A few weeks ago we wrote to the two candidates in the Labour leadership election to ask them several questions on their plans for the environment. Today we are pleased to publish the responses from Jeremy and Owen on our website. We warmly welcome both Owen’s and Jeremy’s support for our A Breath of Fresh Air Campaign and their commitment to a new Clean Air Act.
Ambition: What do you think are the key environmental challenges ahead?
Clearly climate change and biodiversity loss are the biggest environmental crises we face. 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record and we have perhaps only the space of two parliaments to seriously put a break on carbon emissions. The Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last 40 years, we cannot go on like this. Left unchecked, they will create huge economic, security and social justice problems for us in Britain and around the world.
But the challenge is not so much technical – incredibly exciting technological advances have been made in the last few years to help us solve these problems. Only last month, for example, we saw a plane circumnavigate the globe using solar power alone.
The real challenge is to build the kind of politics that puts people and our planet first. We’re running out of time. We urgently need a new kind of politics that is prepared to stand up to the vested interests that are holding back our progress towards an efficient low-carbon economy and are putting our country and world in danger. And we need a kind of politics that inspires confidence in, and enthusiasm about, big green projects that can be oxygen for the growth and modernisation of our economy and help to restore productivity.
I think it’s fair to say that my record shows that I have consistently been prepared to take a stand on the major environmental battlegrounds from fracking to solar jobs, I have not stayed silent. For me, the environment is not an afterthought. I have put the environment at the centre of of my 10 point plan for government, setting out a vision to use the National Investment Bank as an accelerator for the green industries and jobs of the future. The environment didn’t make it into any of Owen Smith’s 20 pledges.
The key environmental policy challenges over the coming period in Opposition will be firstly to ensure that those in Theresa May’s new cabinet, who view EU environmental protections as damaging red tape, don’t tear up the safeguards that protect our national parks, our rivers, lakes and seas, our bees and wildlife as they rush to Brexit. These protections must be defended and extended. I will refuse to agree to any Brexit deal that reduces environmental standards.
Secondly, the question of fracking is about to come to a head as the Government decides whether or not to overrule local communities and impose fracking wells in Lancashire, the first of over 100 earmarked by the government. The numbers of potential jobs in this industry are small. Fracking company Cuadrilla admit that each of their two sites in Lancashire would create just 11 jobs, including indirect and induced jobs. If we’re serious about keeping temperatures at safe levels we need to take big steps to keep 80% of known fossil fuel reserves underground and we simply can’t afford to open up a new fossil fuel industry. The Government’s independent advisors the Committee on Climate Change have been clear that shale gas could see UK climate targets breached. I voted for a moratorium in Parliament because it was the right thing to do, I did not abstain like Owen Smith.
Thirdly, on climate policy, the Paris Climate Agreement should be ratified by Parliament as soon as possible this year and I hope there will be no opposition to that. But just as important, we’re on track to deliver only half of what is needed to cut emissions under our Climate Change Act targets. The period ahead must be about building immense united pressure on the government to reverse it’s appalling decisions on solar energy, on onshore wind, on energy efficiency projects and on scrapping climate change as ministry title and focus to get us on track and ensure energy security and affordability. We’ve done it with working tax credits, with forced academisation and with stopping disability benefit cuts – we can do it on the environment too. In government, I will ask the Committee on Climate Change to assess what new targets would be needed for Britain to meet its fair share of the more ambitious Paris Agreement goal of keeping temperatures to 1.5 degrees, and how we could meet those in the most cost effective way.
And fourthly, following the victories for Labour in London and Bristol, we have two mayors both with a deep commitment to the environment faced with urgent challenges of deadly air pollution, dirty inefficient transport, draughty housing stock and public buildings and flood risks. Our job in Opposition will be to support them to take bold decisions and inspire confidence in Labour’s ability to improve people’s quality of life. In government, I will put our cities, local governments and devolved administrations at the forefront of our modern sustainable industrial revolution.
Beyond the big policy challenges, the environmental challenge for us as a party in the period ahead is to mobilise our 540 000 members into an electoral force to win support for a Labour government on a clear platform of economic, social and environmental justice.
