We need a plan for a green transition rooted in fairness that creates opportunities right across the UK
The public have a veto over the net zero transition and will stop it in its tracks if it isn't fair and they see no benefits. So it must be rooted in social and economic justice, otherwise it won’t succeed.
The UK’s cross-party consensus on climate change has been quite a phenomenon. In 2008, under a Labour government, just three MPs voted against the Climate Change Act. A decade on, the law committing us to net zero by 2050 was passed unanimously under a Conservative government.
The evidence increasingly suggests that we must increase the level of our ambition – but also that we must get on urgently with the practical steps to achieve it.
So far our greatest emission cuts have come from changing how we generate electricity, a switch hardly noticed by many people. What comes next, by contrast, will touch directly on most aspects of everyday life: how we heat our homes and get around, what we eat and, for many, the work we do.
What’s positive is the widespread public support to “get on with it”, with one crucial caveat. The transition must be fair and deliver benefits across society. The government must take people with it. As France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protests proved, delivering change fairly is crucial to legitimacy and making it stick.
If all parts of society work together, not only can the climate and nature crises be addressed but it can improve people’s everyday lives
This is the overwhelming message we’ve heard across the UK, through citizens’ juries held by IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission (which we chair) - from Aberdeenshire to Thurrock, and from South Wales to Tees Valley and County Durham.
Our jurors – people from all backgrounds - believe that, if all parts of society work together, not only can the climate and nature crises be addressed but that it can be done in a way that creates jobs, improves people’s everyday lives, and also improves health and wellbeing.
This is the best argument to defeat the “climate delayers” who say that converting to a green economy will harm the poorest - or is simply unaffordable. In fact, the climate and nature emergencies pose a many times greater than experienced during the current pandemic. Acting now will cost far less than failing to do so, as the Office of Budgetary Responsibility spelt out last week – and is actually an investment in an economy fit for the future.
Our jurors recognise the challenges ahead but also point to the huge potential of the assets, skills and talent within their communities. They want government to show leadership by setting out a clear strategy for a fair green transition and providing the investment needed – by filling the £30 billion annual gap identified in our report. But they also strongly advocated that the transition must not be “done to them” but “with and by them”.
This will mean devolving powers so local authorities can develop plans tailored to local needs, and new ways to give communities a greater say in making decisions. Local “juries” in every area should be just the start.
The truth is, the public have a veto over the net zero transition: they can and will stop it in its tracks if it isn't fair and they see no benefits. So our jurors expect the transition to be rooted in social and economic justice, otherwise it simply won’t succeed.
Our report contains many practical ideas for this. We call for a new GreenGo scheme - a financial one-stop shop to help households upgrade home insulation and switch to greener heating and transport, enabling warmer, more affordable and greener homes and cleaner travel.
All workers in high-carbon industries should be given a funded “right to retrain” for new low-carbon jobs, while supporting businesses everywhere to make the transition.
And we say the greatest benefits of a fair transition must accrue to those who need them most - a people’s dividend. This could include creating 1.7 million good quality jobs in the green economy; ensuring everyone has access to clean, high quality, local public transport that’s free to users by 2030, with free bus travel sooner; and restoring nature to our lives by transforming urban neighborhoods into greener, more social spaces.
Our blueprint shows how net zero can be delivered so as to win public support, but actions to address the accelerating climate and nature emergencies can and must do more than stave off the worst. They are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix a broken economic model and build the fairer society for which our jurors, and millions like them, yearn.
Laura Sandys is a former Conservative MP, Hilary Benn is the Labour MP for Leeds Central and Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion. They are co-chairs of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission.
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