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THE extreme contrast between the Tory and Labour responses to the inspiring recent school student strikes on the need to urgently tackle climate change was a stark example of how different the priorities of the two parties are.
The Tories have totally failed in this area, as the latest greenhouse gas emissions figures clearly show.
Astonishingly, public-sector and residential emissions actually increased last year, while other sectors remain flat.
Agricultural emissions are actually higher now than in the year 2000.
As Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, has said: “These figures show that the government is failing on climate change when nothing less than a green industrial revolution is needed.”
As this suggests, the practical policies of the Tories and Labour when it comes to tackling climate change, the greatest challenge faced by any generation, couldn’t be more different either.
If we take the government’s recent sector deal for offshore wind, for example, environmental campaigners have said it is timid and woeful, while industry groups have been clear that they could deliver much more.
Labour, on the other hand, would seize the enormous economic opportunities of a low-carbon future, and has set out plans for a seven-fold increase in offshore wind by 2030, creating 120,000 jobs.
Globally, we are quickly running out of time to make the necessary steps required to prevent global warming exceeding the critical point of a 1.5°C rise.
The International Panel on Climate Change has argued we have just over a decade to take the decisive action to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
We face a direct existential threat if we do not rapidly switch from fossil fuels by 2020, and a failure to do so will mean runaway climate change.
Already we are seeing record-breaking temperatures, extreme heatwaves, storms, floods and wildfires leaving a trail of death and devastation.
As UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has said, scientists have warned about global warming for decades, but “far too many leaders have refused to listen [and] far too few have acted with the vision that science demands.”
When it comes to having both the vision and policies needed to address these severe dangers, it is only voices from the left that can put forward the radical changes to the economy needed, as the differences between the Tories and Corbyn’s Labour outlined above show, and it is the globally resurgent extreme right that is instead forming an international axis of climate change denial.
Specifically, Donald Trump’s administration is continuing to undermine the Paris Climate Agreement and has made clear that the US will withdraw from it when the rules allow him to do so in 2020.
He is joined in this by the far-right president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, who has issued an executive order to facilitate the acceleration of deforestation in order to open up the Amazon rainforest for further exploitation by agribusiness, mining and construction companies.
This move could destroy the “lungs of the planet” by reducing Earth’s ability to absorb and store carbon.
While Bolsonaro and Trump claim these devastating policies are in the economic interests of their countries and populations, in reality they only advance short-term profits for a tiny elite.
In the medium- to long-term they will have a devastating impact on the living standards of the overwhelming majority, especially the poorest, who are affected by climate change the most.
This reactionary agenda faces stiff resistance from climate justice campaigners. Now, and importantly, we are also seeing the seeds sown of an international political movement demanding a new, socially and environmentally sustainable model of political economy.
This movement understands that we need a fundamental transformation away from neoliberalism, and that it is impossible to tackle climate change without simultaneously reducing inequality, and vice versa.
In the belly of the beast itself, the Green New Deal resolution put before the US Congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez coherently melds action to tackle climate change with measures to counteract the obscene inequality and wage stagnation that has built up over decades of neoliberalism.
The resolution starts with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s conclusion that the only science-based target to tackle the climate crisis is to constrain a global average temperature rise below 1.5°C.
But it also takes as its evidential starting point “hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s … the third-worst level of socio-economic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession…[and] the greatest income inequality since the 1920s,” including a specific focus on the racial and gender wealth divide.
To overcome this, it advocates the US government launch at least a trillion dollars in state investment to eliminate fossil fuels and switch to 100 per cent renewable energy in the next decade, which would inevitably boost growth and create quality jobs.
Labour’s proposed green jobs revolution, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and recently elaborated by Rebecca Long Bailey, also shows that Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour is a central part of this international movement.
As Long Bailey said: “We believe that together we can transform the UK through a green jobs revolution.”
After decades of neoliberalism, our economy is structurally weak and deeply unequal. Whole communities have been deindustrialised, insecure and low-paid work has soared, our infrastructure is underinvested and crumbling, and our society’s fabric is being pulled apart by austerity.
Labour’s green jobs revolution can improve the living standards of millions, and only a Labour government will tackle the climate emergency while revitalising whole swathes of the country that have been held back for decades.
Corbyn understands that only a total transformation of the failed neoliberal model can change this, protecting both people and planet, and advancing socialist policies.
This not only offers hope for a better life here, but is also part of a new international alternative to ensure humanity has a future.
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