Ed Miliband: Social justice ‘crucial’ in meeting net-zero

The UK will not meet its 2050 net-zero goal unless decarbonisation policies are "explicityl and intrinsically" linked to the creation of a more socially equal society, former Labour leader Ed Miliband has argued.

Ed Miliband: Social justice ‘crucial’ in meeting net-zero

Miliband has been publicly advocating for net-zero since 2015

Speaking at an event entitled ‘acting on net-zero now’, jointly hosted by Green Alliance and the Institute for Public and Policy Research (IPPR) on Tuesday (2 July), Miliband urged policymakers to view what the UK has dubbed a ‘Climate Emergency’ as a “twin crisis” to the nation’s social and economic inequality problems.

“I would say that the biggest thing I’ve learned over the past 12 years or so is that unless we tie the climate emergency to economic and social justice, every time we talk about it, we will not create the enduring political coalition that we need,” he said.

“Instead, we will end up with more of what we’ve already seen, which is these peaks and troughs of interest in this issue. We must show that we can pay for new changes in a socially just way, which I don’t think we have done particularly well up until now.”

Miliband’s sentiments echo the ideology of a “just” low-carbon transition – an economic shift to decarbonisation, designed to ensure that all marginalised communities and all regions are included.

He assured the audience that he did not think this view was “particularly gloomy” and that he would “undoubtedly put his chips on a positive outcome”, but instead wanted to inspire more “joined-up” action.

Detailing what he would like to be done to create a just transition, Miliband urged the adoption of “progressivity tests” for green taxes, requiring those who took the most flights and used fossil fuel-powered chauffeur vehicles the most to pay more.

Miliband’s view was echoed by the other members of the panel including Seahorse Communications’ managing director Isabella Gornall, who sits on the Conservative Party’s Environment Network (CEN).

“The more coordination we have, the cheaper the transition will be,” Gornall argued.

“We’ve seen an amazing increase in public engagement on this topic, but while we can all start shouting about this fantastic legislation, we will get some kind of backlash when it comes to banning people’s cars and telling them they need to pay out for new kinds of boilers. We need to make sure that we bring everybody with us.”

Gornall’s key asks for policymakers seeking to minimise the cost of the transition to net-zero in a balanced way are bringing the 2040 ban on new petrol and diesel cars forward; enabling onshore wind to compete in contracts for difference (CfD); legislating for a ban on future airport expansions and launching more public consultations and steering groups. The Government has notably already created a citizens assembly on net-zero, led by a group of six select committees.

To better engage the public and represent a range of voices, Gornall additionally recommended the creation of a public online forum on net-zero, through which members of the public can clearly access and discuss information on progress to date and planned initiatives, both at a local and national level.

How just is our transition?

Energy Minister Claire Perry has previously stated that she will not back decarbonisation policies which risk leaving entire sections of British society – particularly the North, rural communities and working-class people – behind.  

Her approach to this has largely involved ensuring that the Government is splitting its funding between regions and between projects that mitigate and adapt to negative environmental impacts. She has also stated that her department is increasingly working on policies which balance “who pays for projects, how much of a carbon reduction they will drive and, increasingly, what the competitive advantage will be”.

The UK Government estimates that around 400,000 people are currently employed in what it calls the “green economy” – a term which covers low-carbon goods, services and energy as well as the sustainability, corporate social responsibility and energy and facilities management sectors. Of these jobs, around 136,000 are based in the North.

Nonetheless, research has continually suggested that the UK’s decarbonisation progress to date has been disproportionately beneficial to the geographical South. A recent study by Imperial College London, for example, concluded that the UK’s current green policy frameworks could create a “two-tier” economy in which the East Midlands and North of England are missing out. Similarly, the IPPR and Aldersgate Group’s previous policy analyses have found that more must be done to shift the North of England’s economy away from coal in a way that supports workers in the energy sector.

Sarah George

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