Leaving decisions about the transition to a net-zero carbon economy to the vagaries of the market will not work, so an interventionist role by governments is an absolute necessity, writes Richard Leonard.
The Extinction Rebellion movement serves as a timely reminder that protest is power, that non-violent direct action is an important part of the democratic process and that the climate emergency is the most pressing issue of our time and requires urgent action.
Campaigners who camped outside the Scottish Parliament, in the week that the Climate Change Bill was being debated, are calling on a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2025. This is hugely ambitious but when we are talking about the future of our planet we should, of course, be ambitious and we should be impatient as well. Humanity’s impact on the planet has taken centuries to be understood and reversing the damage done will take time to put right. That is why Scottish Labour has supported the target set by the Committee on Climate Change of net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 which we believe is an ambitious, but realistic, timetable to meet. If we can meet it earlier, we should. Beyond that, across the UK, Labour is calling for a Green Industrial Revolution which means a plan for industry to put the environment at the heart of our economy. It cannot be jobs or the environment, it must be both or neither.
In our 2017 UK General Election manifesto, Labour also recognised that interim targets are crucial, and we committed to ensuring, when in government, that 60 per cent of the UK’s energy demand in electricity and heating comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030. This plan was backed by evidence, based on science and would deliver an energy revolution around the four key areas of energy efficiency, offshore wind, onshore wind and solar power. In Scotland, we have been arguing for a 77 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that point, to play our part in bringing UK emissions down.
Reintroducing public ownership into the energy market would also open up the potential to accelerate the timelines for zero emissions. As private, shareholder-owned and profit-led entities, today’s energy companies are poorly placed to lead the way for a wholescale change of focus.
While we cannot simply legislate our way to sustainability, the market will not get us there either. Businesses, particularly big business must play their part. That’s why, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell announced last week that a Labour Government would hold those companies, which do not meet a minimum standard of commitment to the climate emergency, to account. He suggested that one sanction could be to delist them from the London Stock Exchange and so cut off their access to capital investment. This radical approach would ensure that the private sector is forced to play a meaningful part in creating a sustainable economy.
We also have the opportunity, in Scotland, to ensure that the necessary switch to green jobs is undertaken in a way that prevents working people becoming the casualties of the sustainable economy we must create. We believe there should be a statutory and representative Just Transition Commission rather the adhoc, temporary one the Scottish Government currently favours. The Climate Change Bill provides us with an opportunity to secure this and so take a planned approach to the radical economic transformation which we need to make.
The economic opportunities of a green society go well beyond the role of individuals as mere consumers to that of re-skilled workers as producers of the energy we consume and the goods and services we make. Trade unions will play a vitally important role in ensuring all industries are ready for the changes ahead. In Scotland, we have a wealth of riches in solar, wind and marine energy still to explore and a workforce with adaptable skills ready to embrace these expanding technologies. Labour’s radical plans to put the environment at the heart of everything we do in government will ensure that our carbon emissions are drastically reduced. But action must start now, and we need leadership from both the UK and Scottish governments to show a new urgency to achieving net zero with action and not just words. That means we cannot go on with green energy contracts, that would support our economy and deliver flagship projects, which are awarded to multinational corporations who then place the manufacturing work overseas.
EDF’s proposed Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) Offshore Wind Farm, worth up to £2 billion, will be located 10 miles off the Fife coast and has the potential to create over 1,000 green jobs in the Fife economy. Yet, evidence suggests that the current proposal is for contracts for the wind turbine jackets to be manufactured thousands of miles away in Indonesia rather than at the currently mothballed fabrication yards at Methil and Burntisland where skilled workers stand ready to get back on the job. This would be a double blow to the environment and local economy, which is why we’ve been working with the unions and local community inside and outside Parliament to get this decision reversed and guarantee that the work is placed in the Fife yards.
Our new timetable to meet zero emission goals might seem a long way off but by taking to the streets in their thousands, our young people have shown us that the climate emergency deserves all our attention and we, as elected representatives, must go beyond setting targets to taking real and decisive action.
It is clear that business as usual will not do. Leaving economic decisions to the vagaries of the market will not work either. We need to plan our way to a sustainable future. So, an interventionist and innovative role by governments is an absolute necessity. That also demands a global perspective that goes way beyond nationalism and the national interest alone.
The Labour movement will continue to help lead the way in transforming our economy and so protecting and restoring our environment. We will continue to offer the leadership and solutions required to change our economy to one which is sustainable, puts our planet first and does so in a way that puts people at the heart of the change, protecting jobs and ensuring those with the least are not left to prop up those with the most – and so securing a just transition.