No time to waste: to fight climate change we need a Labour Government


Jeremy Corbyn speaking with Naomi Klein and others in Paris during the 2015 climate summit. Image by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

It’s 2017. You live in a dystopian future where tiny drone aircraft deliver pizzas, oil companies create earthquakes to get the last drops of fuel out of the earth, our fields are tilled by solar-powered robots, people wear video-recording sunglasses and have conversations with their wrist watches, dead rappers perform at concerts via hologram, and a weak international agreement to try and stop the skies from destroying natural life is being torn up by a fascist businessman who has taken over the USA.

Now is a time of great technological change and grave danger, and we need public investment, and lots of it, to get us though it.

Climate change, and the far-right’s rejection of it as a priority, should give us a special reason to panic because every time political leaders fail to act deepens the crisis, every moment we waste makes the task harder.

The (albeit inadequate) Paris deal gave the impression there was a direction of travel, too slow, but at least steady movement. The rise of the right has changed all this.

Whilst many work to show our political leaders and the wider world that climate change matters, Trump’s message of defiance works the opposite way. His actions do matter and will have a real effect. Markets will respond by making fossil fuels cheaper and renewable energy more expensive. Emissions will rise. And many, many more people will die – from extreme weather, heat stress, starvation, respiratory diseases and violent conflicts.

Some extol technological innovation and the power of the market, maintaining that these make political efforts on climate change essentially a side show. In fact the opposite is true; markets, only capable of delivering short-term profit, are unfit for unlocking the scale of capital required for the length of time over which it’s needed to tackle climate change. And in the modern era technological innovation almost always begins with the support of publicly-funded institutions (take silicon valley, digital TV or the web). Only big political support will bring about the fast economic transformation we need to tackle climate change, and we don’t have it.

There is no inevitability about humanity’s ability to get through this. Cutting climate emissions in line with the science demands huge state investment in green jobs, new taxes and regulation right now. Donald Trump and Theresa May aren’t stupid. They oppose climate action precisely because they understand that climate action is incompatible with their pro-corporate isolationist agenda. If (and it’s a big if) we are to get out of this nightmare we need to get rid of them.

Well here’s the good news. On Thursday we have the chance to vote for a UK Government that will take climate action seriously and deliver major public investment into green projects.

Here are some pretty exciting policies which Labour say they will enact if they win on Thursday:

  1. Create a £250 billion National Investment Bank to fund large infrastructure projects and support German-style regional development banks. Both would be tasked with lending to small businesses, co-operatives and innovative projects and providing patient, long-term finance to R&D-intensive investments – exactly the kind of finance we need to urgently bring about new green jobs.
  2. Consult on breaking up RBS, once among Europe’s largest funders of fossil fuels, with a view to turning it into a network of “local public banks”.
  3. An energy policy that “meets our climate targets and sees a transition to a low-carbon economy” by investing in renewables to see that “60 per cent of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030”.
  4. Introduce public control back into public transport and energy infrastructure – a key change needed to ensure these sectors can enable climate emission reductions in line with our Paris obligations and the science.
  5. A ban on fracking on climate grounds. The manifesto reads: “[fracking would] lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline.”
  6. Improve regulations to bring about zero-carbon homes, bring in higher energy efficiency standards for privately rented properties, and tax breaks to encourage the upgrading of properties.
  7. Build new railway lines to connect Scotland to London, better connect the cities of the North of England to each other by rail, and build new lines in London and the South East of England.
  8. Rein in bus fare rises, extend powers to re-regulate local bus services, and support the creation of municipal bus companies that are publicly run for passengers not profit.
  9. Introduce “a new Clean Air Act to deal with the Conservative legacy of illegal air quality” and “retrofit thousands of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to Euro 6 standards.”
  10. Tougher targets to cut waste and a commitment to “plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management.” The Forestry Commission to remain in public hands.
  11. Call out Trump for his failure to commit to action on climate change (pretty great considering it was written before Trump announced his intention to exit the Paris treaty).

This is a bold agenda for a democratic green industrial revolution. Labour’s proposals do more than recognise the threat of climate change or set far-off targets, they show how their Government would invest in the technology we need to wean us off fossil fuels right now. Labour’s 2017 manifesto sets out just what we need to fight climate change.

There are shortcomings. The largely debunked technology of carbon capture and storage is touted as an energy solution, and there is a nod towards airport expansion (while stating that “any airport expansion adheres to our tests that require noise issues to be addressed, air quality to be protected, the UK’s climate change obligations met and growth across the country supported”). There is a commitment to “protect nuclear workers’ jobs and pensions” emphasising the importance of “decommissioning both internationally and domestically” but also building new capacity. Corbyn’s trident policy has been much discussed and the fact that he has failed to defeat his own MPs on the case for unilateral disarmament is disappointing. But where Labour’s policies aren’t good for the environment you do get the strong impression that, expressed as they are with so little enthusiasm, they could be changed with a little pressure.

Labour’s EU policy is the perfect case in point. Of course we should be disappointed that with either a Labour or Conservative victory on Thursday the UK’s exit from the EU will weaken Europe’s environmental regulations, human rights, freedom of movement and climate change targets (among many other things) – but a Corbyn-led UK Government would surely approach these negotiation points with an open-mindedness and spirit of internationalism that should give us strong encouragement.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is the architect of Labour's public investment plans. He has campaigned for many years against the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Photo: Anti-Heathrow campaigners at Central London County Court, 2012 by Transition Heathrow.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is the architect of Labour’s public investment plans. He has campaigned for many years against the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Photo: Anti-Heathrow campaigners at Central London County Court, 2012 by Transition Heathrow.

Those who like their idealism in big spoonfuls should probably also reflect that well-intentioned elected Greens in the UK and elsewhere have made deeply disappointing compromises when given power. Any shortcomings in Corbyn’s Labour manifesto must be assessed in this context.

Writers on Bright Green have long contested that green politics is about equality, social justice and the environment, seeking to promote the first two within a environmentally-grounded political tradition that has often struggled to articulate a clear vision of how it would make people’s lives better.

Much progress has been made and I do believe Greens should take pride in being the natural home for supporters of radical, redistributive tax reform, defending migrants, protecting private renters, breaking up the power of the banks, promoting just trade, peace and working within the EU.

I am excited and proud that the Greens embrace that agenda. But it would be hypocritical to applaud the Greens for making a coherent case for both social and environmental justice only to ignore it when another party (and one with a real chance of serious electoral success) achieves this also. If we celebrate a green politics that is about social and environmental justice surely we have to vote for a party that can bring these politics into reality.

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn offers such an opportunity.

To turn away from it would be to pass up the best hope UK voters have had to advance social and environmental justice in living memory.

I’m not going to say who should vote for who in what constituency. There are many places where Labour aren’t best placed to win. Green candidates have a serious chance in some places and would be an excellent presence in Parliament too.

I also deeply sympathise with those Green activists who are trying to build local support to win future battles. But the clock is ticking on climate change. To bring about the climate jobs revolution and to protect our common future I urge you to do what you can to ensure your vote helps Jeremy Corbyn become our Prime Minister on Thursday.






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