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Towards a Green Economy

In the grand scheme of things, there are statistics that matter and there are statistics that don’t. Today, we’ve heard about the UK’s ongoing jobs boom – near record numbers of people in and out of work. We know there are a number of problems with a simple narrative that extols the successes of our labour market and CLASS has written about them on a number of occasions.

But the fanfare made about these statistics, while they are important, is telling of our government’s priorities. Yesterday thousands of protestors across the globe commenced the #InternationalRebellion against climate breakdown. From London, where protests blocked (and continue to block) Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus to Australia, where ‘grandparent activists’ stormed parliament. Their message is simple – we need radical action to prevent climate breakdown and we need it now.

CLASS spoke to a volunteer organiser of International Rebellion, Shane Collins, about what it would take to get a green economy.

As Jason Hickel, professor of anthropology at Goldsmiths University, highlighted yesterday, current ‘determined contributions’ by governments around the world will not see warming kept to below the target of 2 degrees and will, on current estimates, comfortably rise to above 3 degrees. This is more than double the 1.5 degrees that is universally acknowledged to mitigate the worst impacts of climate breakdown.

Hickel demonstrates that pursuing an annual 3% increase in GDP, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, is incompatible with the other sustainability-centric goals for 2030. His argument goes to show that “reducing global income inequality becomes the only reasonable method by which the SDGs can accomplish the human development objectives without violating the sustainability objectives.”

How does this relate to the ongoing actions of extinction rebellion and last week’s school strikes? Both are calling for a Green New Deal – a movement which is gaining momentum and headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. More than a decade ago, the New Economics Foundation published their original proposals for a Green New Deal. It was a radical plan which aimed to reform the international financial and taxation systems while delivering huge domestic investments to rapidly decarbonise the economy.

Today these goals are more prescient than ever. The International Panel on Climate Change claim that we have 11 years to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees and the UK is not on track to meet its long-term climate commitments. More than 75% of the Earth’s land is substantially degraded and at current rates of decline, we will have lost two-thirds of global wildlife by 2020.

The Green New Deal is a movement that aims to reverse these trends and transition to a more sustainable and just economy. It could ameliorate many of the ongoing crises in the UK - reverse the ongoing lack of investment, reduce growing regional and economic divides and put an end to the rise of precarious and insecure work.

Crucially, a Green New Deal can be used to meet people’s immediate needs now. There are more than 4 million workers living in poverty in the UK and any transition must ensure that working people do not pay the price for climate breakdown when they can scarcely make ends meet as things stand. Trade unions, as the voice of working people, should ultimately have a say in any just transition.

While the Green New Deal originated more than 10 years ago, there was not a mass movement to force these policies onto the agenda. Today, with the ongoing schools strikes and the extinction rebellion, we are constantly reminded that climate action should be at the front and centre of our government’s priorities. Celebrating record employment while being the biggest subsidiser of fossil fuels in the EU is at best a half baked achievement. Placing GDP growth on a pedestal while real wages remain lower than they were in 2008 is a similar failing. We have known about the impact of climate change for decades, the best time to act was then. The second-best time is now.

Liam Kennedy is CLASS Research Officer