With the Greater Manchester mayoral election looming, environmental charities have come together questioning the candidates on their environmental policies.

Friday, 28th April marked the coming together of charities for the “What About the Environment” hustings.

This gave the public a chance to question the four mayoral candidates on their stance regarding environmental policy.

The candidates present included Sean Anstee of the Conservative party, Jane Brophy of the Liberal Democrats, Andy Burnham of the Labour party, and Will Patterson of the Green Party.

Pete Abel, Manchester Friends of the Earth volunteer, was part of the event. Other charities present included Frack Free Greater Manchester, GM Campaign Against Climate Change, Global Justice Manchester, and GM Environment Forum.

Abel volunteers with Manchester Friends of the Earth, campaigning in air quality and transport issues, but he also works as their media officer.

He said, reflecting on Friday’s hustings: “We just wanted to have an opportunity for people to come and have a chat with the candidates. The environment we live in affects us all, and it’s very rarely discussed.”

The hustings were live streamed on their Facebook page, so the voters could see how their candidates felt on various environmental issues.

Abel discussed why the hustings were important: “Our aim for the day was pretty much to give people a chance to come and listen to the candidates, and ask questions about environment issues.

“The reason we did it, working with the other campaign groups, was we felt in the EU referendum and the last general election, the environment hardly got mentioned.”

An important issue discussed was air pollution in Manchester. Abel commented: “Irrespective of who you support, you must breathe air – and dirty air is not good.”

Improving air quality in Manchester is something Manchester Friends of the Earth have campaigned on in the past, and was pushed as an important issue on Friday. Part of this issue was the idea of banning diesel fuelled vehicles by 2025.

London and Paris, among other European cities, have promised this, and Friends of the Earth wishes for Manchester to join this list.

Abel said: “Andy Bunham and Sean Anstee didn’t say yes outright. Tied to that [cutting down air pollution] was Nottingham’s workplace parking levy.”

The parking levy would mean employers with over twenty parking spaces would be charged. In Nottingham, the money from this was put towards improving public transport in the area.

“It encourages employers to discourage people from driving,” said Abel.

“One of the questions was if you were mayor, would you support this in Greater Manchester, and again there wasn’t massive support for that,” he concluded.

However, the night was not all negatives. An issue uniting the four candidates was fracking.

Abel explained: “The one everyone agreed on across the board was that they would support no fracking in greater Manchester, as much as they can as Mayor.”

The group was also united on supporting divestment of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund from fossil fuels.

“Greater Manchester is the largest local authority pension fund in the country, and it also has the largest amount of money, about £1.3 billion, invested in fossil fuels.

“It would send a really clear message to other local authority and other pension funds that now is the time to act,” said Abel.

There was also support for reaching the UK’s carbon reduction goal before the original target year of 2050.

Abel said: “The science is saying we need to go beyond where we’re currently at for the UK carbon reduction goal of 80% by 2050.

“The science is saying we need to get there much sooner. There was support for that across the board for reviewing the Greater Manchester Climate Change Plan.”

A final issue for Manchester Friends of the Earth was the discussion of a cap on aviation passenger numbers.

Other than the Green Party Candidate, Will Patterson, Abel said that: “Nobody wanted to go there.”

But for environmental groups, this is an important issue in cutting down our environmental impact, yet the issue is not set to be reviewed until 2050.

Abel said: “Up until when we get to the final 2050 carbon budget, aviation is not part of the UK government’s programme, we’re waiting for an international agreement, but we’ve been waiting ten years.

“We’ve been waiting a long time, but we can’t afford to wait.”

Finally, Abel encouraged local Mancunians to get involved in helping their local environment in any way possible.

He said “It’s nice to have members, but people taking action is even better.

“Read, inform yourself, do stuff wherever you live, even if you can’t make it to meetings, set up your own groups, talk to neighbours, talk to friends.

“Drive less, walk and cycle more. Lobby your councillors and raise these issues. The more everyday people raise this with family, friends and neighbours means it’s seen as something everyone is concerned about.”

If you wish to be involved with Manchester Friends of the Earth, visit their Facebook page, where the hustings are available to view.

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