Challenging the Government: The government is failing to meet carbon budget targets, and will need to fulfil commitments agreed at Paris and agree new commitments flowing from COP21 in the next two to three years. How will you and your team call the government to account and encourage them to pursue a stronger environmental agenda?
Over the last 10 months under my leadership, we have transformed the national conversation about the economy and austerity and inflicted defeat after defeat on the government by using a powerful combination of bold ideas, parliamentary action and progressive movement pressure. We will use this winning approach to build a powerful alliance inside and outside of the house to hold the government to account.
In the house, I will continue to challenge the Prime Minister at the dispatch box at PMQs as I have done over solar jobs and flooding. Every relevant minister will come under intense scrutiny for their contribution to meeting these climate goals by my Shadow team. And if I am re-elected as Party Leader on the clear policy agenda that I have set out, with the environment at it’s heart, I will expect that every member of the PLP will get behind this agenda and play their full active part in holding the government to account on climate and environment issues.
Also, an issue as serious as climate change shouldn’t become a polarised political point scoring opportunity. I will do everything possible to work with members of other parties to build a majority to protect our planet, as I have done successfully with disability cuts.
But, we must recognise that, with a small Tory majority, the government feels real pressure not just from inside the Westminster bubble but in constituencies. We will mobilise our now huge party membership hold the government to account in constituencies across the country.
Brexit: There is a huge threat to environmental laws, protections and enforcement due to Brexit? How will you work with NGOs, SERA and across parties to get the best deal post-Brexit for the environment and challenge vested interests seeking to water down commitments?
The environmental NGOs did a great job of warning about the threat to environmental protections from Brexit in the weeks running up to the vote and have been key to highlighting some of the reckless attitudes of Brexiteers on this issue. As I consistently said in television and radio interviews and on platforms up and down the country in the debate, one of the most important reasons for being part of the European Union is that the environmental challenges that confront us now – from tackling climate change and building new clean energy systems to protecting our bees and oceans – just cannot be solved at a national level alone.
I don’t believe that the Brexit vote was a mandate to tear up environmental protections and I think the first priority is to make our position very clear on this. We need red lines. I committed in my 10 point pledge, that I will defend and extend the environmental protections gained from the EU and Labour will not agree to any Brexit deal that weakens environmental protections.
What we need now is a common, united approach across the Labour and environmental movements, and to use every platform possible to keep driving it up the agenda so that Theresa May and her ministers know that our environmental protections cannot be quietly dropped. I and my Shadow team will work with environmental NGOs and networks including Green Alliance, The Climate Coalition and LINK; with SERA; and with MPs across parties where we agree, to ensure we have a coordinated campaign, a very public debate, and in Parliament I will push for votes to ensure transparency and democratic accountability.
Devolution: There is an important role and agency for the nations, combined authorities, Mayors and local authorities in driving strong environmental agendas. How will you work, support and further empower sub-national organisations in tackling climate change and securing ambitious environmental policies?
I am very clear that our cities, our devolved governments and communities will be at the forefront of a new sustainable industrial revolution. I want to build a Britain that is cutting-edge, low carbon but also inclusive and an engine for social justice and reducing inequality. That means harnessing the ideas, skills and active engagement from all parts of our country.
As Party Leader, I will work with my Shadow team to support our Labour mayors, local authorities and the Welsh Administration to produce a plan for how they will stimulate a local low carbon economy and contribute to meeting our environmental protection commitments, inspired by the communities they serve and some of the best practice from cities across the world, particularly Germany.
As Prime Minister, my government will establish a nationwide network of city leaders, councillors, and Assembly Members to share best practice, coordinate on regional projects and collaborate to strengthen their purchasing power on big ticket investments like electric buses. We will make investment in sustainable infrastructure and industries central to the Northern Powerhouse and other regional development projects.
We will use the National Investment Bank and regional development banks to ensure that local governments have the resources they need to roll out systematic energy efficiency programmes and to accelerate the shift to renewable and community energy. I will support the development of ‘local energy companies’ within the next parliament; giving towns, cities and localities the powers they need to drive a ‘clean energy revolution’
Mainstreaming: How will you mainstream progressive environmental policy, not just promoting ‘green’ policies like increasing recycling or biodiversity but across all areas of policy: housing (low carbon homes), economic development and growth (green jobs, skills and businesses), transport, procurement, and energy.
