A radical target to commit the UK to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is on course to be approved by Labour’s conference after Unite the union signalled its support.
The GMB union has fiercely opposed setting the accelerated target, warning that without a credible plan to adapt heavy industry it could lead to widespread job losses.
But the plans for a ‘Green New Deal’ looked set to be approved on Tuesday after Unite sources signalled the union would support it.
Crucially, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey also swung behind the large number of local constituency parties calling for an ambitious green policy for the election.
Current party policy, which was adopted by Theresa May earlier this year, calls for net zero emissions by 2050, but many environmentalists think a much faster approach is needed.
A key motion backed by activists says that in power Labour will “in collaboration with the trade unions and scientific community work towards a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2030”.
The issue of a target has deeply divided delegates in policy meetings at the conference in Brighton, with two long sessions ending in stalemate.
An original plan for ‘zero’ emissions rather than ‘net zero’ has been watered down, but the date is still firmly in a proposal from Labour for a Green New Deal, a group supported by grassroots organisation Momentum.
Two rival motions will be voted on, one with a specific target and one without, and insiders said it now looked likely that both would pass.
Long-Bailey, who has chaired the meetings in a bid to find compromise, confirmed to the BBC that she was “quite happy” with both motions.
“There was a consensus in the room we have got to act faster...The importance of the 2030 date is because the panel on international climate change have said we have got 11 years to act.. We’ve got to act faster and we’ve got to push people to do that.”
But GMB general secretary said the 2030 target was “utterly unachievable”, lacked credibility and threatened communities that relied on jobs in energy intensive industries.
The rival motion, which lacks a specific target calls for urgent action and a plan to ‘transition’ to greener jobs, has been backed by SERA, Labour’s socialist environment campaign.
A Momentum source said Unite’s backing was “a huge moment for the Labour party” in making sure the UK would be “world leaders in tackling climate breakdown”.
Lauren Townsend, spokesperson for Labour for a Green New Deal, said delegates should respond to youth strikers’s activism with a clear 2030 decarbonisation target. To vote against “risks leaving Labour with the least ambitious climate target of any major party”, she said.
Jeremy Corbyn wants to make Labour the most radical party on green policy and Tuesday’s conference is devoted to the environment with new plans for state-backed electric car schemes and for 37 new offshore wind farms.
Some scientists have suggested that a 2040 target is more realistic given the huge changes economies will need to undergo to decarbonise. But the Extinction Rebellion movement, praised by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, has called for net zero by 2025.
McDonnell said earlier this summer that he was sympathetic to demands for a quicker target date but suggested his advice was it was not practicable.
“I want to aim for 2030 if I can, of course, but at the moment all the advice that we’re getting is that that isn’t realistic,” he had told the FT in June. “So we’ve got to test that and look at the range of policies we need to enable that to happen.”