Chi Onwurah MP on delivering a just transition

Chi Onwurah MP is Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation, and Labour MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central. She tweets at @ChiOnwurah 

This article originally appeared in SERA's publication New Ground, exclusive to SERA members

Chi Onwurah MP at our Just Transition Roundtable with NUS and Green Jobs Alliance

As a child I had the ‘The How and Why’ series of books and one which made a particular impression was ‘The How and Why of the Polluted Earth’. It told the tale then – in the mid-1970s – of the destruction of the environment and the unfair exploitation of its resources. That was one of the (many) reasons why I joined the Labour Party at the age of 16. For me Labour was about safe-guarding the environment. The world needs to work for everyone, not just those with the money to move to higher ground. The collectively and solidarity at the heart of our Labour values must extend to our global environment and everything in it. Yes, that is partially self-interest but it’s also socialism.

So, I am proudly ‘Green Labour’ and a supporter of SERA.

My Labour values also both reflect and recognise the way in which working people across the world want to take pride in the work they do, making and building things. For me, the clue is in the name – Labour. Work matters to people.

This is certainly true in Newcastle – the city I grew up in and now represent – where we are proud of our industrial heritage.

Growing up in the shadow of Stephenson, Armstrong Parsons – that’s Rachel Parsons, by the way, the world’s first female naval engineer and the founder of the Women’s Engineering Society - and other greats of our industrial past was part of what inspired me to study electrical engineering and become an engineer. I wanted to build and make things which made the world better.

And of course the roots of our party lie in the first industrial revolution when massive technological change led to extremes of exploitation and inequality. The Labour movement was formed to make work safer and better and share more fairly its rewards.

Now some will tell you that these two traditions are incompatible. That to support our industrial base we must abandon our carbon reduction goals – or vice versa.

Well, I disagree. I believe that by being bold and ambitious, investing in sustainable manufacturing methods as part of a circular economy we can build the industrial economy we want while safeguarding our planet.

This will mean recognising the economic, environmental and social problems that current methods of production can create – and fundamentally changing the way we make things. In other words – industrial evolution[1].

The conditions are ripe for this.

The global market for sustainable business operations is expected to reach between US $1.5 trillion and $4.5 trillion by 2020.

Greater energy and resource-efficiency could generate an extra £10 billion per year for the UK economy, 300,000 new jobs and a 4.5 per cent reduction in our total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

This is an opportunity we need to seize – and we can only do so with a renewed focus on sustainable economic growth.

Labour’s industrial strategy is challenge-led, mission oriented and values driven. It’s draws on the work of world renowned economist Mariana Mazzucato who in her book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ explains how by setting out missions we can bring together people, resources, investment and infrastructure from across Government and the private and third sectors to address the great challenges of our time.

The first Labour mission is to draw 60 per cent of our energy from low-carbon sources by 2030. At Labour Conference our shadow secretary of state Rebecca Long-Bailey also announced that Labour would seek to deliver net zero emissions by 2050.

To achieve this we’ll work with the private sector to develop new sustainable technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), affordable electric vehicles, and low-carbon chemical processing.

Investment in these sectors will help us to meet our environmental targets, but it will also create new jobs in high-skill, high-productivity industries.

Our National Education Service will provide free, high-quality learning allowing people of all ages to train and re-train to meet the skill needs of this new, green economy.

We want to use the power of Government to address our creaking infrastructure and close the productivity gap at the same time so we can better use the resources we have. Our £250bn National Transformation Fund will do what it says on the tin, transform our railways, our broadband, our energy infrastructure, bringing our investment in infrastructure up to basic OECD levels.

In addition, we will set up our £250 Billion National Investment Bank made up of a network of Regional Development Banks, bringing investment decision making back to our regions, enable decision to be taken locally, by the people who best know their local economy.

Our plan for a National Care Service will raise standards and job quality in the care sector, an industry in which 80 per cent of workers are women, properly valuing their contribution to our economy.

This is how Labour will transform the relationship between the economy and the environment. Labour will ensure a just transition to a carbon neutral economy that works for everyone – and cares for everyone!



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