April 30, 2019
We are coming together across party lines to ally the issue of climate change with social transformation
Let’s seize the moment and create a Green New Deal for the UK
Three things stand out from the recent youth climate strikes, the visit of Greta Thunberg and the peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion. The first is the call for truth. The campaigners have all been united in their call for politicians and policymakers to tell the truth about climate change – its impacts and the scale of the response required. The second has been the demand to treat the climate crisis as an emergency and the recognition that “business as usual” is now in effect a form of “climate appeasement”. The third has been the sense of hope. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.
On Tuesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research launches its Environmental Justice Commission and we are coming together across Conservative, Labour and Green parties to serve on it. We are doing so with a very specific task in mind: to ally the issue of climate change with the economic and social transformation that we believe our country and citizens so urgently need and deserve. To act on that sense of hope.
This means committing to a transformational plan for a Green New Deal, an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all.
Ours is a country where people are asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity, with levels of inequality that should shame us all. People want to know that the great companies and industries of the future will thrive within planetary limits. And people are asking not just about whether they and their children will be able to get work, but what the quality of that work will be and what skills we will all need.
Yet too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central. The case for tackling climate change cannot simply be situated within technocratic arguments about technology and targets. These matter a lot, but in making the case in this way it can seem irrelevant to more pressing concerns. Unless we rightly situate climate change within the everyday concerns that people have about their jobs, the fairness of society and the future for their kids and grandkids, we will fail.
And failure is not an option. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of the serious consequences if global average temperatures rise by more than 1.5C. We now have only 11 years to take decisive action. We already see 1C of warming and accompanying extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, while sea levels rise. Later this week, the Committee on Climate Change will publish its advice on when we need to meet net-zero emissions. It is imperative to meet our international responsibilities for implementing the Paris agreement on climate change and pursue an accelerated path to limit warming to no more than 1.5C.
Let’s seize the moment and create a Green New Deal for the UK
Doing so will require a commitment, and a plan. We need to mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better. We need to move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution. We need to end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing. And we need to protect and restore threatened habitats, and to secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations. Just in these areas of policy we already see an answer to the immediate economic concerns people have: jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.
No doubt some people will say that the UK should not act on these issues alone. We disagree. We believe there is economic and societal advantage, not detriment, in doing so. We also believe our leadership can make a difference. It was the moral authority from the world-leading cross-party Climate Change Act of 2008 that has allowed successive governments to have international influence, including on the groundbreaking Paris agreement. If the government aspires to host the next UN COP climate change summit in 2020, the meeting that will determine the world’s climate change commitments, then we will need to increase our ambition here at home, set out a clear plan and start making some challenging decisions now.
It is time for the UK to lead again and the commission will aim to help shape that leadership. And when people ask how we can bring the country together, we believe this issue has the potential to do so. For some, it will be the climate issue that motivates them, for others the economic and social justice gains that can be achieved in the war against climate change. For many it will be all of these. We owe it to our country and its future to make this happen.
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