“Whilst it’s right to call for measures such as temporary relief on energy bills in the short term, a wider strategy based on public ownership is crucial for taking the necessary measures to protect our environment and addressing the cost of living crisis.”
Over 500 activists joined a panel of MPs and climate campaigners at ‘After COP26 – The Fight For A Socialist Green New Deal’, policy seminar organised by the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs alongside the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and Momentum.
The meeting, first in a series of monthly policy seminars, discussed the scale of the climate crisis, the policies necessary to address it, and how we can help build the support and organisation needed to deliver them.
Ben Hayes, Islington North Labour Party & Arise Festival Volunteer reports back. You can watch the seminar in full below:
Chairing the event, Socialist Campaign Group Secretary Richard Burgon explained that climate change, much like the pandemic, poses a huge threat in and of itself – yet it also exacerbates many of today’s existing problems. Analysing it as a class issue, with those least responsible hardest hit, he argued that the issue needs to be at the core of the left’s perspective and activity in the period ahead.
Asad Rehman, Director of War on Want and co-founder of the campaigning COP26 Coalition, reflected on the rise in urgency seen from those outside the traditional climate movement, with images of various disasters shared around the world and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report offering a warning of future consequences of inaction. Even Boris Johnson was describing the world as being ‘at one minute to midnight’.
Of course, this was not reflected at the COP26 summit itself, which Rehman described as having “failed people and planet” and leaving the world facing “unimaginable consequences” even if targets it set were met – due in no small part to a coalition of imperialist countries led by the US (and backed by Britain) being unwilling to accept their responsibility. He argued that the left needs to help build a climate movement which fundamentally challenge the existing economic system and seeks to replace it with one based on “internationalism, solidarity and co-operation”, with a big focus on political education work.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, architect of the Green Industrial Revolution policies pioneered under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, opened with a quote from 2011 Naomi Klein essay on the need to shed free market economics to provide meaningful solutions to climate change – and remarked how this was all the more pressing over a decade on.
She argued that whilst it’s right to call for measures such as temporary relief on energy bills in the short term, a wider strategy based on public ownership is crucial for taking the necessary measures to protect our environment and addressing the cost of living crisis. Pointing out that that private companies have prioritised ‘dividend extraction’ over investing in the transition to renewables.
Long-Bailey also noted that with numerous smaller suppliers going bust or hanging on by a thread, those considered ‘too big to fail’ were being propped up by public money with no public stake in return. Outlining how two thirds of energy in Germany and France is supplied by publicly owned companies, she linked this to the fact that bills are on average 20-30% lower. Clearly outlining that reversing privatisation is key to stopping price fluctuation.
Her contribution concluded with a call for state investment in green technologies to help build sectors like care (e.g. building green retirement villages), and to build public support which can counter the resistance from those in power towards policies which demonstrate the positive difference action from government can make to the economy.
Chris Saltmarsh, author of ‘Burnt: Fighting For Climate Justice’ and co-founder of Labour For A Green New Deal, noted that the organisation’s campaigning work had helped to popularise the Green New Deal (GND) concept greatly amongst party members within a relatively short period of time. He argued that an unwanted by-product of this is that some figures now use it as a meaningless slogan rather than a concrete demand. The pace and scale of GND proposed, as well as a commitments to public ownership and internationalism, are clear distinctions from other calls to address the crisis.
While there is no way of avoiding the need for a national government who will deliver it, Saltmarsh explained, significant building blocks can be laid down at a local level through authorities taking control of public transport systems (something which can also deliver lower fares and better service). He also emphasised the importance of GND advocates supporting sovereignty for countries facing the most severe impacts of climate change – with a strong left presence needed in local environmental campaigns and the trade union movement.
MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whitthome was a welcome late addition to the seminar. From her experience and time in parliament, she felt it was clear that the government are “completely disinterested” when it comes to working towards a just transition, or even meeting their own (inadequate) targets.
Despite the failures of the COP26 summit, she argued that the mobilisations outside were a source of hope – noting that the Stop Cambo Campaign‘s success in delaying the proposed new oilfield in Scotland followed soon after.
Whitthome also discussed the Climate Education Bill currently going through Parliament, highlighting the contribution of young activists from Teach The Future in drafting proposals to make tackling the climate emergency “a golden thread” running through the curriculum. Noting that children starting school this year will only be in their mid-30s by the time of the government’s 2050 targets, she stressed how pressing the issue is for the new generation of activists taking action.
The bill also calls for measures such as retrofitting schools to make them as sustainable as possible with Richard Burgon subsequently highlighting how the process behind this legislation represents a practical demonstration of left MPs working effectively with social movements. Setting out the tasks for the year ahead, she laid out the potential for broad labour movement behind measures such as creating green unionised jobs as part of a Green New Deal which delivers serious binding targets and global justice.
Momentum Co-Chair Gaya Sriskanthan discussed the organisation’s upcoming political education programme, which aims to build greater understanding about the causes of and solutions to the climate crisis, and develop the organisational skills to help build movements which can deliver the latter. She appealed for activists with experience of campaigning on this issue to help shape the programme.
Questions from those taking part in the event covered topics such as the proposal of reparations for countries tries hardest hit by climate change, pushing the Labour Party to back public ownership of energy, how to stop banks funding pollution, and the link between climate justice campaigns and the women’s movement.
Responding, Rehman supported the call for reparations but argued they must be part of a wider systemic change which ends resource extraction – noting that the meeting was being held on the anniversary of the first independent Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s assassination. He also made the case for the climate justice movement to develop a strong vision – “rediscovering imagination and ambition after neoliberal erosion”.
Rebecca Long-Bailey emphasised that public ownership is something which can improve lives in the here and now as well as preserving them for the years ahead- and is already hugely popular with the public, including Conservative voters. Similarly, she argued, the GND can generate huge public support if it is framed as something which helps make sure that the economy works in the interest of our communities, rather than vice versa.
Chris Saltmarsh described the relationship between the banking and fossil fuel industries as an example of capitalist solidarity, outlining the need for stronger regulations to ensure banks stop “speculating with our planet as well as our money”.
Nadia Whitthome discussed how the GND policy motion passed at last year’s Labour Party conference would mean a commitment to investing in industries such as care with workforces predominantly consisting of women, tackling the scourge of low pay in the sector.
Closing the event, Richard Burgon commented that contrary to some reports in the billionaire-owed press, events like these show that the left in the party are alive and kicking, and that socialist policies will be needed more than ever as part of a truly crucial struggle for our world’s future.
- You can watch the socialist policy seminar in full on the Arise Festival YouTube channel here.
- This online seminar was hosted by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and Momentum on the 17th January, 2022.