To mainstream environmental policy, firstly you have to give it priority within your policy platform, that is why I put the environment at the heart of my 10 point pledge.
I would integrate environmental and climate policy into every department, with each given responsibility for their contribution to Climate Change Act targets. This would ensure an economy-wide approach where ministers responsible for areas such as transport, planning and housing all have responsibility for the environment.
I would create a cabinet committee of every relevant minister that reports directly to me on progress, and ask the Committee on Climate Change to scrutinise its plans, ensuring that climate action gets back on track.
I would put delivering a low carbon economy at the centre of our new Industrial Strategy for Britain, and using the National Investment Bank to fund green investment. I will ensure that Climate Change is once again properly represented at Cabinet level.
Just Transition: What is your commitment to ensuring people aren’t left behind in the move to a low carbon society, such as connecting environment programmes to former industrial areas (green jobs), promoting co-operative energy to give people a stake; and challenging climate change skepticism?
Britain risks being left behind in the world’s fast-growing low-carbon market, losing out on skilled jobs and creating a drag of resource inefficiency on the whole economy. As Prime Minister, I will use our National Investment Bank and sustainable industrial strategy to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, renewable powered economy. We will create green industries and 1 million new quality jobs in every part of the county, with particular focus on those regions and communities that have been left behind by Tory cuts and industrial vandalism.
We will fund decarbonisation strategies for energy-intensive industries such as steel, chemicals, ceramics and paper. We will re-skill Britain, introducing new college programmes and quality internships to ensure people from every community – including women and Black and Minority Ethnic people – can win the high-skilled jobs of the low-carbon future. We will engage with workers and trade unions to ensure that workforces affected by declining fossil fuel industries, such as coal and North Sea oil and gas, are supported into decent sustainable employment, with local economies diversified and local communities supported.
Energy must be for the 60 million, not just the big 6 energy companies. We will support co-operative energy companies as part of a major shift to bring energy saving and generation closer to communities.
A small minority of often powerful people have vested interests in promoting climate skepticism, contrary to the firm view of 98% of climate scientists and they should be held to account when they mislead, lie and secretly interfere in policy making. But two thirds of people are concerned about climate change and one in five young people say the environment is the biggest concern facing the country. Our job is to set out a bold clear concrete vision to build confidence around Labour’s ability to deliver a sustainable modern economy in Government that improves everyone’s quality of life and leaves no community behind.
Inspire Members: How will you promote a strong environmental agenda within the Party and work with SERA to inspire members, activists and organisations? Also SERA runs a number of campaigns. SERA is currently campaigning on air quality and supporting a call for a new Clean Air Act. Will you support A Breath of Fresh Air and join a growing number of Labour MPs, MEPs, AMs and councillors demanding action?
The most important part of inspiring engagement on the the environment is to show that it is a priority, not an afterthought. I have put the environment at the heart of my 10 point pledge and have consistently raised environmental issues in my years as an MP.
We now have the biggest membership of any progressive party in Europe and I am determined that we turn this into a real movement for change, not just with monthly meetings and occasional socials, but engaging our new members to get stuck in to campaigns, including on environmental issues, across every part of the country to make a real difference to people’s lives. Our mayors, our councillors our Assembly Members and Members of the Scottish Parliament each have an important role to play in this. If together we set a new positive sustainable vision for the country, we can put real pressure on this government and build the support we need to win at the next general election.
I support SERA’s campaign ‘A Breathe of Fresh Air’ and the call for a new Clean Air Act to enshrine in UK law the protections to air quality currently offered by the European Union. I will work with SERA, MPs, city leaders, assembly members, councillors, local parties and civil society to shape policies that would stop thousands of people needlessly dying prematurely from air pollution and make the air in our towns and cities safe to breathe again. SERA is hugely important because it acts as a bridge between the environment and labour movements, and inspires members to campaign for environmental action.