the subject of negotiations between the European Commission and the USA. Get your head round that: TTIP isn’t even signed yet, and already individual countries have lost the right to decide who gets to read the texts, and on what terms” and “It is revealing in itself that the Ministry for Economic Affairs is prepared to go to such lengths in order to keep the text of TTIP under wraps. And they have every reason for doing so. Anyone who was going into these negotiations to enhance environmental protection, consumer protection and labour standards would have nothing to fear from transparency. Anyone who’s engaged in selling out democracy, on the other hand, is obviously going to want to avoid public scrutiny. If Sigmar Gabriel and the negotiators are really so convinced of the benefits of TTIP, why don’t they just make the text available to everyone online?”

https://euobserver.com/economic/132142

http://www.waronwant.org/media/what-i-didn%E2%80%99t-read-ttip-reading-room

http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/blog/2016/jan/7/trans-canada-sue-us-government-15-billion-over-tar-sands-pipeline-cancellation

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/02/03/countries-line-sign-toxic-deal-warren-leads-call-reject-tpp

http://www.sanders.senate.gov/download/the-trans-pacific-trade-tpp-agreement-must-be-defeated?inline=file

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

Sustaining Creativity at the Event Production Show

Olympia, London
3rd March 2016
2pm – 3pm

Chris Johnson, Chair of Powerful Thinking  will be chairing a panel at The Event Production Show on ‘Sustaining Creativity in the Events Industry’. Speakers include Alison Tickell, CEO of Julie’s Bicycle, Emma Hudson of Access All Areas, Melvin Benn of Festival Republic and Nick Green from Arts Council England.

This promised sequel to ‘People Planet Profit’ at the Event Production Show 2014, will discuss The Show Must Go On report and the Festival Vision: 2025; how to combine business success with responsible approaches; and how festivals are engaging audiences in increasingly creative conversations about the future.

The Show MustgoonNov26thPowerful Thinking at the Green Events and Innovations Conference

Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, London
3rd March 2016

Powerful Thinking will also be hosting a panel discussing The Show Must Go On report and Festival Vision: 2025 at the 8th edition of the Green Events and Innovations Conference. Delegates will have the opportunity to help shape and join Powerful Thinking’s industry-wide commitment to achieve festival sustainability in line with government targets by 2025.

Other conference speakers include:

  • T In The Park’s Steve Taylor discussing the environmental challenges that the event encountered when they relocated to Strathallan Castle.
  • Representatives from festivals around the world speaking about the challenges they face in meeting and understanding their environmental impact, including Lake of Stars, Malawi.
  • ILMC’s Greg Parmley talking about the actions that the conference is taking to implement their sustainability targets.
  • A Keynote speech from Joanna Haigh, director of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment.
  • The recently relaunched Greener Festival Awards will be presented by Claire O’Neill and Teresa Moore.

The Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI) is produced by A Greener Festival, Bucks New Uni and the ILMC.

The Show Must Go On – sustainably please

The Show MustgoonNov26thPowerful Thinking’s recent report, The Show Must Go On, was conceived as a festival industry response to the Paris climate change talks in 2015 and was launched at the UK Festival Awards in November. The report brings together all known UK research and analyses the most comprehensive datasets available on the environmental impact of festivals. The report aims to:

  • Outline the environmental impacts of the festival industry in an accessible format.
  • Provide a robust basis for an industry-wide approach to reducing environmental impacts.
  • Promote action through the Festival Vision:2025 Pledge – A commitment from music festivals to meet the UK national target of a 50% reduction in green house gas emissions by 2025.

Download a PDF of The Show Must Go On report HERE.
Find out more about the Festival Vision: 2025 Pledge and sign up HERE.

Sign up to the Powerful Thinking newsletter HERE for news and updates or follow them on Twitter / Facebook.

Morocco switches on first phase of world’s largest solar plant

noor1Morocco’s king has switched on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant that will become the world’s largest when completed. The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country’s capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people. Noor 1, the first section at the town of Ouarzazate, provides 160 megawatts (MW) of the ultimate 580MW capacity, helping Morocco to save hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

“It is a very, very significant project in Africa,” said Mafalda Duarte, the manager of Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which provided $435m (£300m) of the $9bn project’s funding. “Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process.” The north African country plans to generate 42% of its energy from renewables by 2020, with one-third of that total coming from solar, wind and hydropower apiece. Morocco hopes to use the next UN climate change conference, which it hosts in November, as the springboard for an even more ambitious plan to source 52% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

The UK also had some good news with the announcement of the world’s biggest offshore windfarm, to be built off the north-east coast. Dong Energy said its multi-billion pound Hornsea project, which is expected when complete to power as many as 1m homes in the region, will occupy more than 400 square kilometres, situated about 120km off the Yorkshire coast.

More on the Guardian here

A Greener Festival Launch Associate Membership

AGF-Affiliate-Member-Logo-300x292Since A Greener Festival began, it has worked to help festivals to become more sustainable, reward best practice, and to raise the profile of sustainability issues amongst festival goers and industry. We have assessed over 300 festivals worldwide, connected with countless organisations and individuals who provide sustainable solutions to events, and delivered seminars, lectures, workshops and presentations to people passionate about lowering the environmental impact of the festival and events sector.

To mark 10 years since A Greener Festival came in to being, we are launching AGF Associate Membership, as a way to connect and consolidate the many groups and individuals seeking to make a difference. We invite event organisers, the wider industry, organisations and individuals who share our aims to join and support us.

