Britain needs a green new deal to revive its economy after Brexit

It means recognising that climate change is a symptom of our broken economic system.

Britain needs a new economy that works for everyone and to move beyond the old, broken systems and status quo that left many people behind. A green new deal for the UK could give us just that. Climate change has muscled its way back onto the political agenda. It was debated by MPs last week for the first time in two years. It seems that the momentum around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey’s green new deal in the US, the audacious climate march on Westminster by schoolchildren last month and increasingly rising temperatures may have finally jolted our politicians out of their climate stupor.

Four months ago, a group of experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered the news that the world must halve carbon emissions in a little over a decade. Responding would require an almighty push to green our economy — one that would touch on every aspect of our lives. Despite this stark warning from scientists, the political establishment in Westminster barely flinched. There was no commitment to redouble our efforts, no renewed urgency or call to action. Instead, our politics continued to be consumed by Brexit.

But the IPCC report was a sobering wake-up call for many. A movement of activists in the US, backed by a new generation of Democrats, including the Justice Democrats, are reacting with the urgency needed. The green new deal — an idea that came from organisations including the New Economics Foundation (NEF) a decade ago — has emerged as a forceful response.

The idea is simple: an unprecedented mobilisation of resources to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions within a decade while creating millions of jobs and lifting living standards.

At its heart, the deal is a recognition that climate change and the wider threat to our environment is a symptom of an economic system that is broken. The same economic system that has delivered a decade of wage stagnation, left millions of people feeling squeezed and led to rising poverty and inequality. To tackle climate change, we must transform the economy and we should do this in a way that works for the majority of people: environmental justice working in tandem with social justice.

At its heart, the deal is a recognition that climate change and the wider threat to our environment is a symptom of an economic system that is broken.”

The question that everyone is asking is: is this doable or simply a pipe dream? But this is completely the wrong question. The question we should be asking is can we get away with not taking action on climate change. If the science is right, then the answer is no. The more that global temperatures rise, the more chaos in the system: more devastating hurricanes, record droughts, extreme floods, coastlines disappearing, food scarcity from loss of crop yields and fisheries — all driving climate-related poverty across the world at a scale we cannot even imagine. The cost of this not just in pounds but in human suffering will far outstrip the cost of any green new deal.

Therefore, the choice before us is whether we take concerned, deliberate action now to achieve the change we need or we sleepwalk into a crisis and throw money at the problem in a panic when it will be too late. When viewed like this, a green new deal becomes a no-brainer.

To be transformative and rise to the scale of the challenge, it will need to get three key things right. First, it must be ambitious, bringing about radical reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade. Second, it will require significant government action — from large-scale investment in green infrastructure and technology to incentives and regulation to bend markets that have been slow to act towards the climate imperative. Third, in return for consenting to this scale of change, there has to be a good deal for the public.

There must be a promise to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in place of those that will be lost and to provide a much bigger stake in the new economy that we will create. The green economy that emerges must be owned by people and work in their interest. This will mean collective ownership of green infrastructure, public goods and assets and more co-operative ways of organising new industries that will spring up.

Get this right and we could radically transform our economy so it works for people and the planet. If our politicians can shake themselves out of their Brexit bind, they may just see that here lies the agenda for post-Brexit Britain.

This piece was originally published in The Times Red Box.

Image: Dawn Waldman (Public Domain)

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