11 december 2017

No more green rhetoric. A sustainable future is vital and possible

Climate change is at the heart of Labour’s industrial strategy, which means investing in green tech and renewable energy, and divesting from fossil fuels

Rebecca Long-Bailey, The Guardian, Monday 11 December 2017

The climate crisis is the most significant issue facing humanity. Natural disasters are already displacing entire communities. More intense droughts are leading to unprecedented levels of food insecurity and hunger across the globe. This summer saw hurricanes, floods and fires affect hundreds of millions of people from India to Niger, Haiti to Houston. The UK is also vulnerable to climate impacts, with more destructive storms, prolonged floods, and heatwaves becoming the norm.

Our climate reality is increasingly unpredictable and daunting. However, it is also opening the space to collectively reimagine a different future for the UK. Fossil fuels helped ignite the first industrial revolution, but we now know that their continued use will threaten our very existence. Within the UK we have the skills, ingenuity and people to drive the next energy revolution, powered by renewables. For us to make this change a success, our politics must have environmental sustainability and social justice at its core.

This is why climate change is at the heart of Labour’s industrial strategy. At the last election, Labour pledged that 60% of the UK’s energy will come from low carbon or renewable sources by 2030 to help us meet the challenge of tackling climate change. Labour plans to achieve this mission by transforming our energy system by taking parts back into public control and exploring how we can ensure greater local control of energy generation and supply. We want to cultivate strengths in growing markets for green tech, invest in renewable energy infrastructure, reduce demand for heat, and maintain Britain’s climate commitments.

Two years ago, representatives from 196 countries met in Paris and committed to limiting global temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, with the aspirational target below 1.5C. The UK ratified the landmark Paris agreement the following year, promising to “continue our leadership on climate action”.

Despite its green rhetoric, the government’s record is not good. Its Clean Growth Strategy even admitted that the measures it recommended would not fulfil either the fourth or fifth carbon budgets. These budgets are restrictions on the total amount of greenhouse gases than can be emitted in a five-year period by the UK and are legally binding; for example the fourth carbon budget covers the period 2023-27, and the fifth covers 2028-2032.

We should be over-performing on our carbon budgets, not underperforming. The most recent autumn budget even threatened the future of new renewable generation by not admitting any more new low carbon electricity levies until 2025, on current forecasts, while at the same time giving tax breaks to oil and gas firms. The implications of the new levy regime could be catastrophic. Without alternative funding, it may spell the end of much low carbon development in the UK. With the success offshore, this is the moment to be seizing the opportunity to develop other forms of renewable energy. The Tories continue to push fracking despite its unpopularity across the country. The result of Tory policy not only undermines our climate change obligations but means many suffer from the effects of air pollution and fuel poverty.

That’s why I’m joining 100 other MPs, across parties, to call on our pension fund to remove its investments in fossil fuels. Our words in Paris must be matched by our actions in parliament – our constituents expect nothing less. This starts, but by no means finishes, with where we invest millions of pounds through our pensions. But we need to open up this conversation beyond parliament to ensure a just transition to a green economy.

This campaign is the fastest growing divestment movement of all time, which has seen more than $5tn of assets divested across more than 800 institutions. Campaigning for our universities, workplaces, unions, and pension funds to divest is one important way we can help to build a more sustainable society. Parliament must play its part.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is shadow secretary for business, energy and industrial strategy and MP for Salford and Eccles

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