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FOR decades, connecting climate change with its effects on our human rights has been too difficult a conversation for those in power to have with honesty. There are world leaders who continue to wilfully dismiss this direct cause and effect, able to do so because the effects can seem far removed.
But a change has come. Momentum on climate change action has grown exponentially, becoming the defining spirit of this period of humanity’s story.
I have worked on climate change for Scottish Labour for more than a decade, along with others across our movement and beyond and it has been a personal passion of mine for much longer. It has had many moments of frustration along the way, but more recently I am often struck by how differently these conversations are now going. The door for ideas on sustainability, climate change action, whole system change for the sake of our planet — has swung wide open.
Credit for this is shared among many: tireless campaigners, scientists, and activists demanding change. And Greta Thunberg, and young climate strikers, have shown us all the strength and commitment behind this movement. One day she decided to sit outside the Swedish Parliament, calling for immediate action. On the second day, more school students joined her. Months later, school strikes are still happening every week, in hundreds of places around the world.
We are in extraordinary times, and Scotland’s route to a clean economy needs the influence of the labour movement.
And in the build up to the Climate Change Bill, it has been Scottish Labour that has been leading these conversations. Well ahead of the SNP, we were committed to a target for net zero emissions for Scotland — now set to be achieved by 2045 with cross-party agreement.
Scottish Labour has also been determined that a “Just Transition” will be at the core of the way forward — a Just Transition meaning that affected workers across all sectors will be properly supported in this economic and societal shift, as will affected communities and those least able to make the necessary transition.
We will do all we can in partnership with unions and environmental organisations to ensure a Just Transition Commission is included on the face of the Bill, to deliver that target in a fair and just way. A two year commission, without legal backing, can only set the agenda, not drive it forward justly and monitor it all the way.
My party came to this position because we understood these fundamentals.
We vowed not to push the job of tackling climate change onto the shoulders of today’s young, and deny future generations the right to a healthy planet. Intergenerational justice is key to our climate change policy.
Scotland has a responsibility to act on climate change due to our historic emissions since the industrial revolution, and our relative wealth today. It is a gross climate injustice that those nations that did the least to contribute to climate change are feeling its effects first and hardest. Climate justice must be at the core of our actions.
Scotland should lead this worldwide movement for radical change not only for global and intergenerational justice — but because falling behind would be a massive wasted opportunity.
A just transition is the only progressive way forward to protect workers and communities. With leadership, forward planning, and investment, we can both take on climate change and build Scotland a strong industrial base for a net zero economy.
Workers and communities must reap the benefits — we cannot again lose those manufacturing jobs to overseas, we cannot fail to reformulate means of ownership to empower co-operatives, municipalities and communities, and we cannot let the defences against climate change be only for the rich. As Richard Leonard states: “We must create an innovative state.”
Nothing less than a green revolution will do.
With proper policies, the co-benefits of a net zero economy can be numerous. It will take long-term thinking, which is challenging in the political cycle, where key objectives can be traded off against each other. But Labour should step back and look outwith the silos.
A healthier environment will reduce pressure on our NHS thanks to cleaner air and more active travel, not to mention warmer homes and eradication of fuel poverty. Greener spaces in our communities can play a huge role in our mental health and sense of community.
The Labour movement grew out of the industrial revolution, and now we face another. Let’s work together to ensure it is just, environmentally sound, and backed by a reinvigorated labour movement.
Claudia Beamish is MSP for South Scotland and Scottish Labour Spokesperson for Climate Change, Environment and Land Reform
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