OPINION
31/10/2019 10:35 GMT

Labour Could Win This General Election With A Green New Deal

Jeremy Corbyn is in pole position to reap the benefits of an increasingly widespread desire for social change, professor Benjamin Selwyn writes.

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Over the last few months, the Labour party has slipped further behind the Tories and its leader’s personal ratings have fallen.

But now the General Election starting gun has been fired and attention will turn to the main parties’ offer to the electorate. Labour has a recently formed policy idea – Its Green New Deal (GND) – that can win it the election.

Over half of Briton’s (54%) say that climate change will affect how they vote, according to an opinion poll conducted by the law firm Client Earth.

A Green New Deal combines environmental and social justice in ways that can overcome the almost certain misery of a Boris Johnson-led hard Brexit.

The poll of 2,000 people highlighted a desire that the UK government should do more to encourage a shift to electric and other low-emission vehicles (61%). Two thirds agreed that fossil fuel companies, who have contributed significantly to climate change, should help pay for the damage caused by extreme weather events. 

Crucially, 63% support a Green New Deal, entailing large-scale long-term investments in green jobs and infrastructure.

Labour has done much to popularise the GND. It is now in pole position to reap the benefits of this increasingly widespread desire for social change.

Labour’s GND promises to radically decarbonise the British economy. It is, moreover, part and parcel of programme to make the UK a fairer and more equal society. As the founders of Labour for a Green New Deal put it: “Climate change is fundamentally about class, because it means chaos for the many while the few profit.”

Labour’s GND revolves around a set of feasible and affordable commitments. These include cutting carbon emissions to zero by 2030 by rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and investing heavily in renewable energy. Such a programme would be delivered by hundreds of thousands of newly employed, living wage and unionised workers.

Under the GND, our transport system would cease to be dominated by cars and aeroplanes. New electric buses, solar powered rail systems, and pedestrianised city centres would decarbonise the system. The establishment of accessible and safe cycle lanes will be complemented by subsidised provision of bicycles to encourage a shift away from cars. 

But cutting carbon emissions is just one part of the GND equation. Creating and restoring carbon sinks – natural reservoirs that effectively absorb and store carbon – is another. Such measures will be pursued through re-forestation and the natural restoration of degraded forests, woodland, marshes and meadows. 

In the UK, more than 1.3 million hectares of land are covered by grouse moor estates, and in Scotland alone there are 1.8 million hectares dedicated to deer stalking estates. Rather than this land serving the interests of a privileged minority, it can become public land for the many, while also contributing to the battle against climate change.

Such a transformative programme will be attacked head-on by the Tories and their supporters. They will argue that it is simply too expensive. Last summer, former Tory chancellor Philip Hammond did just that. He claimed that attempts to cut emissions in Britain to net zero by 2050 would cost over £1 trillion. That would mean less money for schools and hospitals. But this argument is triply wrong.

First, failing to cut emissions will cost much more than tackling climate change head-on. Rising numbers of natural disasters will occur and will increase insurance premiums and reparative costs. Agriculture will become decreasingly viable, and water will become scarce, pushing up food prices.

Second, governments across the world sell bonds and use the revenues to fund long-term infrastructure projects. OECD countries are highly credit-worthy and can issue bonds at low interest rates, reducing the costs of such investments. As Anne Pettifor, one of the early proponents of the GND explains, once revenues are invested, they generate jobs and taxes. They also establish new revenue streams such as user-fees for solar-powered electricity. These enable government to repay initial bond sales and interest. Once repaid, these investments continue to generate income for government’s which can be used for further socially progressive investments.

Thirdly, renewables are becoming cheaper by the day. Technologies such as solar, wind, wave and geo-thermal power can produce energy as cheaply as, and sometimes more cheaply than, traditional fossil fuels. It is the previous and current governments’ investment in fossil fuel energy systems that are cost-ineffective.

Labour’s GND will give people hope about the future. It will green our cities so that our children can breathe clean air. It will provide a sense that this country does care about, and is combatting, climate change. It combines environmental and social justice in ways that can overcome the almost certain misery of a Boris Johnson-led hard Brexit.

For all of these reasons, this general election represents a great opportunity for Labour to win enough votes to begin transforming this country for the better.

Benjamin Selwyn is a Labour Party member and Professor of International Development at the University of Sussex. His most recent book is The Struggle for Development and his next book is a Green New Deal for World Agriculture.