Why the EU-Mercosur worries environmentalists

Why the EU-Mercosur worries environmentalists

Last June, after 20 years of negotiations, the EU signed a trade agreement in principle with the South American trade bloc Mercosur, the fifth-largest economy in the world. That deal would open a large market to Mercosur’s not suspended member states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay – multiplying the current trade value of €88 billion. 

Up to 90 percent of tariffs on goods would be eliminated on both sides. Europe would save on goods such as wine, spirits, chocolate, biscuits, tinned peaches, and olives, and import a quota of 99 tonnes of beef per year, as well as 180’000 tonnes of sugar and 100’000 tonnes of poultry. The EU hopes the deal would expand its access to South American telecommunications, transport, and financial services, and expects it to make the region more attractive to American, Japanese, and South Korean markets. 

Protestors of the deal from the farming sector worry that South American beef imports would hurt local European farms. One concern is described by The Irish Times as Brazil’s reputation for “meat fraud”, since the country does not follow the same ethical and food safety standards imposed under EU regulations.

While the EU claims that both parties would have the power to put regulations on imports should any harm come to local markets, it is unclear how long these measures can be put in place and exactly each sector would be protected.

Despite intentions to expand the high-carbon beef industry, the deal explicitly references the Paris Climate Agreement with commitments to fight climate change and to transition to a “sustainable, low carbon economy”. But to meet this goal, rigorous enforcement of regulations on the quotas would need to be put in place whether or not harm does come to local markets.

As for the deal’s sure environmental degradation, Mercosur members would have to further eat into their cattle ranching land. In Brazil, climate change denier and deforestation enthusiast President Jair Bolsonaro naturally contradicts environmental protection and sustainable development efforts. He has threatened to tear down the Amazon rainforest to make room for more beef farms, and is widely condemned by international media for intentionally starting this year’s Amazonian wildfires with his policies. 

Since 1978 over 780’000 square kilometres of Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed across Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyane, and French Guiana for cattle ranching, soy farms, mineral excavations, palm oil extractions, urban planning and illegal logging projects. According to satellite data, Brazil has by far lost the most tree cover in comparison to other countries which share the Amazon. 

To come into effect, the draft Mercosur Agreement must be ratified by the European Council and the European Parliament, as well as by the Mercosur Parliament. This may be a very long process.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his government will block the deal, unless Brazil takes steps to protect the Amazonian rainforest. Varadkar previously said his government would assess the financial impact of the deal, but supported the deal’s bid for billions in savings on trade duties for Irish companies. 

The opposition party Sinn Fein led political support to reject the deal. A majority in the Dail voted against it and called for the Irish government to form alliances with other EU members to do the same. However, the deal must pass under the EU Trade Council for any opposition to be considered in law.

In Austria, the draft deal was rejected by the national Parliament EU’s subcommittee. Together with Ireland, they may use their veto in two years’ time to block the EU-Mercosur deal.

 

 

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

 

 

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Brexit: The European Union’s perspective

Brexit: The European Union’s perspective

Confused about what Brexit actually means and how it will impact you? This month, STAND’s Brexit Series will help you understand how we got in this situation, what the proposed deal contains, where the negotiations are at now, and how a no-deal will impact Ireland, the UK and more widely the EU. If you missed the first piece, no worries, it’s here.

 

This second article will give you an insight of the European Union’s perspective on Brexit.

 

A quick update: Where are we now? 

At the beginning of the month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, suggesting a new Protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland. In fact, Johnson did everything he could to keep its proposal secret. Unfortunately for him, but not for democracy, the EU wanting transparent negotiations, secrecy was off the table. Some might read this as PM Jonson’s admission of weakness.

