Climate Justice and a Green New Deal NOW! : a view from the grassroots

by Richard Cronin, with an introduction by Kate Laycock

On Sunday 26th September 2021, the Labour Party Conference in Brighton overwhelmingly passed a comprehensive composite motion providing an ambitious blueprint for a Green New Deal programme rooted in internationalist solidarity. Translating the will of Conference into concrete policy within the next manifesto will be an uphill struggle, as the leadership’s repeated refusal to back the nationalisation demands so central to any meaningful Green New Deal has made abundantly clear. Nevertheless, the political momentum is with the activists who have been campaigning for a Green New Deal which puts climate justice at its heart. Richard Cronin is one of those activists. Here is his perspective on why it is so vital that Labour not back away from the policy its sovereign body has just passed.

The Labour party must step up to the responsibility of tackling climate change. We cannot afford not to. The latest report from the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which the UN General Secretary called “a code red for humanity,” is unequivocal: to avoid the worst of climate change we need strong reductions in green house emissions now.

This is why the Labour Party must put global climate justice at the heart of its climate policy. Those countries that industrialised first are historically most culpable for climate change, but it is those countries in the global south, exploited by ‘the west’, that will suffer most. The UK is home to some of the world’s largest financial companies, investing vast sums of money in sectors of the global economy that are driving climate change and environmental collapse – the fossil fuel industry being the main culprit.

Two of the UK’s largest banks, Barclays and HSBC combined have invested over £150 billion in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. And our government facilitates these gargantuan profits by subsidising fossil fuels to the tune of over $5 billion USD last year alone. In light of what we know, why does this still happen?

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that globally, 20 million people are displaced within their own countries each year because of an ‘increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as abnormally heavy rainfall, prolonged droughts, desertification, environmental degradation, or sea-level rise and cyclones.’ By 2050 it is predicted up to one billion people could be crossing international borders to escape collapsed ecosystems.

Countries in the global south are struggling to cope with the Covid pandemic let alone climate change. In April last year the Jubilee Debt Campaign reported 64 nations were paying more on debt payments than health. Africa spends three times more in debt repayments to banks and speculators than it would cost to vaccinate the entire continent against Covid. And at the same time governments across the south have transferred to their foreign creditors approximately $194 billion as of December 2020, coerced no doubt by the fear of what not paying would do to their already poor credit rating. How will the global south be able to deal with climate change?

It is this feeding frenzy of banks in the global north, exploiting countries in the global south, that has resulted in the under investment of our own economy here in the UK that had already suffered decades of underfunding when the 2008 financial crisis hit, giving the excuse for austerity cuts to social care resulting in a massive growth in food bank use and children in poverty. It is no coincidence that 24 new billionaires were made in the UK alone since the start of the pandemic. With massive wealth creation for the few comes massive impoverishment for the many, both here and abroad.

This is why the passing of the GND composite motion at the 2021 Labour Party Conference in Brighton is so significant. It demands the immediate de-investment from fossil fuels, debt forgiveness for countries in the global south, the de-listing of companies from the stock market that irreparably damage the natural world, and the channelling of money away from harmful enterprises abroad and into green projects at home, along with a set of other complimentary measures the UK and the world desperately need.

The costs will be high, but are nothing compared to what we stand to gain: a future.

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