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The climate crisis demands revolutions in housing and transport policy

THE weekend’s climate rallies by groups under the We All Want to Just Stop Oil banner build on the environmental activism pioneered by groups like XR.

Earlier demands to declare a “climate emergency” and for dates by which governments commit to reaching “net zero” in carbon emissions raised awareness of the looming catastrophic consequences if we do not take radical action.

But — as the High Court ruling last week indicates — mere target dates can be irrelevant if the policies to meet them are absent.

As Mr Justice Holgate found, the Tories have listed a number of “net-zero” plans but made no attempt to calculate how much each would contribute to reducing the carbon footprint.

The weekend’s demonstrations brought a welcome focus on specific actions.

As the Just Stop Oil moniker suggests, one is stopping fossil fuel extraction. Though it may seem less immediately tragic than the huge loss of life caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the reaction in terms of energy policy will have consequences too. 

Germany’s decision to fire up more coal power plants because of the threat to Russian natural gas supplies makes it far less likely it will meet emissions reduction targets. 

US pressure on Saudi Arabia to boost oil production to replace Russian exports subject to sanctions is equally short sighted, besides being counterproductive even by its own standards (since Saudi Arabia has doubled its imports of Russian oil in order to export more of its own production to the West).

These panicked responses to the results of their own sanctions also expose the lack of investment in renewables over many years. 

The current approach — reliance on the very companies making record profits from oil and gas to deliver on renewables — is self-defeating. 

The transition requires public ownership of energy, a popular part of Labour’s last two manifestos which must be raised again as a political demand. France has just brought energy back under full public ownership — so can we.

A joined-up approach also means challenging a foreign policy now driven by cold war propaganda directed at the US’s main strategic rival, China. 

As the International Energy Agency notes, China has been by far the biggest investor in renewable technology and dominates production of components for solar and wind power. Ill-conceived sanctions on the leading renewables producer will only slow progress in weaning us off fossil fuels.

But perhaps most crucial of all are the next two demands placed front and centre by protesters on Saturday.

We need a massive house insulation programme. Not only that, but we need to turn up the heat on Tories who are promoting the insanity of further deregulation of the construction sector as a solution to Britain’s housing crisis. We need higher standards for new builds — as has already been legislated for by Wales’s Labour government — and a nationwide project to adapt existing buildings.

And we need “cheap, green public transport,” as Jeremy Corbyn highlights. Germany has introduced €9 (£7.60) tickets for unlimited travel on local lines lasting three months. Spain has made many local journeys on public transport free. These policies are perfectly workable.

But our government is actively attacking the rail sector — the greenest form of mass transit.

Eco-activists and trade unionists have not always seen eye to eye, but the great industrial struggle for the future of our railways is one of equal importance to both. RMT needs all our support in its new campaign to save ticket offices as well as the solidarity we must show with it and its sister transport unions in their battles over jobs, pay and conditions.

And Labour must be pressed not just to get off the fence and back workers taking action, but to make the case for the massive investment our public transport network needs — and for its future to be in public hands.

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