Corbyn’s world-leading climate policy is a beacon of hope that exposes the Tories’ reactionary agenda

Jeremy Corbyn with Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist

By Bridget Anderson and Elspeth Findlay 

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has detailed plans for rapid, ambitious and socially transformational climate action to deliver the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, starting from the moment a Labour Government takes office.

By contrast, the Tories are overseeing the destruction of Britain’s green industries and have no plan to deliver even their existing weak climate targets. This situation has not changed with the announcement on 12 June 2019 that the Tory government will legislate to set a target for net-zero emissions by 2050.

It is urgent that action is taken over the next 11 years to avoid climate breakdown. This immediate short-term action – including large-scale investment in knowledge, skills and infrastructure – will give the UK the best chance of scaling and speeding up decarbonisation to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C.

Labour’s ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ plans are popular with voters when they hear about them – but we need the whole movement to swing behind them to get the message out. Fake-left criticisms of Labour’s decarbonisation plans undermine Labour, rather than help to build support for the action needed.

The Tories have proved themselves unwilling to respond to this environmental emergency – so we need a General Election without delay to elect a Labour government capable of stepping up to the challenge.

The abysmal record of the Tories on climate change: cuts, loopholes, and fakery

The UK is currently off-track to meet its current, scientifically out of date, targets to cut greenhouse gases by 57% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050. The government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, have been warning for years that government action needs to at least double to deliver even these existing commitments. Without any plan to address this, the Tories’ new target won’t do anything to address the climate crisis.

In 2018 the Tory government produced its ‘clean growth strategy’, as it is required by law to publish a plan to set out how it will deliver the UK’s existing carbon targets in the Climate Change Act, introduced by Labour in 2008. The Government’s own assessment found that their plan would not meet the targets set.

The Tories propose to get round this in much the same way that they propose to get round their new 2050 target: by ‘offsetting’ credits, that allow them to pay for cuts to theoretically happen elsewhere in lieu of domestic emissions reductions.

Not only is offsetting irrelevant in a world where all countries must rapidly decarbonise, starting with the richest, – there is no room in the remaining global carbon budget to offset against – historically, most carbon offsetting schemes have amounted to almost no actual carbon reductions.

It’s no surprise the UK is off-track to meet its current targets. The record of the Cameron and May Tory governments has been to scrap or cut dozens of green policies that were supporting renewable energy and insulating homes and instead to push fracking and environmental pollution on communities.

The consequence has been severe – a new study finds that in recent years a third of Britain’s jobs in the renewable energy sector have been lost, and investment in renewable energy has halved. According to Labour, the number of new solar installations plunged by 94% in April, after the government’s latest withdrawal of support. 

Even with this new 2050 target, there is an imminent danger that this situation will get even worse. The next leader of the Tory Party is likely to be a No Deal Hard Brexiteer, backed by Donald Trump and from the anti-environment wing of British politics, who will push for a US trade deal that would likely rip up the limited environmental and labour protections Britain currently has.

Every year climate action is stalled makes the risk of climate breakdown harder to avert. That is why maximum pressure should be placed now on the Conservative government to reverse their disastrous environment policies.

Short term-action and detailed practical plans are more important than long term targets, to keep global temperatures below 1.5 °C of warming

The goal of limiting global temperatures below 1.5°C is essential. Global warming of just over 1°C has already taken place, causing enormous damage including floods, heat waves, droughts, forest fires and rising sea levels – devastating the lives of millions of people who have lost homes and livelihoods or are displaced by climate-exacerbated conflict. On current international trends the world is heading for a disastrous 4°C of global warming by the end of the century and the consequences for humanity in such a scenario are catastrophic. 

From the very start of his leadership of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has been clear in his commitment to ensuring Britain makes its contribution towards limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This commitment was part of Corbyn’s original bid to become Labour leader in the summer of 2015 and was subsequently adopted as a key principle in Labour’s environment policy.

To deliver this, action now is essential. The UN IPCC 1.5°C Special Report published in October 2018 found that to keep warming below 1.5°C, global emissions must start coming down by next year and halve by 2030. At the moment emissions are still rising.

