We cannot delay in taking action to save our planet and future generations
By Claudia Webbe MP
As unpleasant as it is to think about, the fact is that an even more devastating crisis than Covid-19 is already here. Europe had its hottest year on record in 2019, and 11 of the continents’ 12 warmest years have occurred in the past two decades. Global grain yields have declined by 10% from heatwaves and floods connected to climate change, unleashing mass hunger and displacement. Over one million people living near coasts have been forced from their homes due to rising seas and stronger storms, and millions more are expected to flee in the coming years. The devastation of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique last year demonstrates the real and present danger faced by communities across the world.
With the Arctic Circle reaching its highest ever recorded temperatures, we cannot delay in taking action to save our planet and future generations. Sadly, we cannot rely on this government to take the urgent, radical action that is required to mitigate climate breakdown. Not only is their commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 perilously unambitious, they are not even on track to meet it. Conservative governments have continued to give oil companies further tax breaks as recently as in December 2018.
It is up to the Labour Party to pressure the government into taking this life-or-death issue seriously. To do that, we must ensure that our own climate justice policies are commensurate with the scale of the crisis we face. As we emerge from the pandemic, Labour must argue for a new social settlement: a green new deal to rebuild the country with a more just and sustainable economy. Our party must fight for a society in which public health always comes before private profit. It must be the big polluters and corporate giants who bear the costs, not ordinary people.
A good start would be to continue to support the recommendations of Labour’s 2019 report ‘Thirty by 2030‘, with policies including a ban on fracking, welcoming climate refugees and ecological restoration. The work of Labour for a Green New Deal is equally commendable in continuing to push for climate action to be at the heart of everything our country does as we rebuild after the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour’s green recovery must include a call for one million green jobs, with a programme of investment in renewable energy, flood defences and a resilient health and care service. The party must also reiterate its call for healthy and sustainable neighbourhoods with the Warm Homes for All programme to insulate 27 million houses and introduce full-fibre broadband free at the point of use. The coronavirus crisis has showed the need for our communities to have access to clean air, green spaces and interconnectivity.
That’s why Labour must also call for a green, integrated public transport for the many. Railways should be nationalised, electrified, expanded and affordable. Regular zero-emission buses should serve every community, operated for the public good, not private profit. Our streets must be clean, safe and cycle friendly. It is vital that the protection of all workers and communities are guaranteed during the transition to renewable energies. The required investment and job creation towards a green industrial revolution will also be vital in the necessary post-coronavirus mass re-employment.
As we rebuild, Labour must continue to champion the need to bailout workers and the planet – not big polluters. We must consider a sector-wide aviation deal including public stakes in failing airlines to manage a just transition to renewable energy. Labour should ensure that government bailouts through the Chancellor’s Project Birch are subject to stringent commitments to workers’ rights, tax justice and rapid decarbonisation.
Without immediate government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. This will cause unimaginable disruption and could cost millions of lives, most immediately and sharply in Global South countries that have contributed the least to climate change. To ensure a global green new deal, Labour must strongly consider calling for the cancellation of Global South debt to enable investment in public health. The UK must take strong action against tax evasion, end international fossil fuel finance and rapidly step up financial support for a just global energy transition.
Moments of crises often shape the future. From the horror of the Second World War, we created the welfare state and our treasured NHS. Whilst we rightly focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the wellbeing of the entire planet relies on us also to take this opportunity to mitigate the existential threat of climate change. Labour must not let this historical moment pass us by.