Why Jeremy Corbyn Should Focus on Climate Change

24/05/2016 17:09 | Updated 24 May 2016

The evening ended with a rupture of applause from the audience. Many stood as they clapped. It was 4 May 2016 and Naomi Klein had just delivered the annual Edward Said lecture at the Royal Festival Hall in London's Southbank Centre. The Canadian author and activist, who published her book This Changes Everything in 2014, decided to dedicate the lecture to the same topic: climate change.

For the occasion, Klein discussed the issue in relation to the theories of Edward Said. Theories such as Orientalism and 'othering'. "All these crises are interconnected," she said. "And so are their solutions."

The message was clear: things need to change. For us to address the crisis of global warming successfully, change must happen in every sector of society. And it must happen now. Not only will maintaining the status quo not be enough, it will depress the situation further.

An ongoing crisis, experts have consistently raised the point that a sea change in politics is paramount to tackling climate change. The point of the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015 was for heads of state around the world to illustrate their commitment to this. However, while it may have been lauded as a great diplomatic achievement, many analysts are concerned the agreements won't be respected.

One common criticism of Jeremy Corbyn is that he will be unelectable by 2020. As one of the most important and pressing issues of our time, carving a strategy that makes Britain a leader on climate change would make him a more viable candidate. Although its existence continues to be denied or neglected by those who stand to lose most from tackling it - sacrifices, particularly from the wealthy, are inevitable - according to experts this threat is very real and demands urgent action.

At the Paris Summit, Corbyn said: "I want Britain to be right there in the middle of it saying we're gonna lead on this issue, we're not gonna tag behind.

"The rhetoric on climate change and the rhetoric on environmental sustainability must be backed up with action."

Forming an effective strategy to tackle climate change, backed up with meaningful action, would also work to strengthen the Opposition in Britain, which is another criticism aimed at Corbyn's leadership of his party. Cameron and his Conservative government are considerably lacking in this area and it represents an opportunity for Labour.

Speaking during a seminar at City University, London, Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, was critical of the government's approach to climate change. He said the most meaningful commitment Britain has made to addressing the issue has been the introduction of renewable energy targets, which was imposed by the EU in 2008.

"The single thing that has driven UK climate action is not our Climate Change Act [2008]," Mr Pendleton said. "It is the renewable energy targets we adopted as part of the EU package in 2008 before Copenhagen." Britain, he said, has always been one of the "laggards" and "one of the ones that can't be persuaded" on climate action.

The legally binding directive, announced under Tony Blair's Labour government, requires a certain amount of each member state's energy consumption to be from renewable sources by 2020. The UK target is 15 per cent. However, a leaked letter in November 2015 revealed that Amber Rudd, energy secretary, had doubts about hitting this target.

"I recognise we don't have the right policies, particularly in transport and heat, but we have four to five years and I remain committed to making the target," she said. According to Rudd, 11.5 per cent of UK energy coming from renewables by 2020 was a more realistic target. Even while bound by this obligation, which would result in multi-million pound fines if unfulfilled, the government under Cameron has displayed little commitment to achieving it.

In contrast, by 2014, the latest year for data, nine member states including Sweden, Italy and Croatia had successfully reached their goal. For example, that year Sweden consumed 52.6 per cent of its energy from renewable sources clearing its 49 per cent target.

David Cameron has made a number of controversial decisions that are symbolic of his position. These include support for fracking and a withdrawal of state funding for carbon capture and storage, a process that disposes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel plants without releasing it into the atmosphere.

"Since the conservative government was elected in May last year there's been a whole bunch of practical things and policies - that we had already and that were mostly about storing renewable energy - which they've either scaled down hugely or gotten rid of," Mr Pendleton added.

In her book, This Changes Everything, Klein points to a study conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School. It said that a person's worldview is the most likely thing to influence their beliefs about climate change. Read within a political context, you could argue that the worldview of a politician would influence his or her commitment to climate change policy. A lacklustre approach from David Cameron and his Conservative government is therefore unsurprising. The kind of change that must happen poses a direct threaten their worldview, personal interests and brand of politics.

With Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, the opposite is true. In contrast to Cameron, his worldview and politics are far more compatible with what is needed to address global warming.

There is a void that must be filled in British politics when it comes to climate change. Aside from the many number of reasons to take action based on humanitarian grounds, Corbyn is a politician in need of a stronger and more unified party. Forming a powerful strategy to tackle this crisis would help him achieve this.

As I entered the Southbank Centre for Naomi Klein's lecture, the sun was shining and crowds of people were enjoying a drink on the terrace. For the next two hours I was learning about climate change. Night fell on London and by the time I was outside it was dark. This struck me as symbolic of our current approach to tackling climate change. Many of us are oblivious, neglectful or in denial about the issue. But the longer we go on talking about it, without action to back it up, it will be an irreversible darkness that washes over us.