Labour’s climate emergency – putting the heat on government

Written by Joe Buncle |

The Labour Party last week declared a climate emergency in the House of Commons.

The move comes after leader Jeremy Corbyn endorsed the wide-spread climate strikes enacted by 1.4 million young people across the globe:

Jeremy Corbyn endorses striking students

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman announced the party was declaring a “national environment and climate emergency” and challenged Theresa May’s government to match the pledge.

This is an unprecedented political event and the first instance of such a declaration at a national, rather than local council, level.

In a tweet the MP stated “while councils nationwide are declaring climate emergencies this Conservative government just refused to do so.”

“…the Government is failing on climate change when nothing less than a Green Industrial Revolution is needed”

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said in a press release:

“Public sector and residential emissions actually increased last year, while other sectors remain flat. Agricultural emissions are higher now than in the year 2000. These figures show that the Government is failing on climate change when nothing less than a Green Industrial Revolution is needed.”

This is not the first time the government has been accused of “failing” when it comes to tackling climate change. Environment Secretary Michael Gove came under fire for missing last year’s climate change summit in Luxembourg.

The common goals of climate emergency declarations include efforts to decarbonise emissions completely by 2030, and capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

What is a climate emergency declaration?

While ‘States of Emergency’ may be a familiar concept, seen across the pond with Trump’s immigration policy, according to the group ‘Council Action in the Climate Emergency’ (CACE) : “in a practical sense a Climate Emergency Declaration has more in common with a Declaration of War due to the economy-wide scale of action required.”

Members of the Labour party have made plans for future climate initiatives, including support for a Green New Deal, which has begun to take off in the USA, and which proposes a more radical approach of significant systemic change.

The ambitious plan is part of a growing narrative which sees climate change as a class struggle, with the worst effects being felt by the poorest in society.

The group, Labour for a Green New Deal, seeks to act on the party’s promise “to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled, unionised green jobs.”

Labour has promised striking students that the party will address their issues

66 councils in the UK have made climate emergency declarations, out of 423 councils covering 36 million citizens. They follow the lead of Darebin City Council, Victoria, Australia, which became the first local council in the world to declare a climate emergency on the 5th December 2016.

The Campaign against Climate Change states “The Climate Emergency should be the overriding priority of every politician and to which all available human and material resources should be immediately directed.”

In industry, the arts are taking the lead with climate emergency declarations of their own.

Do they work?

The approach of declaring an emergency has been criticised as a simplistic view of an existential threat. With this logic, an emergency is over once a threat is conquered, which very likely means an indefinite crisis state.

It is no stretch to imagine that this will be hard to maintain, with moral outrage fizzling out quickly in the contemporary news cycle.

Falmouth Smithick councillor, Jayne Kirkham

Cornwall Labour councillor Jayne Kirkham was among those who put forward the motion for Cornwall Council’s own declaration in January, and it was her significant amendment to the motion which explicitly declared a climate emergency. I asked her about how the change in attitude is manifesting locally:

How does a climate emergency declaration compare with the government’s current 25-year environment plan?

 “A climate emergency declaration by its very nature is immediate and urgent. The ambition is for a carbon neutral Cornwall by 2030, very different to what the government are aiming for.

 As they have changed planning rules so that it is harder to get permission for wind turbines and to get developers to build carbon neutral house and they have also cut feed in tariffs, it doesn’t seem as though the government’s heart is really in it.”

 With average age of an MP being 50, why did it take young people protesting to highlight the importance of climate change?

“Here it took all ages. Lots of people emailed, called and spoke to their councilors so they understood the strength of feeling.

The public gallery was packed on the day the motion and amendment were debated. I think it shows it is definitely worth talking to your politicians if you feel strongly about an issue.”

Have you seen any change in the attitude of councilors or constituents since Cornwall Council’s own declaration?

“Yes. Very much so actually. Climate change and environmental impact are now brought up by councilors at nearly every committee meeting and the impact of each decision is much more widely considered.

For example, when discussing the new houses the council hope to build at Bodmin, in relation to the spaceport and pensions investments in only the last few meetings I have been in.”

“Brexit is masking other urgent issues in Westminster, and fighting climate change is one of those issues we need a greater focus on”

Luke Pollard MP, speaking exclusively to the Falmouth Anchor

Labour’s Shadow Fisheries Minister Luke Pollard, who said the party planned to take action “with or without” the government, told the Anchor:

“I hope Ministers change their mind and agree to work with Labour to formally declare a climate and environment emergency.

If Michael Gove continues to refuse to work with Labour we will bring forward proposals to the Commons ourselves. It’s a harder route but climate change is too important not to try.

Brexit is masking other urgent issues in Westminster, and fighting climate change is one of those issues we need a greater focus on.”