After insisting on the “very little time left to negotiate”, he developed what he called a “fair and reasonable compromise”: the “two borders, four years” proposal. The idea is that Northern Ireland would leave the European customs union (the tariff-free trading area), but would keep following the Union’s single market rules (safety standards for all goods, including food) which are the most complex to check. It is nicknamed a “two borders” deal because there would be a border on the Irish island for customs, and another in the Irish sea to monitor single market rules. This proposal to create two borders where there is none so far is a way of multiplying the problems. The reason of existence of that proposal is clearly due to the DUP (even though the party doesn’t hold the majority in Northern Ireland).

If this proposal should be accepted by the Union, it would start to apply at the end of the transition period. But first of all, Northern Ireland’s assembly would have to give its consent, initially in 2021, then every four years. If the assembly, which has not met since early 2017, contests the deal, it would know that this would bring hard border back. Two lectures of the deal exist. On one hand, as Northern Ireland’s Assembly does not meet anymore, it won’t be able to use its veto and the proposal will be granted anyway. On the other hand, you can read into it that this proposal could be the only reason for them to meet again.

Brussels and Dublin see this offer as relying on vague promises. Indeed, PM Johnson gives no clear answer on where the checkpoints would be and how the control would be organised, putting close cooperation between British and Irish authorities forward. European countries agreed that this deal “does not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”. 

Yet, Thursday’s meeting between Taoiseach Varadkar and PM Johnson shows that negotiation may not be dead (or not as dead as we thought). This common statement stays really ambiguous, and the situation was never that uncertain. But a deal seems now possible to reach as “promising signals” have been sent according to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. Yesterday, Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay held a two-hour meeting, said to have been “constructive”. We’ll see if there is a deal on the table for the EU heads of government summit, taking place on the 17th and 18th October. If so, many European countries would be looking for the Irish approval before giving their own. If Ireland goes along with the deal, then it would most likely be voted. We could even reach unanimity. 

 

A bit of economy: How will Brexit impact the EU’s economy?

The outcome of Brexit is not yet known. Various scenarios are still plausible. So far, it’s down to a deal or a no-deal Brexit. The first scenario would imply a soft Brexit (in case of an agreement leading to a close relationship between the UK and the EU), a hard Brexit (in case of a deal leading to a distant relationship), or an in-between. In the second scenario, Brexit will definitely be hard but might be orderly. The EU-UK trade relationship would fall back on the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) regime, without any major disruptions on the markets. All member states of this global body for international trade give the organisation a list stating the trade tariffs and quotas they seek to impose on any other member state. Therefore, in a WTO scenario, the UK would have to follow the restriction list submitted by the EU. 

According to Johnson’s letter to Juncker, the UK is asking for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, very much alike the CETA, the comprehensive trade agreement between the EU and Canada. If this should happen, we would face a deal Brexit, but it’d still be a hard Brexit since the UK would be out of both the customs union and the single market. But, surely, any agreement would reduce the barriers inherent to the WTO regime and be more profitable for both parties.

The EU’s trade partners will suffer some loss on account of Brexit, but nothing in comparison to the UK itself. Actually, the EU’s main source of economic loss due to Brexit should be trade (and not the loss of the British contribution to the European budget), in the short as well as in the long term, in both deal and no-deal scenarios. On the contrary, the UK’s economy will endure some tough deprivations losing international investments (including from the Foreign Direct Investment, FDI), as banks and companies which want to operate at a European level will relocate their activity to the continent. UK will also miss high-profile workers coming from the Union. 

Post-Brexit, the Union’s GDP could be between 0,3 and 1,5% inferior than without Brexit. It doesn’t convey that the Union will face this concrete loss, but the EU’s GDP won’t be as high as if there was no Brexit. Most national European GDP should be less impacted than the EU’s. The main economic victims of Brexit are expected to be Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (due to the importance of trade from these former British colonies with the UK), the Benelux States (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), and Denmark. Unfortunately, Ireland’s economic losses from Brexit are presumed to be worse than the UK’s, whatever Brexit option is followed, even with an FTA.

In the eventuality of a no-deal, the value of the GBP compared to the euro or US Dollar prices would drop in the short term. Yet, it is difficult to predict whether it would be bad news for the UK or EU’s economy. All we know so far is that the 8,5% depreciation suffered by the GBP in June 2016 helped the competitiveness of UK export companies but was hardly counterbalanced by the rise of import costs, affecting both import companies and consumers. 