Associate Members are not only demonstrating the commitment and support for the Greener Festival aims and objectives, but will also receive the following benefits:

  • Have use of the AGF ASSOCIATE LOGO
  • Discount admittance to any AGF organised events and first refusal to exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities. (Including the upcoming Green Events & Innovations Conference, 3rd March 2016, London)
  • Access to information and advice about improving your events environmental sustainability.
  • Be featured as a supporter and linked on agreenerfestival.com
  • Demonstrate to the industry and stakeholders that you adhere to the AGF Associate Member code of conduct.
  • Have access to the AGF online group where you can communicate directly with the participating event organisers, assessors and other associate members of A Greener Festival.
  • Gain positive PR by association to a cause that exists solely for the ongoing improvement and durability of the events industry and movement of our society towards one that can be sustained within our means.
  • Make it possible for A Greener Festival to continue its work to support event organisers no matter how small, to provide advice and training, to make detailed on site assessment of events, to contribute to industry wide knowledge and benchmarking, and to promote sustainable event issues both within industry and publicly.

Associate membership to A Greener Festival is tiered based upon the EU definitions of a small / medium or large company as follows:

MICRO = £200 per annum (< 10 Employees, < €2m TURNOVER, < €2m BALANCE SHEET)

SMALL = £500 per annum (< 50 Employees, < €10m TURNOVER, < €10m BALANCE SHEET)

MEDIUM = £1000 per annum (<250 Employees, < €50m TURNOVER, < €50m BALANCE SHEET)

By applying for Associate Membership you agree to the Terms & Conditions, and adhere to the Code of Conduct.

Membership to run from 5th  Jan to 4th Jan, aut

Supertrawlers to be banned permanently from Australian waters

KL_749_Margiris_Klaipeda_IMO_8301187Supertrawlers will be permanently banned from Australian waters, the federal government announced on Wednesday. The move follows the temporary bans on supertrawlers imposed by the Labor government two years ago and re-endorsed by Tony Abbott in March. The first ban expired in November and the second was up for review in April. The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, said the government would stop vessels longer than 130m from fishing in Australian waters.

This definition of supertrawler does not take into account the processing capacity of a vessel, which proponents of the ban say is just as critical as the size of the vessel. “This government will introduce regulations under the Fisheries Management Act to give effect to this decision,” Colbeck said in a statement released on Wednesday afternoon. “This decision will have policy effect immediately.”

More on the Guardian here

Why bother about the environment? Its expensive NOT too …..

water and fishThe Glastonbury Festival has admitted causing a drop in water quality in a stream close to the festival’s site, after a sewage tank sprung a leak during the 2014 event. CMU Daily reported that Michael Eavis and the Festival’s Operations Director, Christopher Edwards, both appeared in court in Yeovil after a prosecution was brought against the event by the Environment Agency for breaches of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010.

Accepting that “significant” harm had been caused, the Festival challenged the levels of damage claimed by the Environment Agency – and in particular the death of protected brown trout. Representing the festival, Kerry Gwyther said an environmental report found the stream had a history of being of a “poor quality”. Of the 42 dead fish, 39 were recorded downstream and only 10 of these were brown trout, he said.They also disputed that a fine of up to £300,000 should be levied, based on the Festival’s turnover of £37 million that year, saying that the festival’s profit was actually £84,000 before tax. The Festival donates a large proportion of its annual profit to charity with three lead charities, Greenpeace, WaterAid and Oxfam all receiving six figure sums.

In a statement, the Festival acknowledged the 2014 incident, and also a further incident in 2015 relating to festival goers urinating in ditches and highlighting the festivals own environmental efforts, they said “Regretfully however, during the last two festivals (in 2014 and 2015) some pollution has unintentionally made it into the stream running through the site, due to issues including a faulty tank and through festival goers urinating on the land”.

The statement continued: “With the causes already identified and analysed, Glastonbury Festival continues to work with all stakeholders, including the Environment Agency, on ways to prevent and safeguard against any problems in the future. Substantial improvement work on the site’s infrastructure has already begun and will continue over the coming months. At the same time, the festival will again work rigorously with all of its contractors and staff to raise awareness of the environmental issues involved and the importance of preventing further incidents”.

But courts are now taking a very dim view on environmental offences: Recently a record fine was levied on Thames Water for a recent water pollution case – supporting the conclusion that ‘very large’ companies are likely to experience increasingly high levels of fines for environmental non-compliance. Thames were fined £1 milllion for repeated discharge of sewage into a branch of the Grand Union canal in contravention of its Environmental Permit.

This follows on from the 2014 Sentencing Guidelines which were brought in to provide greater transparency around the level of fines for environmental non-compliance. The starting point for determining an appropriate level of fine is based on the size of the company (where a ‘large’ company is defined as having a turnover of £50 million or greater), the extent of harm caused and the culpability of the company. Other factors are also taken into account, for example if the company has a history of repeat offending this would be an aggravating factor leading to an upward adjustment to the fine, whereas if the company can show an effective compliance programme in place, this would be a mitigating factor and the level of fine would be adjusted downwards.

However, the guidelines make no prescriptive recommendation for an appropriate level of starting point for ‘very large’ companies, except to state that, if a defendant company’s turnover greatly exceeds the threshold for large companies, …‘it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence’. Other defendants in recent cases included  INEOS Chlor and Southern Water

Judge Bright QC  explained his fine on Thames Water:

‘The time has now come for the courts to make it clear that very large organisations such as (Thames Water) really must bring about the reforms and improvements for which they say they are striving because if they do not the sentences passed upon them for environmental offences will be sufficiently severe to have a significant impact on their finances’.

Sue Gregson, environmental consultant at International Workplace, commented ‘these guidelines potentially affect all businesses. Having an effective management system in place which is properly implemented, operated and monitored, will reduce the risk of incidents and provide significant mitigation should a prosecution occur’.

https://www.internationalworkplace.com/blog/thames-water-fined-1-million-for-breach-of-its-environmental-permit-53458?a_id=5025