Tackling Climate Chaos Needs a Willingness to Stand Firm For the Many – Islington Friends of Jeremy Corbyn


“In thirty years, maybe less, people will ask: why the hell didn’t we do anything to mitigate and prepare for climate breakdown in the 2020s?“

Islington Friends of Jeremy Corbyn

In the face of the environmental crisis, we need consistent and principled politics, writes Islington Friends of Jeremy Corbyn.

In thirty years, maybe less, people will ask: why the hell didn’t we do anything to mitigate and prepare for climate breakdown in the 2020s? Scientific predictions about global heating have been surpassed, and temperature records are now broken with increasing rapidity. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for immediate, radical action on climate change, arguing that the Earth is entered an “era of global boiling”. News reports are filled with stories about people being evacuated to escape uncontainable wildfires in Europe. Globally, heat and floods are killing and displacing people.

Yet despite all this, our leading politicians are rowing back on net zero promises and policies, finding reasons not to act positively for a transition to a socially just and sustainable future. We need environmental policies like those in Labour’s 2019 manifesto and an unswerving commitment from politicians to carry them through. Instead, we have a Tory government that has granted licences for Rosebank, a new oilfield in the North Sea that alone would exceed the UK’s carbon budgets. But this is just the tip of a melting iceberg. The government is also backing airport expansion despite the uncertain and meagre economic benefits.

The government’s failure on climate progress has turned former Climate Change Committee (CCC) chair and Conservative Environment Minister, Lord Deben, into an eco-warrior! The CCC was set up by the Labour government in 2008 to monitor and report on the government’s progress in meeting environmental and climate targets. Their recent report is damning. It highlights a failure to invest in green technologies, to make progress on insulating homes or in rolling out heat pumps to replace gas boilers in homes – and so it goes on. Deben points out that “Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) is a department which has no full programme to reach net-zero, which is a scandal”, and he describes granting planning permission for a new Cumbrian coal mine, as “absolutely barmy”.

Though frequently referencing the climate crisis, mainstream politicians fail to make the connections between climate breakdown, social injustice and the growing risks and crises we face. For example, it’s estimated that environment breakdown will increase forced migration to 1.2 billion people by 2050 and 1.4 billion by 2060. Following that, the numbers will soar. Rather than addressing the urgent underlying factors behind migration, the political response is a poisonous campaign to “stop the boats”!

Another example is making inflation “the” priority and not acknowledging that climate heating is increasingly affecting crops and food chains, pushing up the price of food, or that insurance costs will increase as environmental risks and hazards intensify, affecting a vast range of goods. A political discourse that compartmentalises and misses essential connections such as these, means missed opportunities to tackle inequality and improve people’s quality of life alongside addressing the environment crisis and developing a sustainable economy.

Currently, Labour is not providing a challenge to this discourse and therefore no clear alternative is being offered for the next election. Keir Starmer may or may not have said he hates “tree-huggers” but the party has backed off on plans to “borrow” £28bn a year to invest in sustainable energy technologies and other climate-friendly projects, delaying them until they are “affordable” according to Rachel Reeves’ fiscal rules, as if the climate crisis will wait until an arbitrary economic target is met.

Labour’s policies on expanding investment in renewable energy sources, the Warm Homes Plan and others, show an understanding of what is needed to begin to tackle the climate emergency. However, Labour’s lack of commitment to using our existing fiscal capacity to properly fund these and other necessary environmental policies means that pledges on climate justice will turn into softened goals and aspirations. Furthermore, Labour have refused to countenance increased taxation on the rich to curb their polluting habits, to redress grotesque inequalities, and to fairly offset any inflationary impact of spending on these initiatives. This means that any transition would be partial and far from just.

In the recent Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, Labour missed winning the seat from the Tories by 495 votes. The Tories focused their campaign on opposing Sadiq Khan’s push to expand ULEZ and clean up London’s filthy air. ULEZ was one factor in a close contest for Labour in a safe Tory seat, but the Party leadership’s response was to call for Khan to “reflect” on the plan, urging that it be postponed. This demonstrates the leadership’s willingness to succumb to anti-progressive right-wing political pressure, despite ULEZ having considerable support amongst Londoners.

If effective action is to be taken in the face of a worsening environmental emergency, we need politicians who are not swayed by short-term electoral considerations based on narrow polling in marginal constituencies, and issues framed by an overwhelmingly right-wing mainstream media.

However, we also need to be aware of the class dynamics of moves towards a sustainable circular economy. The ULEZ policy, people-friendly streets and other policies restricting car use have been seized by the far-right and portrayed as middle-class amenities that penalise the working class. This framing has been possible in part because without expanded affordable public transport and adequate compensation for the replacement of polluting vehicles, some may understandably see these green initiatives as undesirable and unfair. The solution is to embed these policies in wider social justice and redistribution strategies so that people struggling with the cost of living experience a gain rather than a loss in the massive changes that will be necessary to address the climate emergency.

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership offered just such a radical policy shift in Labour towards tackling the environment crisis. The 2019 manifesto included a commitment to nationalising utilities, massively scaling up renewable energy, zero carbon standards for new home construction and retrofitting of existing homes, and a windfall tax on oil companies, which would have put us on track for net zero carbon energy system by the 2030s. These positions reflected the growth of eco-socialism amongst activists and a flourishing of member democracy resulting in multiple climate justice resolutions being passed at Party Conference. Whilst not a full-on Green New Deal, these transformative policies would have been the bedrock of a transition to a sustainable and socially just economy.

The current leadership has rolled back on all these policies. This is why it is so important to have Jeremy Corbyn – a determined and incorruptible advocate for the many in Parliament – battling the intertwined scourges of inequality and climate change. 

For many years, Jeremy Corbyn has been unwavering and consistent in championing climate justice, peace, human rights and antiracism against media attacks and campaigns against him. During his leadership, a genuine alternative was proposed which shifted the debate towards a progressive agenda. In the 2017 election Labour gained 30 seats and 40% of votes on a turnout of 68.8% – a result that surprised those who doubted that a left progressive politics had a chance with the electorate.

A willingness to stand firm and lay out an alternative politics of hope for the many is desperately needed now and is what Jeremy Corbyn stands for. 

  • Islington Friends of Jeremy Corbyn is a group of Islington North residents established to stand up for the democratic rights of members, which are under threat from the actions of the national Labour Party. To find out more about them and to sign up for their newsletter, please go to their website.
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Featured image: Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Stand Up To Racism demonstration in London on March 18th, 2023. Photo credit: Jeremy Corbyn/Twitter

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