Brexit consequences on wages and unemployment would depend on each member state’s policies. If struggling because of the Brexit, companies shouldn’t impact their misfortune directly on the wages. They’d presumably abandon raises or reduce the number of working hours of their employees. Even if employment losses are expected, no unemployment boom is likely to happen. The employment market is under the influence of many other various events, such as Trump’s protectionism policy for example. 

 

A bit of geopolitics: What will be the consequences on borders within the EU?

From a European perspective, the border issue caused by Brexit is firstly a safety issue. When talking about the Irish border, the EU is well aware of the island’s history and aspire to avoid a renewal of tensions. The Union holds the same concerns regarding the (former) dispute about Gibraltar’s sovereignty. 

Border is also synonym of trade control, meaning the great come back of checkpoints, queues, etc. Moreover, it brings restrictions on the number of products that can travel, including what you carry with you in your car. 

Even if the Eire-Ulster’s trade is not such a big deal in comparison with the UK-EU’s trade (5 billions GBP against 600 billions GBP), this should impact Northern Ireland’s economy (more than the Irish economy). As suggested by PM Johnson earlier this month, a “double border” could be implemented. This would make Northern Ireland an ideal place for (frauds in) trade. The UK would most certainly mainly trade with the EU through the North. 

The situation in Gibraltar, a British territory located in the South of Spain who voted massively to remain in the EU in 2016 (about 92%), also needs to be settled. The 1,2km Spanish-British border issue was sorted in the third Protocol of the draft agreement, but not without raising the anger of Spain first. The accord reached in 2018 should remain applicable in case of Brexit with a deal. The UK and Spain will have to reach a specific agreement on Gibraltar’s status by the end of the transition period. 

The come-back of the immaterial border of Britain will also have some repercussions. Long queues are to be expected on motorways around harbour cities, such as Dover in the UK or Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Oostende, Calais on the continent. 

 

A bit of solidarity: why is the EU behind Ireland?

The EU immediately took Ireland’s side as one man. There was kind of a “club reflex”. The UK chose to leave and create difficulties, not Ireland. The Union protects one of its own, victim of a situation it didn’t choose. That is for sure the main thing. However, the EU is also afraid that Ireland would fly solo and reach a bilateral agreement with the UK, putting the EU in difficulty. 

So basically, the Union’s support is based on two reasons: first, Ireland is one of the EU members and therefore is entitled to solidarity; second, if Ireland should be a UK’s privileged partner it would be damaging for the EU. 

 

 

Based on interviews with Patrick Bisciari, economist at the National Bank of Belgium, and Marianne Dony, professeur ordinaire at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

 

 

Photo by Dunk on Flickr.

 

 

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Girls Challenge the Script on International Girls Day!

Girls Challenge the Script on International Girls Day!

“It’s urgent that we no longer create stories that teach children to view women and girls as second-class citizens – not when we’ve seen the level of sexism in our culture so egregiously put on display.”  

These are the words of Geena Davis: founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) and star of films like Thelma and Louise and A League of their Own (two films which pass the Bechdel test with flying colours). 

As part of today’s #Girlstakeover, on 11th October, the International Day of the Girl, women and girls are demanding radical change in their portrayal in films, entertainment, textbooks, advertising, video games and other communications media. Indeed, this year’s international day theme is Girlpower: Unscripted and Unstoppable! 

Media’s influence on our thoughts, beliefs, and actions is subtle yet powerful. Because stereotypes are like air – invisible but omnipresent – they are often overlooked, making them especially insidious. Unfortunately, much of what girls see in the media reinforces gender discrimination and harmful stereotypes. This affects how others view girls and how girls view themselves. 

