POLITICS
18/09/2019 21:35 BST | Updated 20/09/2019 22:49 BST

Labour Conference Set To Water Down Radical 'Green New Deal' Climate Plan

Activists' pleas for target of 'zero' emissions by 2030 unlikely to become policy, as party takes more pragmatic approach.

Radical plans to commit Labour to cutting UK greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030 are expected to be watered down at the party’s annual conference, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Jeremy Corbyn will make tackling global warming a centrepiece of the gathering in Brighton, with a whole day devoted for the first time to the issue of the climate emergency.

But Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell are also determined to draft a credible policy that balances jobs in poor communities with the need to take more urgent action than the Tories and other parties have promised, insiders said.

The party leadership is expected to adopt key elements of a ‘Green New Deal’, while dropping what are seen as the more unworkable targets in motions drafted by some party activists.

Although Corbyn wants to accelerate the 2050 target, few insiders expect a new specific target to be agreed at the conference.

Backed by grassroots group Momentum, 128 constituency Labour parties (CLPs) have submitted motions on climate change - more even than Brexit - with many demanding a move to slash emissions to zero, as opposed to ‘net zero’.

They also want the new target set for 2030 rather than the government’s current 2050 deadline.

John Keeble via Getty Images
Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a climate emergency protest in Parliament Square in May.

However, the leadership is expected to follow the lead of the TUC, which has warned that for workers in heavy industries the fight against climate change should be “something that is done with them, not something done to them”.

There are also fears that some backers of the new targets have failed to spot the election pitfalls of effectively telling families they face bans on holiday flights or car driving.

McDonnell, who is keen for Labour to have the most radical green policies of any mainstream party, has been advised that a 2030 target is not realistic. The idea of a ‘zero’ rather than ‘net zero’ target is also unlikely to be approved.

During the complex process at conference known as ‘compositing’ this weekend, a compromise position is expected to be agreed that commits to accelerating faster than the Tories’ 2050 net zero target but the exact timetable will be left for further policy work.

The party leadership’s focus will be on the new breed of unionised ‘green jobs’ and the role nationalisation can play in greening the economy.

Trade unions like Unite, which will have a key role in the drafting, have been among the loudest voices supporting climate change protests and even worker stoppages.

But they also insist that Labour’s policy has to be workable. “It’s about being realistic,” one union source said. “Our concern will be not to shackle the party to something that can’t be delivered. On this massive issue, we need to be credible.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Protesters from the youth wing of Extinction Rebellion tie themselves to a fence outside Parliament

Unions are keen not to be portrayed as anti-green and the TUC said this summer it “will support moves towards industrial transition when this is something that is done with them, not something done to them”.

“The best way to do this is to work with unions... We’ve argued that we cannot simply close down fossil fuel industries, which are often the only significant employer within a community, without a plan to bring great new jobs and new opportunities for those workers affected.”

Theresa May introduced the net zero 2050 target - replacing a previous target of 80% net reductions by 2050 - following the advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in May.

But the Tories were pushed into doing so after shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey announced Labour would adopt the net zero target at its 2018 conference months earlier.

The Extinction Rebellion campaign group has demanded a net zero target -rather than a zero target  - but it wants it to be set for 2025 rather than 2030 or 2050.

Corbyn and McDonnell have praised Extinction Rebellion protestors and activist Greta Thunberg for her global campaign are keen to pump billions of public investment into cutting greenhouse gases.

The phrase Green New Deal was popularised in the US by a new generation of congresswomen and men, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Groups like Labour for a Green Deal and Friends of the Earth have argued that a ‘net zero’ target involves carbon credits which shift the burden to developing nations. But others counter that zero emissions is simply impractical in a short time frame.

Adrienne Buller, co-director of Labour for a Green New Deal said: “The issue with the net-zero frame is that it gives fossil fuel companies a green light to continue digging up carbon, and enables governments to defer radical steps toward decarbonisation on the false promise that it can be remedied with unproven carbon capture and carbon removal technologies.

“As one of the world’s largest historical polluters, the UK has a responsibility not to leave decarbonisation to the very last minute, but to do so as soon as possible.

“The UK - among other wealthy nations - also needs to create the space for developing countries to meet vital goals like food security and universal access to electricity, which will likely cause near-term rises in emissions. This means aiming for 2030.”