British Labour Party Green Deal calls for zero carbon by 2030

climate activists at labour party conference
© Young climate activists at labour party conference/ Leon Neal/Getty Images

Some question if it is even possible.

There is so much news happening everywhere right now, but the biggest green story just happened in Brighton, where the Labour Party just committed to what's possibly the strongest, boldest Green New Deal in the world. British politics being as crazy as they are right now, this could soon be British government policy.

The biggest challenge is the commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. They don't exactly say how this will be done, but they do call up the old British Blitz analogy.

There have been a number of examples in living memory in which we have seen the unprecedented mobilisation and innovation that can occur when nations rally behind a cause; two often-drawn comparisons are the Second World War effort and the race to land a man on the moon. Rather than just compelling metaphors, these comparisons offer valuable reminders of our capacity to achieve the ‘impossible’. In the Second World War, for instance, the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign saw the amount of arable land in the UK double in just a handful of years.

It is a grand vision that will confuse some and scare others:

covers of documents© British Labour Party

A commitment to zero carbon emissions by 2030

Labour for a Green New Deal has a bold and simple policy with respect to decarbonising our economy and society: zero carbon by 2030. This proposal is radically more ambitious than the UK’s current legally binding target, both in terms of timeframe and with respect to an ambition of achieving total decarbonisation, rather than the ‘net- zero’ target to which the UK currently aspires.

They do not clearly explain why they say zero carbon and reject net zero, other than rejecting the CCC report we covered earlier, that offered Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or hydrogen as part of the plan, calling CCS "a get out of jail free card for continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure" – which it is. "Rather than assume we can continue with business as usual and hope that technological advancements will arise to mitigate the impacts of our complacency, we urgently need to bring our carbon emissions to as near zero as possible." All the coverage of the plan say net-zero but they go way beyond that.

Rapidly phasing out all fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels produces significant greenhouse gases (GHGs), driving climate change and causing increasingly devastating effects. Moreover, the fossil fuel industry retains a highly insidious grip over national and international climate policy, throwing its economic might behind deregulatory and destructive policy agendas and obstructing progressive action on climate change while making false claims of commitment to a green energy transition.

Again, it is not clear how they can do this in such a short period of time, but more power to them for trying.

Large-scale investment in renewables

Renewable energy sources are fundamental to the Green New Deal. Large-scale investment in renewables will be essential to the decarbonisation of electricity generation, buildings, industry and transport. Renewables produce no GHG emissions during operation and provide opportunities for good green jobs. They also greatly increase energy autonomy by allowing for decentralised, community- based energy production. Renewables have a much lower environmental impact than fossil fuel based power. Recent years have seen the costs of renewables plummet, falling below new fossil fuel or nuclear power plants.

Donald Trump is going to be looking at a lot more wind turbines.

covers of sections© British Labour Party

Green public, integrated transport

Our public transport driven system, with wildly disparate levels of investment across the country, currently serves to entrench inequality. The Green New Deal must address and rectify the disparity in transport funding between the rich and poor, shifting from a system of private vehicle ownership use to one of green, democratically owned, public luxury.

There would be big investment in public transport, vast expansion of electric vehicle production, but also a shift away from automobile dependence: "A highly limited use of light duty passenger electric vehicles, in particular to ensure accessible transport options for all, can be managed via car share schemes and a green taxi system." Strong restrictions on domestic flying would take effect.

When it comes to buildings, the plan is "building and retrofitting of zero-carbon social and council housing and public buildings with lowest possible embedded carbon in construction." They really don't get down to detail, about how to fix all the other buildings in the UK, how to convert 24 million homes that are heated with gas. And really, the socialism seems to get more play than the environmentalism.

Our Green New Deal can reshape society to work fundamentally for the many, not the few. With workers’ justice at the heart of the program, we can create good green jobs in every town and city across the UK. We can transform our energy systems from polluting fossil fuels to clean renewables. We can democratise industry and social infrastructure through powerful unions, democratic control and expanded public ownership. We can take the economy out of the control of the super rich, and put it in the hands of ordinary people. We can address the economic and ecological consequences of climate breakdown and global inequality by building solidarity across borders.

It was a tough fight to get the deal approved; even the trade unions were nervous about the drive to do it all by 2030. According to Jim Pickard in the Financial Times,

One union figure said that a 2030 target was simply not deliverable without huge upheaval, job losses and a consumer backlash. “I’m a father, I don’t want to see the planet fry, but some of these people are loons,” he said. 

The business organization CBI says there is “no credible pathway” to a 2030 target, but as Ellie Mae O’Hagan notes in the Guardian,

The reality is the science demands a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2030. If that isn’t possible within the current system, then it’s the system that needs to go, not the target. Perhaps the CBI should ask itself what the future for businesses looks like in a world where extreme weather collapses buildings, where British people are transformed into climate refugees as sea levels rise, and where politics is even more fractious and unstable as our representatives struggle to respond to the consequences.

We all have to ask ourselves what we are willing to do, willing to give up, and how deep we are willing to dig for victory. I am not sure a majority of people are ready for this.

British Labour Party Green Deal calls for zero carbon by 2030
Some question if it is even possible.

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