The #RewriteHerStory takeover is inspired by recent research published by the GDIGM, Plan International, and the Girls Get Equal campaign. It analyses the 56 top-grossing films in 20 countries to assess their impact on girls – and discovered the films send a message that leadership is mostly for men, particularly older white men. Women leaders (regardless of whether they are presidents, CEOs or business owners) are far more likely to be sexualised or objectified, shown in revealing outfits or completely nude.  

The report calls for an end to harmful stereotypes and encourages making stories about female leadership normal and visible. A central message is “if girls can’t see it, they can’t be it”. This is particularly the case for women of colour who are even less likely to see characters who look like them in the media. 

Media can be a force for good, but not if it perpetuates stereotypes or –even worse – ignores women entirely. Indeed, previous research by the GDIGM showed that female characters make up only 17% of crowd scenes in films! Davis says this sends a subtle signal that 17% women’s representation is a “natural state of affairs”

I remember my mother phoning Kelloggs when I was a young girl to complain that all the cartoon characters – Cornelius Rooster, Coco Monkey, Tony the Tiger and so on – on my breakfast cereal boxes were male. The person she spoke with vainly tried to convince her that one of the Snap, Crackle and Pop trio was a girl but my mother wasn’t buying it! At the time, I didn’t realise she was setting a great example by teaching me to query women’s presence and absence in the media and other spaces.  

So, the next time you are watching Netflix or consuming other media, start paying attention to how women are portrayed and consider the ratio between female and male characters. You might be surprised what you notice once you start looking.

Please follow today’s #RewriteHerStory takeover!

 

Image courtesy of Plan International.

 

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“It’s urgent that we no longer create stories that teach children to view women and girls as second-class citizens – not when we’ve seen the level of sexism in our culture so egregiously put on display.” Learn more about #RewriteHerStory, on the International Day of the Girl.

How Looking Good Can Help the Environment – Sustainable Fashion from the Ones in the Know

How Looking Good Can Help the Environment – Sustainable Fashion from the Ones in the Know

This week, Trinity students gathered in a full auditorium to hear from slow fashion influencers about how they can make their wardrobe more sustainable. Alba Mullen, a final year Politics and Economics student in Trinity College Dublin, who also runs her own sustainable fashion page called Traashion, moderated a panel of some of Ireland’s most prominent sustainable clothing activists in the Slow Fashion Panel Discussion and Upcycling Masterclass. This event was held on Tuesday night and run by STAND and Suas Trinity as part of the annual STAND Student Festival.

The lecture theatre was packed as Geraldine Carton from Sustainable Fashion Dublin, DJ and influencer Tara Stewart, Genevieve Sann from Transparent Magazine and Dylan (Dread X) Chapman from ILL Hippie lined the stage.

The opening discussion focused on how each panel member first got into the area of sustainable fashion. Carton, the cofounder of Sustainable Fashion Dublin, was inspired to leave her job with a women’s magazine after questioning all aspects of the clothing production process. She co-created Sustainable Fashion Dublin as an initiative to promote the “positive, guilt-free aspect of sustainable fashion.”

For Stewart, while working unaware as an influencer for a fast-fashion clothing brand, she was put in contact with Sustainable Fashion Dublin and promptly ended her contract on moral grounds. “I love upcycling and making clothes that I like, making them work for me.”

Chapman began to look at men’s clothes differently when he was around sixteen years of age – the complete lack of catering for men’s fashion and ability to express themselves, especially in Ireland, encouraged him to get involved in slow fashion.

As for Sann, two years ago the Netflix documentary The True Cost (a documentary thrown around a lot throughout the evening) opened her eyes to the problem and inspired her to create her magazine, Transparent.

