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Climate change is a social justice issue

3 min read

On the first day of Climate Week, Ed Miliband MP writes that the climate emergency must be a prominent part of Labour’s Party Conference and any election agenda.

This week in Brighton at Labour Conference Brexit will be the central issue of debate, as last week at the Lib Dem Conference and next week at the Tories. But as we enter ‘Climate Week’, those of us who care about the climate emergency have a responsibility to ensure it is a prominent part of our Conference—and election—agenda.

We must do so because whoever forms the next government will potentially be in office for at least half of the decade in which all the science and expert knowledge says we must get off the catastrophic path down which the world is currently headed. So how do we give this issue the prominence it deserves?

Thanks to the young activists of ‘Labour For a Green New Deal’ climate change will be a core part of the agenda of Labour Conference. And in the concept of the Green New Deal we see the way that we move climate change from the margins to the mainstream.

The central idea of the Green New Deal or Green Industrial Revolution is that in meeting the climate emergency, we can create millions of new jobs and improve people’s quality of life. It draws on the idea of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, when he put America back to work to counter the Great Depression.

There is the same opportunity again. Insulating and changing the way we heat 27 million homes, replacing 30 million petrol and diesel vehicles on our roads, redesigning our towns and cities for walking, cycling and public transport, rewilding and reforesting our land. These are huge challenges but they will require a carbon army of people to do these jobs.

This vision immediately changes the way we think about climate change – no longer just an environmental issue but an economic and social justice issue. It speaks directly to the concerns so many people have about jobs for themselves and their children, the quality of the air we breathe and the public services we can rely on.

Politics matters as to whether this vision will be implemented. We currently have a Prime Minister who mused as recently as 2015 that “global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear---as far as I understand the science—is…without foundation.” 

Boris Johnson merely might have been trying to think of something to say in his Telegraph column, but nobody really believes he is willing to make the commitment to put this issue front and centre of the government’s agenda. Fundamentally, the vision of a Green New Deal requires a central commitment from government, not a reliance on free markets. It will require the mobilisation of every government department, including the Treasury. There is zero evidence of this happening at the moment.

There will be those who say what is the point of the UK acting when we are only 1% of global emissions. They are completely wrong. The only thing that gives us the moral authority to persuade China, India, Europe and the US to go further is our leadership. With a positive vision of the future we can show that economic justice and climate justice can go together.

Climate change and whether we tackle it will be on the ballot paper at the election whenever it comes. There is a clear vision to fight for. This is one of Labour’s tasks in the weeks and months ahead.


Ed Miliband is Labour MP for Doncaster North.

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