Labour’s Green Revolution

Nigel Doggett says Labour needs to think big on its environment plans, while Bob Newland reports from a consultation on Labour’s plans for a Green Revolution

After this year’s actions leading to the declaration of a climate emergency, popular environmental awareness is greater than ever. The environmental and climate priorities relate to policies across the board; not only energy and the environment ‘out there’ but also how we live, produce and consume. So all new projects and initiatives must be assessed for environmental impacts just as much as equality: greenhouse gas emissions (direct and indirect), biodiversity and other forms of pollution (air, water and soil).

Recent US campaigns for a Green New Deal envisage a ten-year programme to create more jobs centred on climate and environmental protection, explicitly advocating a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy. This concept can provide Labour with the glue to link environmental action to economics and employment. We will need new mechanisms for industry-wide and regional planning, as advocated by the Greener Jobs Alliance.

Strategically the party should start by:

  • Instituting a government wide review with the Committee on Climate Change to set the course for net zero emissions by 2050 or before*;
  • Reviewing the mega projects for nuclear power, airport expansion and HS2 for both economic and environmental impacts. These all feature burgeoning costs and highly contested and dubious justifications – Labour must go wider than Johnson’s likely cost-cutting approach.

Labour’s September 2018 Environmental Policy (from principles described by Bob Newland – see box below) promotes a range of important measures for the manifesto, which should begin with:

  • Flexible ‘smart’ energy networks (resilient to prevent outages such as occurred in August), to utilise more renewable power and electric transport
  • Support for tidal lagoons, starting with the Swansea project rejected by the Tories
  • Removal of barriers to onshore wind power
  • A ban on fracking
  • Re-instituting zero-carbon new home standards and starting a crash programme to retro-fit existing buildings starting with social housing.

On transport, the party should start with:

  • a new Clean Air Act, enabling widespread low emission zones to tackle the lethal air pollution scandal
  • Powers for local government to coordinate and run public transport
  • Speeded up rail electrification as part of a national network weighted towards local travel
  • Cease sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030 and start a rapid phase out in favour of electric power, with priority to buses and coaches
  • Create a comprehensive standardised vehicle charging network as part of the smart electric grid.

Placing the environment alongside human rights at the heart of foreign policy, the party extols a ‘relationship with the EU that maintains and extends environmental rights, standards and protections as a baseline’, with greater ambition in domestic policy. Commitments on fishing, farming, habitats and wildlife include financial support and regulation to enhance conservation and sustainability: all very complex areas to negotiate, especially in the context of Brexit hokey-cokey (in/out/turn-about).

The 2018 policy must be refined and extended for Labour to gain cross party and popular support to pursue its aim of ‘the greenest government ever’ from day one.

The Green Transformation

Labour has long been committed to environmental issues but now, preparing for government, the Party is developing “The Green Transformation”, an environmental policy addressing the global crisis, domestic policy and international initiatives.

Three principles underpin the policy:

  1. Ambition is based on Science. Environmental policies will be defined by what is necessary to keep temperatures within safe levels.
  2. Interventions are transformational, bringing about the structural change needed to address drivers of environmental degradation.
  3. Interventions will advance Labour values – justice, equality, solidarity, and democracy – at home and abroad.

Britain has a major responsibility for climate change and has the wealth and resources to tackle it.

Members are involved in developing these policies through consultations organised by Shadow Ministers and the Community Hub. I recently attended one in Hillingdon focusing on the Green Industrial Revolution. Discussion aired concerns about energy sources, transport and housing and ideas to address them.

Participants suggested reclaiming land from developers’ land banks and utilising empty commercial properties (some already owned by Rail Companies and Transport for London) providing land for housing and premises for environmentally friendly businesses.

It was argued that it is faster and cheaper to retrofit existing housing stock (insulating, upgrading windows and replacing gas cookers) than demolishing and rebuilding. An advantage would be regenerating existing communities rather than their destruction through gentrification. This work would best be delivered by Local Government through funding to council direct works teams.

Little was said about the international implications of the Green Revolution. Britain has signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals but more is needed. As a lifelong campaigner against imperialism and colonialism I think it essential that aid budgets assist environmentally friendly development in the Global South.

Imperialist powers gained so much of their wealth exploiting the resources and people of these countries and should now provide financial support to redress the balance. Such initiatives can help to stop war and local conflicts and reduce the number of refugees these create.

*This article was written before the Green New Deal motion, committing Labour to implementing a net zero carbon economy by 2030, was passed at Conference

Nigel Doggett

Nigel Doggett is a member of Chartist EB.

Bob Newland

Bob Newland is a member of Poplar & Limehouse CLP.