Many tips were given by the panellists throughout the course of the evening:

  1. Look at your own wardrobe and look at what you have, as we go through four times more clothes than our parents, and keep them for only half as long
  2. Swap clothes with your friends as they’ll more than likely have similar interests and styles
  3. Use apps like Pinterest for information on reworking something you have already or tailoring something you’ve found
  4. Use resources like Depop to buy used clothes but be careful that they are authentic and not just bulk-bought
  5. Buy local so you know exactly where your clothes are coming from and how they are made
  6. Attend Swapshops, like the one run by Sustainable Fashion Dublin
  7. Go to charity shops to both support the charities and keep it sustainable

An extra piece of advice is not to give to clothing banks. In fact, they give a lump sum of only three per cent to the represented charity of the huge figure they receive from textile recycling. Instead, Carlton recommends to donate directly to the charity shop, labelling bags as “sellable” and “recyclable”. This way, shops can gain seventy per cent of the figure from textile recycling.

Carlton also explained greenwashing. “When a brand promoting sustainability overemphasises how ‘good’ it is, it’s usually hiding its ‘worse’ things… 90% of the other clothes are being made in horrendous conditions.” For example, she revealed that the Aral Sea has actually decreased to one tenth of its size due to its water being taken to grow cotton plantations.

Stewart recommended “treating getting out of fast fashion as breaking a habit” – don’t shop while bored, unfollow certain influencers and within a few months even your ads on social media will change. Chapman emphasised the amount of resources available for self-education on the topic – “open your mind and engage with each other.” If retail therapy is your downfall, then find something else to replace it with.

As for the most important takeaway for each panellist, Stewart maintained that you should not beat yourself (or your friends!) up about sustainable fashion. Instead, “really see it in a more positive light”. Carlton mentioned elongating the lifespan of your own clothes and emphasised that sustainable fashion is not supposed to be regimental or boring. “It’s a way to express yourself, have fun and decrease your carbon footprint!” Chapman, the only male on the panel, said to be logical with your clothes – “do you really need to get that same shirt in a different colour?” Sann said to “just try your best, be critically minded, and don’t fall into greenwashing traps!”

Following a quick and easy DIY solution to one-use cotton pads by cutting up and sewing old towels and t-shirts, Carlton really summed up the whole atmosphere of the evening. “It’s not about a small amount of people being perfect, it’s about a huge amount of people making incremental changes.” No shaming or passive aggression was directed towards those who “shop fast” – in fact, many of the panellists themselves are only very recent converts to the world of fast fashion – just a sense of understanding. There was an emphasis on “doing your part” and just being positive about fashion overall.

 

 

Photo of the Slow Fashion Panel Discussion and Upcycling Masterclass by Shannon Takahashi, 

 

 

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Fracked gas and climate action: an activist point of view

Fracked gas and climate action: an activist point of view

The last few weeks have seen an explosion in activity on the Irish climate activist movement. In the wake of the recent UN Climate Action Summit which took place in New York on September 23rd, the Irish government has faced ever increasing scrutiny from environmental activist groups and climate conscious citizens alike. STAND news sat down with Maeve O’Gorman, an activist from Not Here Not Anywhere (NHNA) to get her take on the current challenges activists are fighting for. 

Leo Varadkar’s UN Climate Summit address briefly went into the Irish government’s climate policy plans. The plans, the Taoiseach said, included halting fossil fuel exploration in the Irish seas while continuing to explore for natural gas as a transition fuel. He also said the country would ring-fence carbon tax to invest in renewable energy and to look after those who might be affected through unemployment by a developing green economy. 

However, the promises made by Leo were not deemed good enough by a majority of climate activists. 

“By saying ‘oh we’re not going to explore for oil in Ireland’, this is amazing, but then you peel back half a layer on that and it’s complete greenwashing! The ban on fracking is only effective for 80% of the Irish seas. All the existing licences will remain.’’ By allowing corporations to hold onto their licenses, the 20% of the Irish seas not included in the ban will continue to be exploited for oil, Maeve explained.

‘’The government needs to stop fossil fuel exploration and tell other countries to stop. We are creating a demand for fracking and fossil fuel exploration but we just don’t have time for that!”