As the IPCC sets out, it is what happens over the next decade that is most essential. It is the trajectory we set now, and how much is done every year that will determine whether we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change – not the precise date we meet the end goal. The quicker that changes are made that permanently eliminate carbon emissions from different sections of the economy – from the energy sector to transport – the smaller the total accumulation of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere will be over the medium and long term. 

Labour’s green policies will deliver the urgent action needed

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has a world-leading package of policies to deliver rapid decarbonisation which would at the same time improve the lives of millions of people by ending austerity and instead launch a massive programme of state-led investment in public services, research and development, and the green industries we need.

This package of transformative policies is being described as the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ – Britain’s version of the US left’s proposed ‘Green New Deal’.

Taken together Corbyn’s green policies would completely revolutionise how Britain’s homes, workplaces, and industries are powered over the next ten crucial years when the international battle to stop climate breakdown can still be won. The ambition of these plans should not be under-estimated.

Labour’s promise to deliver 60% of all of Britain’s electricity and heating needs from renewable sources by 2030 is truly radical and would be transformational.

According to the most recent data, from 2016, only 9% of Britain’s electricity and heating is from renewables. That means that in just over a decade, Labour is proposing to transition to 85% renewable electricity, to reduce the demand for heat by more than 20% with a nation-wide home improvement programme that insulates and upgrades homes, and then ensure almost half of the remaining heating requirements is provided by renewable sources.

To deliver this, Labour plans to oversee in just over a decade a seven-fold increase in offshore wind, a doubling of onshore wind, and almost a tripling of solar power – creating at least 120,000 jobs.  

It is also why Labour is resolutely opposing fracking and the proposed massive expansion of gas power and why it has criticised the Government’s excessive subsides for fossil fuels. It is why it has called for an end to the £2.5 billion of export finance funding fossil fuels abroad and for this to instead be used to help finance low carbon projects. It is the expansion of fossil fuel projects and infrastructure now which is most damaging to the world’s chances of decreasing emissions from next year in 2020 as the IPPC states is necessary.

These policies would also mean improved air quality and therefore health for millions of people, warmer homes that are cheaper to heat, the restoration of nature and increased access to natural spaces for people – essential for mental health and wellbeing, and the creation of hundreds of thousands of decent jobs. 

What is required to achieve net zero carbon and greenhouse gas emissions?

To achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions requires an end to the era of fossil fuels and all electricity to be produced by renewables, all cars to be electric (run on renewable power), all homes to be heated with renewable energy and a massive expansion of green public transport to cut the number of personal cars on the road. At the present time further technological advances are required to fully decarbonise the economy in some areas – such as airplanes and the production of steel – so further investment is needed in research and development to tackle this efficiently and replace what are currently high carbon sectors with zero carbon ones.

It would also require a huge increase in tree-cover and the restoration of wild spaces, with environmentalists calling for a quarter of Britain to become woodlands, meadows, salt marshes and peat bogs that could together store 10% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

It also requires the transformation of agriculture, reducing the potent greenhouse gas methane by everyone shifting to a mostly plant-based diet and moving to sustainable agriculture practices. 

Whilst not all of this new world can be created within the next 10 years it could be achieved within the next 20-30 years – and a prerequisite for getting there by 2050 at the latest is that there must be radical, transformative steps in the next decade to get Britain on the correct trajectory. That is what Corbyn is aiming to do. 

Extinction Rebellion, youth strikers, Friends of the Earth and others have rightly criticised the Tories 2050 net-zero goal for not being ambitious enough, and have called for much more action now.

The Labour Party leadership agrees and said it wants to bring their previous ‘no later than 2050’ net-zero target earlier because of the scientific evidence that greater urgency is needed. Labour has committed to its targets being, in the words of John McDonnell, “led by the science and driven by our commitment to be as ambitious and radical as possible”, and is looking at policies to enable that to happen.

Long-term targets are important for signalling to investors and society a direction of travel. But without policies to support them – especially in the critical next few years – they are hollow.

