Labour Party conference passed unprecedentedly bold environmental policy this year. It will amount to nothing if we do not fight for it.
The policy as passed was contradictory, or at least in tension, in parts, but included:
• a target of zero carbon emissions by 2030
• “a worker-led ‘just transition’... public ownership of energy, creating an integrated, democratic system; large-scale investment in renewables”
• “rapidly phasing out fossil fuels”
• “repeal all anti-union laws, facilitating worker-led activism over social and political issues, including climate change”
• “take transport into public ownership and invest in expanded, integrated, free or affordable green public transport that connects Britain”
• “building and retrofitting of zero-carbon social and council housing and public buildings with lowest possible embedded carbon in construction.”
It also included:
• “a complete ban on fracking”
• “a radical car scrappage scheme to increase electric vehicles”
• “a programme of ecological restoration to increase biodiversity and natural carbon sequestration”.
It contained internationalist commitments
• “supporting developing countries’ climate transitions by increasing transfers of finance, technology and capacity”
• “welcoming climate refugees”.
Cause for celebration, and for pride, for the activists who worked to get the radical policy heard, and then passed.
This policy should, democratically, be Labour policy, shape Labour’s manifestos, and Labour’s behaviour in government.
Yet since the conference on 21-25 September there has been not a squeak from the Labour leadership about those environmental policies passed.
The record on this year’s free movement and academy-schools motions, or the motion on abolishing anti-union laws from two years ago, indicates that even the left-wing leadership of Labour will not respect the democratic mandate of conference, unless forced to.
It was a colossal fight just to get most of the “Green New Deal” policies heard on conference floor — against opposition from the leaderships of GMB and Unite, and also the Labour leadership.
We must use the conference policy as a springboard for campaigning for a socialist “Green New Deal”: in the Labour party, in trade unions and workplaces, in the environmental movement, and beyond. We must interweave this with wider environmental activism, in upcoming climate strikes, in Extinction Rebellion’s International Rebellion, and in agitation over workplace environmental issues.
Dishonest bureaucratic manoeuvring prevented conference from hearing, or voting on, two further vital environmental policies. They should be agitated for as part of a socialist Green New Deal.
The first was a moratorium on airport expansion. It is absolutely necessary if we are to meet our climate targets. Coupled with a jobs guarantee, a worker-led transition involving retraining, and huge investments in the transition, it need not lead to the loss of current or even potential employment.
The second, arguably the key to the rest, was democratic public ownership of banking and finance, providing resources and economic leverage.
Democratic public ownership, rather than arms-length regulation of private-profit companies, is the only way to control the crucial sectors tightly enough to make a very rapid transition. It is, additionally, the most democratic way of running society. Labour conference rightly committed to this for transport and energy, the two highest-emitting sectors.
Any transition will also require huge public funding. Socialising banking and finance takes control society’s biggest pool of mobile wealth, aiding this transition.
It also limits the ruling class’s ability to sabotage transition through capital flight and the rest. Serious taxation on the income and wealth of the rich would augment this further.