Is the Labour party prepared to be ‘the greenest government ever?’

24th May 2018
Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn proposes a "new economics" including local control of energy to reduce emissions and help prevent climate chaos.  

The Ecologist
There is a real prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government in the coming years. But what would the implications be for the environmental - and how might advocates engage with the party's policy making processes? Oz Ozkaya investigates

Labour already has a target in place to guarantee that 60 percent of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

A lot can be said regarding the Labour party’s unexpected performance during the 2017 general election. Notably, the manifesto - For the Many, Not the Few - took a lot of the plaudits.

For this environmental analysis, the manifesto is a useful reference point. However, the primary focus here is on the greener components of Labour’s present complexion.

A few questions can help to unravel this: What exactly did the manifesto say about the environment? What messages have Labour broadcast since? And what is Labour saying now with relation to environmental policy?

Community energy

In the manifesto, there are encouraging signs. For example, over the two-pages devoted to environmental and animal welfare issues the party is keen to woo green voters.

"A Labour government will prioritise a sustainable, long-term future for our farming, fishing and food industries, fund robust flood resilience, invest in rural and coastal communities, and guarantee the protection and advancement of environmental quality standards," it states.

There is no doubt that in a period where climate change and global warming are devastating the biosphere, and where deregulated neoliberal governance has prevailed, commitments like these are going to be necessary if Britain is to be considered an eco-friendly state.

Labour is only affiliated to one environmental group: the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA), which was founded in 1973 and has worked alongside the party ever since.

Its core aim is to ensure that as many environmental policies as possible, from climate change to community energy, are adopted by the party.

Shared competence

Moreover, SERA has a grassroots dimension to their policy making, with active local branches raising the profile of environmental issues in their respective areas. This ensures a bottom-up dimension in the policy creation process.

Then there's the Labour party’s national policy forum, which has been busy at work this year working on its Environment, Energy and Culture. Through the process of a national policy forum, Labour says it has already made plans for a "greener Britain".

This method, as the paper for this years consultation indicates, is how the party commonly makes policy and are seeking contributions from its members and voters - the deadline is 24 June.

Explicitly, the policy forum document highlights three areas that the party have said will need urgently rethinking: 1. The Natural Environment, 2. Clean Energy, 3. Air Pollution.

Labour recognises that new environmental frameworks will be required given Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. Given that environmental policy is a shared competence between the EU and its member states, Britain has historically been obliged by environmental rules communally agreed within the European structures.

Renewable technologies

In its policy forum document and wider website material, Labour acknowledges that a new environmental framework must consider issues such as animal welfare, food standards, biodiversity, green spaces such as forests and parks, blue and green belts as well as ensuring the reduction of the plastic circular economy.

Additionally, it accepts that a new framework must be designed to replace funding structures, again previously supported by the EU, that guarantee whatever the state of the market British farming and fishing industries will receive subsidies that safeguard their functionality.

Moreover, animal welfare is an area where the party seems to be focusing a lot of energy. Sue Hayman, the shadow secretary for the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, helped launch Labour’s new 50 point draft policy document on the radical action on animal welfare which has been welcomed by the League against Cruel Sports, Compassion in World Farming and the WWF.

Labour already has a target in place to guarantee that 60 percent of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

Likewise, it has already pledged to support emerging renewable technologies and projects. In its policy forum it has asked questions from those wishing to contribute to the policy forum - namely, how can jobs be created and existing skills and workforces maintained in a future low-carbon economy?

Heat networks

This will be a significant area of policy given the transition that is ultimately required toward a growing renewable energy sector.

On the other hand, Labour has been cautious  in condemning current commitments that the government has in place with relation to the North Sea and Oil industry, which is substantially offloading fossil fuel emissions.

The money and increased job numbers that have resulted - and continue to do so - from this industry appear to place Labour in an unwelcome dilemma.

The policy forum has indicated that "a future energy system needs to be made to work for local communities and local economies by delivering energy security, keeping bills low and handing communities control over their supply". 

This has certainly been the case in Bristol, where Mayor Mervin Rees and the City Council recently launched an array of investment opportunities in a variety of energy technologies including heat networks, marine energy and hydrogen source development.

Appallingly Kafkaesque

Regarding climate change commitments, the party’s manifesto recognises the Paris Climate Agreement as an essential document that the UK must adhere to.

On the other hand, Greenpeace says that the party has failed to recognise a decent plan to tackle the problems of diesel and fossil fuels, which are two concerning air pollution issues.

Similarly, the party seems conflicted on the issue of runway expansion in the South East. The manifesto says it will support expansion, whereas senior party figures have recently hinted that Labour is prepared to take an extremely hostile stance over any new runway plans at Heathrow.

Elsewhere - in tandem with SERA - Manchester Labour held the city’s first ever Green Summit. The party, under the guidance of Mayor Andy Burnham, has pledged to introduce initiatives to lower carbon emissions such as a £50m per year for three years investment in cycling infrastructure as well as a plan to move from a diesel to an emissions-free bus fleet.

Sheffield City Council - where Labour has a large majority - on the contrary, is not held in the same regard. George Monbiot has described the deal that the city council has with a local PFI contractor - an agreement to fell about 20,000 trees - as appallingly Kafkaesque.

Residents, many of whom have highlighted the environmental benefits of tree plantation and preservation, particularly in the case of air pollution where Sheffield has remained low, are not being listened to despite protests aplenty.

This Author

Oz Ozkaya is a freelance writer currently studying MSc European and Global Governance at the University of Bristol. His current research focuses on the correlation between neoliberal governance and climate change.

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