Have politicians fired the starting gun for a Green New Deal in the UK?
A Private Members Bill in the House of Commons yesterday (26 March) could mark the day in history that serious discussion began on bringing a "Green New Deal" (GND) into UK legislation.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Clive Lewis put together a Bill to draw focus on the issue of climate action – and with the hope that they could begin to sow the seeds of a potential revolution across climate change legislation.
Presenting the Bill, Lewis said “we must reduce carbon emissions by 50%, within a decade, to avoid climate meltdown” and Lucas said that she was presenting it as “purposefully radical territory” and that politicians “must push the boundaries of what’s seen as politically possible”.
The Bill has passed to a second reading, where it will be debated on 5 April. Dubbed the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill, Lucas and Lewis presented the Bill which aims to place duties on the government to “decarbonise the economy and to eradicate inequality”. Specifically, it calls for a ten-year economic and public investment strategy “that prioritises decarbonisation, community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry and the eradication of inequality”.
It also calls for the Government to report on its implementation of the strategy, and for higher environmental standards for air, water and green spaces, as well as protecting and restoring natural habitats.
This is purposefully radical territory
Faced with climate breakdown & spiralling inequality, we must push the boundaries of what’s seen as politically possible
We need a #GreenNewDeal to transform our economy in 10 years
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) March 26, 2019
Although it is a long way from becoming official government policy – and is yet to even be formally acknowledged by the Conservatives – the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill is the culmination of momentum on holistic climate action legislation. Young Labour activists have already created a Labour for a Green New Deal group – and since Lewis is a shadow minister for sustainable economics, it is likely that a variant of the policy could feed into a future Labour manifesto. Additionally, Plaid Cymru are behind a “Rebalancing” GND for Wales, which includes proposals for investment in clean energy plants, green infrastructure and transport work.
But the Tories, even the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which includes environment secretary Michael Gove and who supported the young climate strikers, are philosophically against the GND. The director of the CEN, Sam Richards, called the US version of the GND “a divisive and counterproductive socialist platform”, and told think tank the Green Alliance that bringing such a concept to the UK would damage consensus politics on the environment.
The Bill follows the resolution put together in America by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier in 2019, which called for a Green New Deal for the US. Although as Richards states there are political elements to Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution, the main elements of the resolution include mainstream commitments to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, energy security for Americans, creating sustainable infrastructure and climate justice.
The UK Bill comes at a vital time for UK environmental policy as Brexit leads a shift away from EU-led environmental legislation to a whole suite of new UK-based standards. It also follows the global youth climate strike, which saw more than 50,000 young people join protests across the UK calling for action to tackle climate breakdown.