The thorn in the sides of Not Here Not Anywhere is that while Leo Varadkar says that oil exploration won’t be happening in Ireland, they continue to outsource oil and gas, and even intend to import it from the U.S via a Liquified Natural Gas Terminal, planned to be constructed on the West coast of Ireland. Shannon LNG, as it is known, will be an import terminal for fracked gas from the US. The gas will be shipped from the US, stored here, and will then be redistributed to various countries in the EU.

The project has been a major cause of contention in the Dail recently as the development faced opposition from both citizens and TDs. Why is it such an issue? 

‘’There are environmental and health impacts from fracking. One of the main reasons we oppose it is that it is seen as a clean transition fuel that is less carbon intense. But actually when you frack for gas, it releases methane. Methane is at least 85 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 released from burning coal. It is a dirty fossil fuel. The government banned fracking in Ireland but then go and import it and sell it as clean ‘’freedom fuel’’, said Maeve.

“All these wild claims being put out there that it is a clean energy are untrue. It is a fossil fuel. We know that 80% of fossil fuels needs to be kept in the ground in order to make sure we have any hope of stopping the climate warming to +1.5 degrees which will have catastrophic effects! Yet we are promoting exploration and use of fossil fuels abroad, and trying to hide it. What NHNA says is that  we need to be against fracking wherever it is happening in the world, not just in Ireland.”

Last week in the Dail, an emergency meeting was called to discuss the issue of the Shannon LNG project after uproar from citizens and environmental groups over the steamrolling of the development plan. The government had no plans on having a public debate on the issue, which was seen as completely undemocratic by several activist groups. The environmental groups made their concerns known and Richard Bruton, the current Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment was forced to listen to statements from TDs opposing the plan. Only time will tell whether the concerns are taken seriously. 

 

For more information, visit Stop Shannon LNG.

 

 

Photo by @NHNAireland on Twitter

 

 

Watch out Maeve O’Gorman interview down below!

Extinction Rebellion begins week of civil disobedience

Extinction Rebellion begins week of civil disobedience

Monday 7th of October saw environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion begin Rebellion Week 2 – a series of blockades and demonstrations in cities around the world, including in Dublin. The group’s aims are to draw attention to the climate and ecological emergencies the planet is facing, and to spur governments into action to tackle the crisis. Founded in 2018, the movement gained notoriety in April when they shut down key bridges and junctions in London for over a week; an action which saw over one thousand people arrested. The Irish branch of XR has three demands of the government: to tell the truth about the extent of the issue facing us, to act like it’s an emergency and to ensure a just transition to zero-carbon economy. Their hope is to disrupt “business as usual” to force the government to meet their demands. 

The first day of Rebellion Week saw a number of actions take place in Dublin. A black coffin adorned with pictures of the Earth was carried from Heuston Station to government buildings on Kildare Street, with the procession blocking traffic as they went. They brought with them a letter to be delivered to government ministers, one signed by over 200 Irish academics calling for greater action on climate change and environmental issues more generally. A pink sailboat was marched up Kildare Street and is now parked at Merrion Square, where activists have set up their blockade and base for the week. Around 30 tents have been pitched in the Square, with a music stage, food stalls, information stand, and kids’ tent being set up in the area as the group’s base. In the evening, protestors blocked traffic at Connolly Station in rush hour and proceeding to march down through the IFSC, urging employees of the companies there to join them at Merrion Square. 

While their methods have made them unpopular in certain circles, the group claims that the traditional methods of protesting, signing petitions and lobbying TDs hasn’t worked in the past and more drastic action is needed to tackle the various problems we face. They invite everyone to take part in the week’s events and stress that they are a non-violent, family-friendly movement which is inclusive of all people. The week will finish with a multi-faith vigil on Sunday to remember the victims of climate change. 

Photo taken by Matthew Mollahan during Dublin protest.

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

Will the G7 Fashion Pact change fashion for the better?

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Extinction Rebellion begins week of civil disobedience

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The effects of climate change are not limited to the natural world. Human beings are impacted by the natural changes in their environment and climate. Policies have a key-role to play as climate change also causes negative economic impacts to increase.