A reflection on Labour Party Conference
27 September 2019
For the past three years, financial and political resources seem to have been totally wasted on Brexit negotiations, and the government’s futile goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 vastly underestimates the impacts that climate change will have on the UK.
On Friday 20th September, Global Climate Strikes were held in cities around the world to protest the climate crisis and demand action by decision-makers, forcing Brexit off the political agenda for a couple of days in the UK.
Walking through the crowds of tens of thousands of, mainly, schoolchildren who had taken to the streets of central London to urge politicians and businesses to acknowledge the science that has been startlingly clear for three decades, I didn’t feel inspired, I felt devastated.
We have relied on schoolchildren to teach us that our human activity has led to the decimation of species’, the breakdown of ecosystems, widespread public health crises, and the occurrence of climate refugees whose numbers will grow exponentially. This isn’t just happening in the ‘global south’, this is happening in the UK, disproportionately to those who are less able to adapt.
Going into the Labour Party conference this weekend, I wanted to know what we could do to wake ourselves up and avoid the inevitable.
I attended a fringe event put on by SERA (Labour’s Environment Campaign) about ‘Supporting Nature for the Many’, where the words of Hilary Benn MP, Chair of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee, seemed to grab me by the shoulders and shake the feeling of despair out of me. “If we terrify ourselves, we run the risk of being immobilised. We need to encourage people to believe that this work is possible.”
And he’s right. Our LGA Labour Climate Emergency website was launched last week to coincide with the Global Week for the Future and has revitalised a sense of purpose within me in being able to promote the innovative work that Labour Councils are doing up and down the country in response to the climate crisis.
I’m not being paid to say this - Labour really has been leading the way. While most Conservative Councils have set their goal of becoming carbon neutral in 2050 in line with the government, Labour Councils are committing to a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030. Ambitious, but necessary, Labour Council leaders and their green cabinet members have declared climate emergency motions with a proper sense of urgency.
And then a brilliant thing happened: delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour to back Labour’s Green New Deal.
This radical deal has united climate activists and unions to find policies that protect the environment and the workers, and deliver a better future than the one we are catapulting ourselves into. It supports the work that Labour Councils are already doing and inspires a large-scale change among businesses to reduce emissions and end environmental inequality, with plans including rail electrification, retrofitting zero-carbon measures on buildings, supporting sustainable farming practices, bans on fracking, and progressive taxation.
Though we are yet to see how the Green New Deal will be interpreted in Labour’s manifesto, it’s a sure sign that Labour’s party members demand an alternative to the Tory’s lacklustre 2050 goal.
So I’ll see this an olive branch to all the schoolchildren who protested last week and a promise to act. Now to win an election…