“In the midst of an environmental crisis, the Tories are playing politics with our planet by embarking on a climate-wrecking campaign.”Nadia Whittome MP
By Nadia Whittome MP
Just over two weeks ago, in defiance of national polling, the Tories hung on in Uxbridge, in a by-election caused by Boris Johnson’s resignation. The Conservative Party’s strategists have now clearly smelled blood, believing that it was the Mayor of London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone policy that meant Labour lost and therefore that the answer to their electoral woes is to turn the race to lower carbon emissions into a culture war issue.
These ideas haven’t come from nowhere – they were already popular among the party faithful. For example, despite overwhelming evidence, two-thirds of Conservative Party members do not believe there is a climate emergency. The government also has vested interests in the oil and gas industry, with both MPs and the party itself awash with financial links to fossil fuels.
So in the midst of an environmental crisis, the Tories are playing politics with our planet by embarking on a climate-wrecking campaign, with the Prime Minister committing to sign off at least 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences. These developments would shatter our chances of meeting our emission-reduction targets while failing to bring down bills or boost energy security. The government’s own estimates show wind and solar will be several times cheaper than gas for the foreseeable future and most of the gas that is generated will be sold on the international market. It’s clear that rather than delivering any real benefit for our society, Sunak has chosen to prioritise the profits of polluters and a last ditch attempt to cling on to power over a livable future.
His actions occur against a particularly dystopian backdrop. The UN Secretary General recently warned that we are now in the era of “global boiling”, with 2023 now likely to become the hottest year globally on record. In Southern Europe, wildfires rage and agriculture is being devastated. Typhoons have battered China, while South America swelters in extreme heat. Here in the UK, the government has updated its own risk register to include extreme weather caused by climate destruction as a serious threat to our country.
It is not fearmongering to say that the stakes couldn’t be higher: without serious action, we are approaching the end of the world as we know it. Millions will be displaced over the coming decades, turned into refugees by extreme heat, drought and flooding. Food supplies will be disrupted, causing shortages, price hikes and more widespread famines. Between 2030 and 2050, the World Health Organisation expects climate change to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress. There is no greater challenge we face – and so the Tories’ actions this past fortnight are nothing short of obscene.
But if the polling holds, the Conservative party will not be in government from next year – Labour is likely to be at the helm instead. Our party must not step away from the vital need to tackle the climate crisis, while also delivering fundamental change for working class people. This should be our message going into the next election.
In the short-term, we must properly tax energy companies like BP, who made £2 billion in profit in the last quarter alone. We should ban new oil and gas licences from day one and cancel those being recklessly doled out by the Tories. We could learn from other countries such as Spain, which has cut the cost of public transport, creating fewer car journeys and helping to tackle inflation.
In the longer-term, we should look to solutions that benefit both the environment and our society – policies that have social justice at their core, so that workers don’t pay the price for a crisis they didn’t cause. This is the thinking behind the Green New Deal: an ambitious, comprehensive set of proposals to tackle the climate crisis and address inequality.
A Green New Deal would include investment in renewables and insulating homes, which would also bring down household bills. It would mean rapidly decarbonising industries, with a just transition for every worker affected. It would involve public ownership of key sectors like energy, water and rail, to put common good before private profit. Climate adaptation measures would be funded both here in the UK and in the Global South through climate finance, while policies to reverse the loss of biodiversity would also be implemented. All of this work would create a plethora of green jobs across the country.
Critics point to the upfront cost of some of these measures, but the cost of inaction is far greater. The only responsible path to take is to transition to a Net Zero society – the question is who stands to benefit or lose out, and who will pay for it. By investing in our future and taxing the richest to help pay for this transition, we can build a greener, fairer society for us all.
- Nadia Whittome is the MP for Nottingham East and a regular contributor for Labour Outlook. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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