Can the Labour Party reclaim the future from catastrophic climate change?

In a week of fracking irony, can the Labour Party reclaim the future from catastrophic climate change, asks Sam Mason?

It’s a decade since the Labour Party pioneered the ground-breaking Climate Change Act 2008. A rare moment of political consensus forged in the centre ground of New Labour and Tory beyond ideology visions of the ‘modern market economy’.  Responses to climate change if anything, are ideological in their economic and political basis and absurd that solutions can be left to the market waiting for signals.  Surely the scientific signals that we have twelve years to stabilise emissions are paramount and reassuringly something the Labour Party are finally addressing opposing the dogma of the market.  But is the party ready to “reclaim the future” with a transformative and ideological vision as Rebecca Long-Bailey said in her keynote speech at the party conference in September?

In a week of ironies, there is clear water between Labour and the Tories on one issue at least – fracking.  Following a valiant but unsuccessful last ditch legal attempt to stop fracking at Preston New Road, operations due to start on Saturday (13th October) were thwarted by storm Callum.  A reminder to belligerent corporate interests that nature ultimately holds the reins of power which their fossil fuel investments are (ironically) feeding.

The second irony of the week came with fracking starting on the very day (Monday 15th) Claire Perry, Minister for Energy and Clean Growth launched the first Green GB week. Clearly we need to do a “Simple Steps you can take to reduce emissions” guide for government which should start with No Fracking!

So, to irony number three. Monday was also the day the same UK Government minister asked the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) when the UK should hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions “and/or” net-zero CO2, as well as whether the UK’s current aim to cut all emissions 80% by 2050 is sufficient”.  But as climate scientist Kevin Anderson notes in his blog:

“Nowhere does she acknowledge the IPCC’s recent call for drastic reductions in emissions by 2030 if we are to have any chance of meeting our 1.5°C commitment.”

In the Labour Party’s The Green Transformation paper produced for conference, its notable that the manifesto pledge of 60% renewables by 2030 has now been revised to:

“Ensure that 60 per cent of the UK’s energy comes from low-carbon or renewable sources within twelve years of coming to power.”

Twelve is certainly becoming a significant number but the longer Labour are out of office, on the latest news coming from the IPCC, it seems they will need to return to the original ambition.  The three principles outlined for taking on environmental challenges are based on: science, transformation, Labour values – justice, equality, solidarity, and democracy.

This is important. It will only be by addressing climate change in terms of economic social and environmental justice that Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement in his closing speech to conference to “kick-start a Green Jobs Revolution” as part of a programme to transition to a low-carbon economy, with protections for jobs and skills for workers, can be achieved. Linked with the deeper transformational policy around forms of ownership John McDonnell set out in his speech, along with support from the Treasury to “…make sure it assesses spending decision against the need to tackle climate change…” there are indeed reasons to be (slightly) more cheerful addressing climate change is central to Labour party policy.

As Rebecca Long Bailey further said:

“This is about kick-starting an industrial revolution with workers and unions at its heart, one that is built in Britain, and that can rebuild Britain.”

Three key speeches that show a marked shift away from the subordination of climate change to an austerity vision following the financial crash in 2008. But one thing sadly the Labour Party is still subordinating itself to is the trade union lobby to make energy workers and their unions “paramount’ in industrial and climate policy making.

The creation of a working group on industrial strategy only covering the energy sector trade unions is ironically a partially sighted move for the energy worker few, not the many. There is no argument to ensure these workers are protected in the future  energy transition from fossil-fuels to renewables, but if the party really want to lead a revolution in green jobs and industrial strategy, they need to open their eyes to a transformational whole economy approach that takes account of all workers in that transition. An economy that recognises the need for Labour values of justice, equality, solidarity, and democracy across all sectors in the Just Transition debate.

As in Rebecca Long Bailey’s closing words…. by doing so, we can reclaim the future.





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