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Labour must lead the charge to get Britain to net-zero

Keir Starmer gives a speech at Westminster Cathedral Hall during the Labour leadership campaign, January 2020 | Alamy

4 min read

As the United Nations secretary-general recently warned: when you are on the edge of the abyss your next step better be in the right direction. We are at that edge as far as climate breakdown is concerned.

Every serious climate scientist now agrees that if we allow global warming to go beyond 1.5C then it’s a tipping point from which we can’t come back. To stay below 1.5C, global emissions had to peak in 2020. They did because of the pandemic, but emissions must continue to go down incredibly steeply every year from now on. In fact, globally they fell only six per cent in 2020, when we need an average of a seven per cent cut each year between now and 2030. 

The credibility of Tory policy to meet Britain’s responsibilities as part of that immense challenge is in tatters after the Committee on Climate Change revealed there isn’t any kind of plan to deliver the targets they trumpet so loudly. In contrast, Labour’s 2019 manifesto was highly credible in mapping out ambitious, detailed and fully-costed climate plans for a just transition that would create new, secure jobs, a fairer and more resilient economy and better infrastructure that would improve the lives of millions.   

Ed Miliband, who has done so much to push forward the issue of tackling climate change, including his flagship Climate Change Act, has rightly called for a £30bn green stimulus to be brought forward to create 400,000 jobs across the country as the first step in a Green New Deal. 

But with unprecedented sums of public money being invested to stimulate the economic revival from the pandemic, this is the moment when it is possible to now conceive of an even more fundamental shift to a green and just economy. Every serious economic analysis now shows that there are far more jobs and better economic development in a green recovery than back to business as usual. The UN says every $1 (72p) invested in transitioning to a green economy yields $4 (£2.89) in benefits. 

There is ample space for Keir Starmer to set out a bolder vision for a British Green New Deal

Yet while the scale and speed of Covid-recovery spending will influence economic, social and climate policies for years to come, the Global Recovery Observatory says just 17p in every £1 of UK recovery spending can be deemed green. 

US President Joe Biden is already showing the kind of bold policies needed. If Biden – a centrist Democrat in the country where the fossil fuel lobby is strongest and most organised – can release trillions of dollars for green investment, massively improve the US’s climate targets, and focus on creating green jobs, there is ample space for Keir Starmer to set out a much bolder vision for a British Green New Deal.

Labour should now define itself as a party, and what it would do in government, through ambitious policies based on what is really needed to stop the climate crisis and in so doing build a fairer, more equal economy. At the core of our message must be the creation of millions of green jobs, building cutting-edge low carbon manufacturing, insulating tens of millions of homes, modernising our public transport system and telecommunications, and so much more. Only a party that truly believes in active government, not free market-based solutions, can deliver that. 

This is not only the right thing to do, which alone should make it Labour’s rallying cry, but it can help reconstruct a broad voter alliance including those who have stopped voting Labour and moved to other so-called progressive parties and those in post-deindustrialised areas that have moved to the Tories. We cannot go into the climate crisis as badly prepared as we have into this public health crisis. Now is the moment for Labour to seize the climate initiative.


Richard Burgon is Labour MP for Leeds East

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