Ahead of the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, hundreds of activists joined a discussion hosted by Arise Festival and Tribune Magazine: ‘System Change not Climate Change – A Green New Deal for People and Planet’. The event heard from a range of British and international perspectives on the need for serious action to protect the future of our world and how we can help to bring it about.
By Ben Hayes, Islington North CLP & Arise Volunteer.
Arise’s Matthew Willgress opened the event by outlining the need for bold and fast measures to tackle the climate crisis. He highlighted the urgent warnings received from the likes of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres that we are “hurtling towards a hellscape”, and the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating the current situation represents ‘code red’ for humanity.
MP for Salford and Eccles and former Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – Rebecca Long-Bailey commented that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a system failing on numerous fronts, arguing that a Green New Deal can be a “climate and economic game-changer’ through much-needed investment in public transport and low emission sectors such as social care.
Fearing that COP26 would be limited to “tinkering around the edges”, she emphasised the importance of the government taking an internationalist approach, such as in exporting new green technology around the world, which can help both tackle the climate crisis and raise living standards. Long-Bailey urged all involved not to look back on the current period as a missed opportunity – future summits will be discussing emergency assistance plans for areas devastated by the impact of climate change if we do not take this chance.
Lola Allen, US-based think-tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s representative in the Global Alliance For A Green New Deal, explained the role of capitalism in the current crisis. She explained that bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are “forcing developing countries to waste precious resources on debt servicing and financial obligations over and above dealing with existential crises”. Allen emphasised that “system change won’t happen by itself” and that Green New Deal programmes need to reflect the circumstances of the countries we want majority support for them in.
Representing the Washington Brazil Office, Juliana Moraes outlined how the ultra-reactionary Bolsonaro government has sought to build an “economy of destruction”, determined to roll back on all progressive gains made in the country. She also highlighted the mass resistance this agenda has been met with, with the recent ‘Struggle For Life’ camp by indigenous communities and campaigners prompting a delay in the proposed Temporal Framework designed to remove all environmental protections on huge swathes of land. Moraes pointed out the significant potential for international solidarity work in holding companies and governments looking to profit off this threat to the ‘lungs of the Earth’, highlighting that this was “no longer a battle for territory, but for survival”.
Author and Economics editor for Tribune, Grace Blakeley argued that the climate crisis should be viewed in the context of crises of inequality and political representation which can be traced back to the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1980s, and have severely limited our ability to deal with it. Emphasising the numerous and increasingly strong warnings that the world is reaching a ‘tipping point’, she made the case for publicly owned and accountable financial institutions: with a National Investment Bank having the potential to use processes such as asset management to bolster decarbonisation efforts. Blakely summarised that a Green New Deal can not only protect the future of the planet but help transform our political system into one that is directly shaped by working people and meaningfully responds to their collective needs.
Scarlett Westbrook, Head of Political Engagement for Teach The Future and UK Student Climate Network spokesperson, highlighted the link between climate change and the legacy of colonialism, and the importance of internationalism in this campaign- with the climate strike movement having been organised and built across the world. She went on to discuss the need to bring climate issues to the heart of our education system, as well as making clear that green jobs can come in a variety of sectors. Westbrook argued that climate change is fundamentally a class struggle issue, and that “people power is the answer to corporate greed” – with the protests at COP26 and the ongoing youth climate strike movement being crucial opportunities for our movement to make itself heard loud and clear.
Jeremy Corbyn was last to address the online event and pointed out that we are already seeing the consequences of environmental destruction through increasing patterns of flooding, extreme weather, and a loss of biodiversity. Discussing the link between poverty and the environmental crisis, he explained that some children in the most polluted areas have lost 10% of their lung capacity by the time they start primary school. Corbyn argued that “free market capitalism will not solve the crisis” – citing widespread corporate opposition to environmental protection legislation, and called for measures to ensure climate factors are considered in trade agreements. He also echoed calls to build support for the struggles ahead, pledging his support for upcoming mobilisations.
The contributions prompted a productive discussion, with Rebecca Long-Bailey outlining the importance of public ownership to the Green New Deal and opposing attempts to water down Labour’s commitment to it. She argued that conservative forces are partly resistant to serious action on climate change as they fear the example of the state playing an active and positive economic role. Lola Allen raised the role of intellectual property law in blocking the sharing of green technological advances, and Juliana Moraes discussed the sense of hope provided by Brazilian polling frontrunner Lula’s environmental platform. Responding to a question about the effectiveness of protest, Scarlett Westbrook emphasised the role protest played in winning so many of the rights we have today, and mentioned that within a few months the climate strike movement had pushed Parliament to declare a climate emergency.
The event was a timely reminder of the importance of intensifying our efforts on this campaign: blunt about the gravity of the situation but resisting the urge to entertain defeatism.