Fake left attacks are a disservice to serious action on climate change

There is a fake left campaign underway to suggest that Corbyn’s green policy agenda as outlined above is actually not that radical at all. This campaign, packaged as the need for ‘Corbynism 2.0’, is advocating that the Labour Party adopt a set of ‘Green New Deal’ policies – without recognising the existence of a set of well worked out policies to exactly deliver a green transformation in the next decade. It is also focusing on a target of zero carbon emissions by 2030, but does not offer any additional policies that could help meet this target.

The Zero Carbon Britain report found that it would take roughly 20 years at full speed to transition to zero carbon, and that was before the destruction of green industries by successive conservative governments, which will need to be re-built. This building up of green industries and their capacity is exactly what Labour plans to do. Properly supported, the growth in their capacity should be exponential, meaning that each year the green transition can increase in speed – the implementation possible in the second term of a Labour government will be more than the first, and the implementation possible in the third term of a Labour government more than the second. 

A 2030 net carbon target is also not what the science says is required. The world-renowned Stockholm Environment Institute has conducted a study on what each country in the world would need to do to meet its “fair share” of climate action, taking into account historic responsibility for the crisis. It finds that for the UK to do its “fair share” on climate change it should by 2030 reduce its emissions by around 80% and provide almost $50 billion of international climate finance for developing countries.

A Corbyn government could make a huge amount of progress on decarbonising the economy before 2030 – but it will not be possible to entirely decarbonise every industry, to change the country’s entire infrastructure, re-wild one quarter of Britain, and shift the entire food system simultaneously in only 8-10 years.

The climate emergency requires an end to austerity in the West and state-led investment now – for the many not the few

The upturn in climate change activism – with the school strikers and Extinction Rebellion leading the way – has brought much needed urgency to the discussions on how we can save the planet and human civilisation. This new wave of climate change radicalisation in the West has been very successful in raising this whole issue up the political agenda and putting forward useful concepts including the ‘climate emergency’ and the need for a ‘Green New Deal’ to defeat the crisis of climate change and of falling living standards.

The only way to achieve such a total transformation of the economy and society that climate change necessitates is to mobilise massive resources – and a huge increase in state investment is absolutely crucial.

The ending of austerity in the West is essential if these economies, Britain included, are to succeed in making a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy across the board and for the immense new green infrastructure that will be needed to make a green, sustainable future a reality.

Jeremy Corbyn has been completely clear on what is needed. In his speech to Parliament ahead of the historic vote declaring that we are in a climate emergency on Wednesday 1 May 2019, Corbyn said:

“What we need is a Green Industrial Revolution, with huge investment in new technologies and green industries. It is a chance to bring new manufacturing and engineering jobs to places that have never recovered from the destruction of our industries under Margaret Thatcher.

“The hidden hand of the market is not going to save us. Technological solutions are not going to magically appear out of nowhere. An emergency of this magnitude requires large-scale government intervention to kickstart industries, to direct investment and to boost research and development in the green technologies of the future.”

The countries that need to take the most action are in the West – the US and Europe – as they have the greatest responsibility to act and finance action given their historic and on-going role of polluting the planet. The US is the biggest problem – it’s the biggest historic contributor of carbon emissions and remains the biggest per capita emitter of carbon today. It’s a situation that Donald Trump is making worse – with the US continuing to increase its gas and oil production. Western Europe is not doing enough either.

In addition to dramatic investment to reduce emissions in the West must also expand and fulfil their so-far empty promises to support developing countries in making a green transition through providing finance and technology transfer. This is a key conflict in the international climate change negotiations between developing and developed countries – with the latter unwilling to act.  

Governments in the US and Europe need to make dramatic and rapid changes to re-purpose their economies and societies to meet this challenge, backed by public investment in a transformation of public services – from parks and forests, to railways, housing, and education, the building of green industries with decent jobs, and an end to state-sponsored expansion of fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure.

Corbyn’s Green Industrial Revolution programme is a beacon of ambitious climate action that can help give global momentum to the most important struggle of our age.