Labour must set its sights on climate justice

The declaration of a climate emergency must be followed up by ambitious and concrete action, writes Jake Woodier

April 30, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Andy Miah / Flickr

On Wednesday the Labour Party will force a vote in the House of Commons to declare an environmental and climate emergency. Using an opposition motion, the move by Labour comes in the wake of a number of recent significant events in the climate movement. The UK Student Climate Network’s emergent YouthStrike4Climate mobilisations, and Extinction Rebellion’s international rebellion that saw mass direct action and the reclamation of public space in the beating heart of central London have sustained pressure on those in power to recognise the severity of the climate crisis. Both organisations are among many working tirelessly that have ensured climate has risen to the top of the agenda.

Since the announcement of the vote, both the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon, and the Welsh Assembly have declared climate emergencies adding pressure on Westminster MPs to follow suit. This is undeniably a positive first step that should be welcomed by climate campaigners, and gives climate change the focus in our legislative chamber it must surely continue to occupy. This has only been made possible because of fresh, direct and energetic grassroots climate activism that’s inspired many to action and drawn widespread attention.

However, if a climate emergency does get declared in Westminster we must continue organising and pressuring those in positions of power to take the necessary actions that are grounded in climate justice. To adequately address the climate crisis, it’s no secret that we need a radical and transformative approach that casts aside our current economic obsession with profit-seeking and growth at all costs. It’s perhaps never been more evident that capitalism and climate justice cannot operate together.

A climate emergency alone isn’t enough. We need bold and courageous climate action that centres social and economic justice. We need a mass-movement – built from the ground up – that centres the voices of those most affected by the climate crisis and the transition to a zero-emissions future. We need to fight for a radical Green New Deal that achieves the necessary emissions reductions at a scale befitting the crisis. This would necessitate a much higher level of ambition than currently seen within much of mainstream politics, and certainly not without pressure on those operating in the corridors of Government.

We’ve seen the power of grassroots, distributed organising that has made recent climate activism so successful in such a short period of time. Such power and energy needs to be harnessed to work alongside those in frontline communities, marginalised groups, and workers in today’s high emissions sectors to demand a healthy and liveable planet that works for all. The potential of a Green New Deal is a necessary shift away from the debilitating positioning of environment or jobs that has hindered any chance of building the movement required to create a better world out of crisis we find ourselves in.

Following calls for and the potential implementation of a climate emergency in Westminster must be a new internationalist approach that recognises the inequalities of climate breakdown and its root causes. Countries like the UK and others in the Global North that make up the richest 10% of people are responsible for approximately 50% of emissions. Those in the Global North that have the greatest responsibility are mostly shielded from the effects, whereas for many of the poorest 50% – whom are only responsible for 10% of emissions – climate breakdown is already a devastating feature of life.

A new approach means not only eliminating emissions rapidly, but addressing the reality in which the climate crisis is founded upon – colonialism, neoliberalism and relentless extraction of resources. Alongside rapid emissions reductions, the UK and others in the Global North have an obligation to provide meaningful and drastically increased support to countries in the Global South to transition their economies. This support must ensure those most affected by climate breakdown can adapt, while also ensuring access to the infrastructure and renewable technologies to achieve a just transition.

We should be under no illusions that the fight to address the climate crisis will require deep and concerted organising. Victories for the people must be fought for by the people. Climate justice necessitates radical changes to our societies and economies that won’t simply be handed over without resistance by those that benefit most. We must continue building the vehicles of change needed to rebalance power to ensure those that will be most affected don’t bare the cost. A Green New Deal, both in the UK and internationally provides an opportunity for a different world –  once that works for all – built out of the destruction that we’ve created.


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