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To create a sustainable democracy, we need greater transparency on policies

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A sustainable democracy is transparent, accountable and representative. We can change ours by voting for policies at elections – and not personalities.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.

A sustainable democracy adapts to the changing demands of an active electorate. In a sustainable democracy, we would expect to see voter turnout rates consistently above 80%, and the popularity of policies would reflect the balance of power of the parties. Does that sound radical? I don’t think so.

The magic ingredient that a sustainable democracy has that other democracies don’t is a high degree of transparency. More specifically, a high degree of transparency in three vital areas: vision, policies and performance. Only when transparency is achieved in all three can a democracy become sustainable, restoring power back to the people, and making the government truly accountable. It’s a simple idea, yet for all the democratic privileges we enjoy over other nations, it’s still a long way from describing our current process.

The idea of vision – declaring the kind of society that we need, and why, in order to thrive – doesn’t feature in political discussion. The simple reason is it kills votes. Politicians won’t disclose their vision for society because they fear voters will disagree with it, and because knowing the broader context of a policy can easily reduce its appeal. For example, while you might support outsourcing NHS services in the name of better care provision or cost-cutting, what if you knew the ultimate goal was to replace the NHS with a private health system – would you support it then? For politicians eager to get into power and stay there, having a vision is too risky. But without a vision, how can we vote for the policies to achieve it?

Policies, however, are part of everyday discussion in the media. This would be a good thing if it wasn’t so difficult to keep track of them. The media sways from one hot topic to the next, and parties announce policies without any real schedule or consistency. The bigger parties have manifestos but they certainly don’t promote them, and come election time they’re overshadowed by personality battles, party bickering and media spin. As a result, how many of us know which policies belong to which parties? For those that make it to the ballot box, do we really know what kind of change we’re voting for?

And what about transparency in government performance? In the run up to an election, there is no meaningful way to compare what our elected representatives have achieved against what they promised (including coalition agreements). We get different views through the eyes of different media organisations but we don’t get a clear, independent and unbiased view of it all. As long as we can’t measure their performance, the government can’t be accountable to it. And until our government is fully accountable, we won’t truly own our democracy.

So where do we start? How do we make vision, policies and performance more transparent, and in so doing make our democracy sustainable? In my view it’s simple; certainly not easy, but it is simple – and without question it is achievable. Here’s where to start.

Vote for policies

Until we know what a party stands for – the policies it promises to support – there is no point thinking about its track record or whether we like its leader. Sure, once we have an idea which party’s policies we prefer, considerations like credibility, track record or even chances of winning the seat become relevant to our decision making process. But only after we know what the policies are. Policies are what create change, so whichever party we decide to vote for, unless we know what its policies are we won’t know what kind of change we’re voting for.

This is exactly why I set up Vote for Policies. It’s a free service that makes it easy for everyone – regardless of age or level of political interest – to compare policies in a rational way, without bias from the media or our own preconceptions, and to use that information to make an independent decision about which party to vote for.

Don’t we need a vision first?

Yes, having a more transparent political vision remains a vital cog in making our democracy sustainable. I’d like to see more honest and open discussion about what kind of society our parties want to create now, but given the risk to politicians and the current low levels of engagement with politics, it’s probably not realistic in the short-term. However, by placing more focus on policies and manifestos, we are taking the first step towards achieving it.

With greater transparency of policies, and by focusing our political debate around them, it’s much easier to extend the discussion to vision. Not only because it tells parties we are paying attention to what matters, but it’s a simpler, less spin-able conversation that makes politics more accessible to a wider cross section of society which will create more demand for clarity from political manifestos.

What about accountability?

There’s an understandable argument that there’s no point focusing on policies because politicians don’t keep their word – manifestos aren’t relevant because governments aren’t accountable to them. So how do we make them accountable?

The idea of making manifestos legally binding will always get an enthusiastic hearing among some voters, myself included, but it’s too obviously a noose in which politicians won’t be placing their heads any time soon – and certainly not those already in power. But if we start by focusing on policies, we’re creating an implicit level of accountability by making it clear to our political parties that we’re paying attention to what they’re promising. From here it’s much easier to make a stronger case for further changes, so we’re also creating a platform for greater accountability in the future.

If we want to create a sustainable democracy – where politics is accessible to all, where we can debate the vision and policies for a society that will meet the challenges we face and where our government is accountable to its performance in a fair way – then we must create greater transparency. By starting with policies, we are taking the biggest leap possible towards achieving this, and at the same time starting to turn the cogs for even bigger change to come. The best thing of all is we can do it ourselves, and we can do it now.

Matt Chocqueel-Mangan is the founder of Vote for Policies.

Photo: Harrison Keely via freeimages.com

Further reading:

Voting with your voice: why elections should be shaped by policies, not parties

If we voted for policies at elections, and not parties, the results might surprise us all

Sustainability could hold the key to 2015 general election result

The people’s manifesto

Green policies beat Brown’s (reds, blues and yellows)

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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